Gamers like to think of themselves as a smart lot, so here's something to digest. Two researchers from the University of Connecticut have found that gamers are more likely to adopt public health messages buried within the backgrounds of video games, provided they're deeply immersed.
The three studies were published in Communication Research, and were compiled by Hart Blanton and Christopher Burrows. The first study involved players working through a first-person shooter that had either landscape paintings or graphic warnings about the dangers of driving under the influence.
Blanton told UConn Today that the advertisements weren't hidden whatsoever, although they were sensibly targeted. "You wouldn’t be surprised to find an anti-drunk driving poster on the wall of a department of motor vehicles office or even in a library or classroom, but you would be surprised to find something like that in a castle or on a space ship. That’s why we’re careful about where we place these messages."
395 university/college-aged students — 60% male, 40% female — were put through the studies, with the authors finding that the students' attitudes towards drink driving were more aligned with the public health messaging the more immersed they had become. Importantly, the studies found that the risk of a boomerang effect — where someone becomes more likely to behave or act in an opposing manner to the direction you're attempting to influence — were also lowered the more players got engaged.
"We think that by delivering messages when people are in a more susceptible state – when they are transported into the reality of a virtual game where they can be more strongly influenced in a non-coercive way – we have great potential for effective communication," Brandon added. According to the South China Morning Post Burrows built the games for the research himself, using a combination of CryEngine and Unity.
In-game advertisements have been around for a while but there hasn't been much discussion of government agencies using them as a way to influence teenagers and young adults. A new source of advertising revenue for publishers, perhaps?