For my master's dissertation I did a research project into uncomfortable digital game experiences. This page contains a serialisation of that paper, rewritten to make it more readable. The full academic paper (20k words) is available to download from Google Drive here.


This project looks at the player experience around discomfort. While there is an increasing amount of research in the player experience area, little work has been done specifically around discomfort in digital games and what this means. Two studies look at the experience, causes and motivations behind the play of games that induce discomfort. An analysis of Steam reviews suggests that character loss, toxic playerbases and mismatched expectations play some role in uncomfortable experiences. A follow-up questionnaire study focused on asking participants about uncomfortable experiences in Darkest Dungeon, Papers Please and Fallout 4, where the findings suggest that empathy, reflection, pressure, moral choices and exposure to uncomfortable topics can create different forms of discomfort. The contributions of this paper are 1) a greater understanding of uncomfortable experiences in digital games 2) an evaluation of the usefulness of online reviews in this field of research and 3) suggestions for future work in this area.


Discomfort and Player Experience Part 4: The Steam Reviews

Sun Jan 20, 2019

A common pattern for exploratory studies is to do one study which is broad and shallow, and follow up those findings with a deep but narrow study. My original plan was to do a questionnaire with follow-up interviews; however the subject matter meant that I wasn’t likely to get ethical approval and I wasn’t in a good place myself. So instead I started off looking at reviews on Steam.

Discomfort and Player Experience Part 3: Research Questions

Thu Dec 27, 2018

Author’s note: From this point on, I’ll be writing these sections in my own words. It will give me more space to explain why I did what I did, and allow me to make wider conclusions.

This post is about research questions. What are they? Why are they so hard to come up with?

Interlude: Why Did I Want To Do This

Mon Nov 12, 2018

These “Interlude” posts are an opportunity to talk about things around the project that didn’t go into the final paper. It’s also good to help me reflect on the whole project. This post is looking at why I wanted to study games in the first place and why this project in particular appealed to me.

Discomfort and Player Experience Part 2: Uncomfortable Interactions

Fri Nov 02, 2018

Part 2 covers the second half of my literature review; looking at uncomfortable interactions, empathy and moral values.

Discomfort and Player Experience Part 1: What is Enjoyment?

Sat Oct 27, 2018

Now that my Masters dissertation has been marked (and I didn’t fail!) I’d like to share it with everyone. Rather than just put the document up (which I might do later), I decided to serialise it into chunks on my blog.

It’s still fairly academic with references but as I go on I’ll edit things to make them a bit more readable. All the references for each post are at the bottom and a lot of them are really good reading. So here is part 1: What is enjoyment?