After studying journalism in college, working in print, broadcast and radio as well as in public relations and lobbying, Nick Bowman, a Texas Tech journalism and creative media industries professor and Fulbright U.S. Scholar award recipient, went to graduate school to study how audiences respond to media.
While in his Ph.D. program at Michigan State, Bowman said he acted as a training researcher in a study about video games.
“I studied things like flow, which is this like psychological state of like loss of awareness and like involvement in a medium that comes from when, like the challenge and the skills are balanced out,” he said. “I never really thought about that way like, maybe the reason I played games like three hours at a time and lost track of time was because I was in such a flow state that I just continued, focusing on the experience.”
A lot of the research focused on the more negative aspects of gaming, he associated playing video games with good memories of his mother and his friends, he said.
“I was interested in like, ‘What role do games play in people’s lives?’” Bowman said. “And from there, I spent four years at Michigan State studying video games, studying games and flow, studying games and psychological well-being. Games helping you feel competent, feel connected to other people feel as if you had a sense of accomplishment and choice, enjoyment.”
Currently, Bowman and his research team are studying video games and nostalgia, he said.
“And now, I would say now that the average age of gamers is in the 30s, and games have become much more acceptable for adult audiences,” Koji Yoshimura, a first year graduate student from Phoenix Arizona, said. “It just sparked an interest in you know, how the experience of you playing video games elicit feelings of nostalgia, especially for people who have been playing video games for a long time.”
Their study focuses on members of the community and university who grew up playing games, such as the original Super Mario Bros., Lindsey Resignato, a senior communications studies major from El Paso, said.
Resignato also wants to continue with research and eventually join the video game industry, she said.
“I think it’s a really hard field to break into if you’re a woman or a minority, so I think me having research specific to gaming under my belt when I want to go into that field later on will give me kind of an edge,” Resignato said.
Yoshimura said he wants to study morality of characters and media along with how media can make even more morally ambiguous characters seem sympathetic.
“When you watch characters in media, obviously, you’re observing their behaviors and certain theoretical framework,” he said. “You are continuously monitoring the morality of characters behavior. I’m just interested in what happens one characters in media do bad things, what happens when they do a combination of good and bad behaviors and so broadly, my work for the foreseeable future will be in the realm of morality and media.”
In addition to the study on video games and nostalgia, Bowman is planning to study how the different demands of virtual reality and other interactive media impacts audiences.
“Interactive media, they require you to think, they require you to feel, they require you to do and they often require you to talk,” Bowman said. “So, cognitive, emotional, physical and social demands. And what’s wild about interactive media is that sometimes they want you to do all those things. And it can be hard to do like to do all of them at once.”
His research will look at how these demands impact audience enjoyment of interactive media. With this research, he hopes to improve VR’s ability to tell better stories, Bowman said. Currently, VR is not doing any better in terms of storytelling compared to regular videos.
“Because the assumption is that, oh, it’s 3D, it must be better because you’re going to get more information, I’m going to be able to put you in the experience,” Bowman said. “So, you think, ‘Oh, well, like if he could put me inside the experience, it should be much more persuasive,’ and we’re finding out is not really.”
However, people do find VR fun to watch, but the effects on their attitudes and behaviors are not there, Bowman said.
“And we think it has something to do with not understanding how people are regulating their attention, and not understanding how people balance out these cognitive and emotional and physical and social demands,” he said. “In other words, this thing actually requires you to do a lot more than this thing. And making you do more, it might actually be ruining the very message trying to portray.”
He compares the current issues with VR being a technology display to the early film industry where the first films were simply moving pictures without any of the current cuts and edits and storytelling in film today.
“It took us a long time to learn how to tell stories with film,” Bowman said. “We learned how to cut images. You film like five scenes, and you cut them and put them together and make a new scene. Nowadays, cuts and edits and multiple cameras that’s just considered a movie. I think this is happening to VR. It’s so new. We just don’t really know what to do. So, we’re just filming things, but then we filmed them in three dimensions. And we’re still at what’s called the technology, the technological demonstration stage.”
He said now the goal is to find ways to use VR to tell better stories, and he is going to study how the demands of VR effects persuasion.
From January to July of 2020, Bowman will be in Taipei, Taiwan at the National Chengchi University to conduct research. He received the Fulbright U.S. Scholar award and now acts as the Wu Jing-jyi arts and culture fellow.
“I’m researching at Taipei because Taipei is home to the company HTC which makes virtual reality headsets, and the National Chengchi University does a lot of media psychology research,” he said.
In addition to his research, Bowman will teach two classes and give lectures and attend conferences in Asia and Australia.
When he returns to Tech, Bowman said he plans to replicate his research at Tech, send his research out to conferences and to bring partnerships with National Chengchi University.
He said he is thankful the Secretary of State of the United States, the founder of the Fulbright Foundation, and Tech are all willing to give him a chance.
“Tech already has a good college of media and communication,” Bowman said. “But I think this is one of those things that we can do that other people can’t, like not many schools can claim to have a Fulbright scholar, and not many schools can claim these international relationships.”