‘Vampire Vision’: A Study of the Player, A Study in Incentive

You can read a brief explanation of the reason for the design of Vampire Vision from its menu screen:

This game was produced by the Center for Game Science as a way to measure and possibly improve players’ visual perception. By training specific skills, one can theoretically become not only a better player but also improve one’s real world performance.

I assume that last bit means your performance at seeing things really well. I don’t really know what results that the CGS has been able to cull from players of Vampire Vision since its release at sites like New Grounds a couple weeks ago, though I suppose I could check out their web site to maybe find out. However, I’ve been playing the game a bit too much to bother.

The premise of the game itself is very simple. Most levels consist of looking over a portion of a town in which both humans and vampires are mingling. You need to click on the vampires (to kill them) and avoid clicking on the humans (which knocks them out). Clearing the level of vampires means that the town is saved. Of course, vampires being vampires, they can breed more of themselves. Speed is of the essence in differentiating vampires from humans in order to kill them off before they infect the town.

It is the differentiation process that becomes complex (and, of course, given the game’s premise of testing and potentially, clearly just such an improvement of perception is also the point of the game). There is a ton of variation from level to level in terms of how vampires can be picked out from the human herd. Sometimes it is something simple like vampires have red eyes and fangs and humans do not. However, sometimes the means of differentiation is something more complicated, like that vampires don’t cast reflections in puddles, so you need to observe the movements of all the humans and faux humans when they traverse those areas of the board that contain puddles. Even more complicated scenarios involve a series of deductive rules that place the player in the position of drawing conclusions about what they are seeing. Say, for example that humans and vampires do not dress alike on a board, however, there are less vampires than humans on the board. In other words, it isn’t always a matter of perceiving the little details (observing eyes on each character model to see if they’re red). But, instead, in the aforementioned example, it becomes a matter of noting a difference and then estimating by sight how common that difference is in order to accomplish your goal.

This is just a smattering of the visual mini-games that the game as a whole contains and some of them require some mix of visual acuity with a test of deductive skills and some memory training.

For the most part, the variety of scenarios and the constant mix up of rules in scenarios is what keeps the player playing, which also seems to be one of the goals of the game. If indeed the game exists to gather data on perception and test how well it can be trained, the key is to make sure to keep the voluntary test subject playing to provide more data for research. Hooking them on rewards seems a reasonable enough solution.

In this regard, additional layers of “game-y” elements are added that at once seem to stymie some of the effort of the study and at the same time also likely provide incentive for the subjects of the study to keep providing data. There are lots of unlockables here that can either be purchased via coins won for vampire kill streaks and also through medals won by saving at least 80% of a town’s population on every given board. These unlockables tend to make the game a bit easier on the player, providing an “all seeing eye” that highlights vampires briefly on a board or a water bucket that allows the player to revive citizens that have been knocked out.

Again, these “cheats” seem counterproductive in some sense to the goal of data gathering on perception (since they alter rather randomly success rates of some scenarios), and yet this obvious incentivizing of play (which also includes trophies and achievements) “gamify” the subject matter enough to make what might otherwise seem rather didactic and droll into a fun enough experience.

The quick pace of levels, simplicity of a mostly one click control system, constant leveling up, and promise of upgrading your vampire hunter are reminiscent of Zynga-style (a la Farmville, Cityville, etc., etc.) lures to keep the player playing for just one more level or just one more upgrade. It seems like a smart way of ensuring a proper amount of test subjects without shelling out too much grant money as an incentive to be a part of the process. Luckily, even being aware of this doesn’t change that the game is well animated, has a sense of humor, and really is maddeningly difficult to tear one’s self away from for at least an hour or two at a given sitting.

RATING 6 / 10