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In STEM I, each student had to do a mathematical, engineering, or research project. Each student had to create their own project, do research, and collect and analyze data. In addition, each student had to write a thesis and a lit review.

The Effects of Game Aesthetic on Decision Making

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For my project, I researched the effects of game aesthetics on decision making. Overall, I found no significant effect.

Games for entertainment are an ancient tradition among many cultures. In the modern era, games cover a wide variety of topics and cater to many different interests. To create a successful game, one must understand how the players will think and strategize. Often, popular modern games will incorporate complex rules to force players to strategize in an unfamiliar system. Decision making is a complex subject, and it has effects on more than just games. There are numerous factors that go into it. While some of these factors are consciously considered, such as the price of a product, others are not. To find the extent of effects of unconscious thinking on gameplay, an experiment was run in which groups of players played mechanically identical games, but some groups played a game with different aesthetics from the original. Before and after the games, the players rated themselves on Likert-type scales and the answers they gave from before gameplay and after gameplay were compared.

Graphical abstract

Research Proposal

Literature Review


Many modern board games include complex strategic, visual, and story elements. These elements can affect user experience, but there is little research on the ways these elements affect user experience. The goal of this study is to provide more insight on the ways that visual and story elements affect experience and gameplay.

While traditional tabletop board games have been overshadowed by video games, modern board games tend to be more complex than traditional board games and require more engagement in backstory (Barbara, 2017). Barbara discusses user experience matters in game design but emphasizes the fact that it is mainly studied in reference to digital games. While it was difficult to find scholarly literature on board game design and user experience, one can find several board game related websites that speak to board game design, such as uxdesign.cc.

When making complex decisions, it is useful to make them consciously rather than unconsciously. This may seem obvious, but it is a significant distinction to make. In science, counterintuitive things can be accepted given enough evidence and scrutiny should be applied to even the most basic of assumptions. It has been shown that consciously thinking about complex decisions helps us choose options with better outcomes (Bekker, 2006).

Unconscious decisions have been the subject of previous studies. So much so, that meta-analyses have been done on these studies (Newell & Shanks, 2012). Newell and Shanks go into detail about the history of the unconscious in psychology. Freud played a major role in developing this idea. Overall, Newell and Shanks argue that there is little evidence to suggest that unconscious cognition has a significant effect on decision making, but they do not go so far as to say that it has no effect. This shows that there is some disagreement in the psychological community about the exact magnitude of the effect of unconscious processes on decision-making, but it does appear as though it plays some part.

Games are an interesting way to test decision making. They can give players a clear goal as well as clear rules to follow that many real-world scenarios do not. There has already been research done on this. Some researchers have designed artificial intelligence (AI) to play complex video games by mimicking human player strategies (Hsieh & Sun, 2008). While not the researchers’ intended goal, using an AI like this would allow one to look more closely at human behavioral patterns in a goal-oriented setting. The researchers in question started to discuss the way AI is used in simple two-player games such as Othello and Checkers. They wound up studying AI in RTS (real-time strategy) games. Given that these games are much more complex, it takes much more complicated AI to complete the task.

Color psychology is one example of a factor that can affect decision making. The idea of color psychology is that in society, people have associations between certain colors and certain ideas. When one views a certain color, it primes their brain to think about that idea. For example, red is often associated with aggression and dominance (Hill & Barton, 2005) and yellow is often associated with caution (Elliot & Maier, 2014). According to the study by Hill and Barton, a competitor in the sport of boxing, Taekwondo, Greco-Roman wrestling, or freestyle wrestling will win more often if they are wearing red. This difference becomes smaller based on skill difference between competitors. For example, in a competition where there is no difference in skill, there is approximately a 20% difference in bouts won versus bouts lost based on wearing red, whereas with a medium difference in skill, there is only about a 10% difference.

An unfortunate problem with this study is the simple fact that aesthetics are subjective and poorly defined. In a paper called Towards the Use of Aesthetics in Decision Making Kolmogorov Complexity Formalizes Birkho’s Idea, researchers attempted to do define it more clearly (Koshelev & Kreinovich). The researchers used a generalized formula B=O/C, where B represents beauty, O represents order, and C represents complexity. They then attempted to find better ways of quantifying order and complexity to specify the formula further. Complexity was defined based on aspects of the “shortest” program it would take to create the item in question. These aspects were the length in bits of the program (the item would be more complex if the program had more bits) and the time for the program to run (the longer the program took to run, the more complex the item was), and the “shortest” program was the program with the lowest of these values. Order was based on the length of the full description of the item. As an item’s description becomes shorter, its order increases.


Subjects were asked to complete a questionnaire, play a strategic board game, and then complete a second questionnaire. Prior to playing the game, subjects responded to a questionnaire regarding their typical gameplay. This was to get baseline information regarding each player’s playstyle. Which game (either the original or the alternate version) to be played was decided on before the subjects played. The group of subjects would play that game. If there were four subjects in the group, the four of them would play the game. If there were fewer than four, another person would join them. Then, when the game was over, the subjects would fill out another questionnaire. This questionnaire asked the subjects to reflect on their gameplay in the game they had just played. These data were recorded using Google Forms.


A Kruskal-Wallis Test was performed to compare the data from the different sets. This is because this test does not assume parametric data and is useful for comparing one-dimensional data. This test allows one to compare two samples using ordinal data.

The Kruskal-Wallis Test is performed first ranking all the data points being compared, from least to greatest. Then, for each data set, finding the sum of ranks of the points in that set. Then, computing an H value using equation 1, where n is the total number of data points, c is the number of samples / groups (two in this case, because there is a control group and experimental group), j is a given sample/group number, Tj is the sum of ranks for the jth sample, and nj is the number of points in of the jth sample.

After computing an H value, a critical chi-square value is computed. This is done by looking at a chi-square table, using (c – 1) (in this case, c-1=1) degrees of freedom and a specified p value (in this case 0.05) and taking the corresponding value. Then, H is compared to the chi-square value. If H is greater than the chi-square value, the null hypothesis is rejected.


Barbara, J. (2017). Measuring user experience in multiplayer board games. Games and Culture, 12 (7-8), 623-649.

Bekker, H. (2006). Making choices without deliberating. Science, 312(5779), 1472-1472. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.312.5779.1472a

Elliot, A. & Maier, M. (2014). Color psychology: Effects of perceiving color on psychological functioning in humans. Annual Review of Psychology, [online] 65(1), 95-120. Available at: codehttp://Color Psychology: Effects of Perceiving Color on Psychological Functioning in Humans (annualreviews.org) [Accessed 11 November 2021].

Hill, R., & Barton, R. (2005). Red enhances human performance in contests. Nature, 435(7040), 293-293. doi: 10.1038/435293a

Hsieh, J., & Sun, C. (2008). Building a player strategy model by analyzing replays of real-time strategy games. IEEE International Joint Conference on Neural Networks (IEEE World Congress on Computational Intelligence), 3106-3111. doi: 10.1109/IJCNN.2008.4634237

Koshelev, M., Kreinovich, V., & Yam, Y. (1998). Towards the use of aesthetics in decision making: Kolmogorov complexity formalizes Birkhoff's idea. Departmental Technical Reports (CS). 432. https://scholarworks.utep.edu/cs_techrep/432

Newell, B. & Shanks, D. (2014). Unconscious influences on decision making: A critical review. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 37(1), 1-19.