Master’s Thesis

Manifestations of Conflict in Games: Stealth versus Action



By: Daniel Brennan
Supervisor: Michael McCoy
Masters of Interactive Technology degree conferred December 19th, 2009
Thesis / Project completed: December 19th, 2009

For years, video games have relied heavily on combat as the central form of conflict. Since Castle Wolfenstein (Muse Software 1981), stealth has developed into a potential alternative to action. While research suggests that industry faith in stealth as a stand-alone source of conflict appears minimal, the Thief series (Looking Glass Studios 1998-2000, Ion Storm Inc. 2004) in particular offers hope that it is achievable under the right conditions. This study investigates the underlying factors that make stealth viable as an alternative form of conflict in video games, and seeks to discern whether stealth stands equal, superior or inferior to action in terms of its reception among players.

In order to investigate the entertainment values of a stealth and action experience, players of similar backgrounds tested two Gears of War levels – one highlighting stealth conflict and the other action – and provided feedback on the nature of their experiences. Comparing the average enjoyment ratings testers expressed revealed an overall higher average enjoyment of the stealth level than the action level. Individually, more testers rated the stealth level higher than the action level as well. Feedback also indicates that testers generally felt the stealth level had more options that led to greater fun.

The presence of alternatives to direct combat appears to be a major source of the appeal of the stealth experience, which reinforces the idea that players are thirsty for alternatives to standard combat-based fare. Regarding suggestions for further research, investigations into the value of other forms of conflict – dialogue for example – could also yield interesting implications. Any research into what defines conflict in video games would be valuable to the advancement of the gaming industry.

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