What if Video Games Handicapped Pro Players to Benefit Casual Ones?

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Imagine a video game that got better as you did, or that could turn your pro thumb-hook, wrist-twist moves against you. Imagine another that added a little zest to your opponent’s less-than-exemplary game by making it harder for a pro like you to play.

Imagine games with dynamic handicaps, in other words, but don’t mistake that for high concept technobabble–a couple researchers in Barcelona, Spain and Aguascalientes, México are already studying games capable of it.

In a paper titled “Adaptive two-player videogames” published in the August 2011 issue of the journal Expert Systems with Applications, researchers Jesús Ibáñez and Carlos Delgado-Mata discuss the creation of two-player video games “able to adapt themselves to the level of the [p]layers who are playing at each moment.” The goal of the study? To allow two players of differing skill levels to enjoy a game despite differing skill levels. Not quite the same as playing with a golf handicap then, but similar.

The researchers took a look at a Pong-style video game in which players control vertically scrolling virtual paddles to smack a ball back and forth. If one player starts dominating another, the game makes it incrementally more difficult for the better player to hit the ball.

The results? According to the abstract: “Participants felt less frustrated, less bored, more engaged and more inclined to play again when the adaptation mechanisms were added to the videogame.”

But what about you? I mean the Charlie Sheen warlock-winning you. Who for instance knows to avoid clumping Marines so they’ll avoid burrowed Banelings in StarCraft II. Or who intentionally loses 85 to 90% health in Street Fighter IV to break out the game’s lethal “ultra combo.” Or who knows how to lob plasma grenades in Halo 3 that seem to find their target magically.

I’m not much for competitive gaming, but that doesn’t mean I want the computer making every match a draw. I don’t play chess hoping for a stalemate, or lob bowling balls down glazed wood lanes hoping for as many gutter balls as strikes. The same holds for traditional games like football or baseball or basketball. Some people are competitive players, and so long as everyone’s sportsmanship’s sound, there’s no reason to penalize them for being so.

Then again, adding “dynamic difficulty” as an option for two consenting players sounds like a novel idea–so long as the research indicates there’s actually a market for it.

(via New Scientist)