A Fairly Trivial Gap

I chose, and attended, the college from which I eventually graduated because it offered a music technology program. I had spent my life playing, writing, and creating music, and this seemed like the obvious choice. Within a year, I had dropped the music out of the equation and continued on in the multimedia program – trying to tell stories through the use of animations, 3-D modeling, and Adobe products. Within another couple years I had dropped the technology aspect and just began telling stories. I graduated with a degree in literature and creative writing.

So when I began to teach myself calculus and matrix algebra for my eventual foray into statistics, some people were a bit surprised. But it wasn’t quite the 180 that it appeared.

My interest in statistics was born out of my interest in probability which was an outcome of my lifelong interest in playing games. From counting my “outs” and estimating the probability of hitting my hand in relation to the pot odds, to understanding the dice distributions and the effects of my new enchanted dagger on them, probability had been a large part of my entertainment-based activities for the majority of my life. The jump from that to statistics spans a fairly trivial gap.

It is apt, then, that my final project required for graduation from my statistics program is the study of games. Specifically, I set out to see if I could use statistical methods in order to playtest four different print-and-play games.

After a few months of collecting data, some late nights staring at computer code, and trying to teach myself how to use this presentation software, I summed up my findings and presented them to my Master’s committee. The committee consisted of math and statistics professors, and these slides played accompaniment to my talk, so I don’t expect everyone to fully understand its contents. Nonetheless:

I’m not a fan of Monopoly, but I had to choose a game that everyone in that room would recognize. Moving through the dark corridors of a Space Hulk, or across a beautiful map of Austerlitz, would have been less effective.

I do think that there is merit in this method of playtesting games. For each of the games I studied I was able to either find something that wasn’t quite working as intended, or verify that certain mechanics were working within design intentions. The largest issue, that of not having as much data as I’d like, would be solved by a change of setting – one where there is one game under study that will be played many times by playtesters prior to release. I will be attempting similar methods in the future with my own games.

The Master’s committee gave it a thumbs up, so I’ll soon have an M.S. in statistics (with a B.A. in literature [and a minor in multimedia arts and sciences (plus some coursework in music theory)]).

Posted by Jack on Tue, 4 Dec 2012