User experience differences between consoles and portable consoles (Ivory & Magee, 2009)

The only portable electronic device is my laptop; I don’t own a cellphone, MP3 player, iphone or a PSP. I’m not going into details, but I’ll say that a lack of portable devices can bring some peace of mind and I can rehearse some songs in my mind during my commute, thank you very much.

Other people seem to find ways to kill time during their dead time (e.g. commute, waiting rooms, boring classes, etc.) through the use of portable media, such portable video games, MP3 players or even portable television programs or movies. The importance is recognized by the industry that upcoming games like Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker is going on the PSP or the many related Kingdom Hearts games. James Ivory and Robert Magee (Virginia Polytechnic Institute) investigated whether such convenient media platform would affect physiological arousal and flow experience.


Portable media consoles are becoming extremely popular devices for viewing a number of different types of media content, both for entertainment and for educational purposes. Given the increasingly heavy use of portable consoles as an alternative to traditional television-style monitors, it is important to investigate how physiological and psychological effects of portable consoles may differ from those of television-based consoles, because such differences in physiological and psychological responses may precipitate differences in the delivered content’s effectiveness. Because portable consoles are popular as a delivery system for multiple types of media content, such as movies and video games, it is also important to investigate whether differences between the effects of portable and television-based consoles are consistent across multiple types of media. This article reports a 2 X 2 (console: portable or television-based X medium: video game or movie) mixed factorial design experiment with physiological arousal and self-reported flow experience as dependent variables, designed to explore whether console type affects media experiences and whether these effects are consistent across different media. Results indicate that portable media consoles evoke lower levels of physiological arousal and flow experience and that this effect is consistent for both video games and movies. These findings suggest that even though portable media consoles are often convenient compared to television-based consoles, the convenience may come at a cost in terms of the user experience.

There are times wishing I get paid for blog hits. Meh…I only get daily triple digit views so it’s unrealistic of me.

Yui Narumi (Lucky Star) playing on her Nintendo DS

Yui Narumi (Lucky Star) playing on her Nintendo DS

If you want to explore a similar topic as Ivory and Magee, a good search keyword is “form variables” or formal media features. Research in that area is mostly from television research, investigating some formal features like picture motion, image size, colour, visual resolution and audio fidelity. Unfortunately, there’s not much research on portable media (let’s ignore radio). Nevertheless, a medium’s formal features are important factors in affecting our physiological arousal and flow experiences which in turn affects our media entertainment or educational experiences.

Based on the most relevant research, they hypothesized that the small screens of portables would elicit significant less physiological arousal and flow experiences than television-based screens. While they’re at it, they also investigate differences between the experiences of playing video games versus watching a movie.


Participants: 62 undergraduates (35 males, 27 females). Average age is 19.82 (SD = 1.79), average hours of video game per week is 3.6 (SD = 5.66) and average hours of watching movies per week is 5.51 (SD = 4.18).


Physiological arousal: it is measured through skin conductance level where electrodes are attached to the participant’s foot.

Flow Experience: using an adapted measure from another study that was used for various online settings. The number of items is unknown, but these are answered on a 7-point scale through self-report.

Stimulus consistency checks: because they’re dealing with two different consoles and different media, they must ensure that stimuli between them are consistent on some variables or it could confound the study’s intended target variable (i.e. screen size). Using a 7-point scale questionnaire, they checked for “perceived advancement” (i.e. graphic quality, sound quality, play control quality, and technological sophistication or advancement) and violent content.

Video games used: Prince of Persia: Warrior Within for the Playstation 2. Prince of Persia: Revelations for the PSP. Both games are identical, besides Revelations being a port of the Warrior Within.

Movies used: Kingdom of Heaven, a movie similar in some respect to Prince of Persia, both being related to the Middle East of Medieval Times.

Demographics: ditto.

Konata Izumi (Lucky Star) playing on her PS2

Procedure: Participants are randomly assigned to either the portable PSP or the console PS2. Electrodes are attached to their foot. Then they either start playing the video game or watch the movie for 12 minutes. After that, participants complete the questionnaires. After that, they do the other segment, that is they watched a movie if they played the video game in the first segment and vice versa. After that, they complete the same set of questionnaires from the first segment.


They conducted ANOVAs checking if participants’ perceived advancement or violent content might have significant confounding effects. Fortunately, they found none.

Physiological arousal: since I don’t understand a significant portion of the section, they reported a main effect that the television condition reported more positive skin conductance change than the portable condition. A second main effect is that the video game elicited more positive skin conductance change than the movie. There were no significant interaction effects. So it’s necessarily true to you have higher skin conductance levels if you’re playing video games on the television than the other individual conditions.

The authors interpreted the main effect for the video game vs. movie conditions possibly due to video games requiring slightly more physical activity than the movie, or there’s a unique feature in the game that creates such difference, or there’s fundamentally different psychological responses between video games and television. Moar research is needed.

Flow experiences: Only a one main effect in that television condition (M = 4) reported higher scores in flow experiences than the portable condition (M = 3.14).

The authors further investigated whether physiological arousal or flow experiences might be mediators to each other in relation to console type (portable vs. television). Two repeated-measures path models were used and they found that physiological arousal and flow experiences are mediators to each other. So the authors argued perhaps both are convergent indicators of the “same experiential phenomenon.” But, need more research done for more conclusive findings.

The results have shown that the convenience brought on by portable devices is balanced by its reduced ability to engage the user in delivering media content. From an entertainment perspective, this is the first study that showed individuals would have slightly less fun than they would from a desktop or television-based platform. Other relevant factors include environmental distracters (i.e. people talking, car sickness, finding a spot to sit, cellphones, etc.), frequent changes in setting (i.e. riding in 2 bus lines, 1 subway line and finally another bus line for an hour trip home), and an individual’s attentive ability. However, this is an experimental study with a controlled environment. We must examine individuals who use them in situations they are likely to use, perhaps dead time situations like bus rides. Or what motivates them to use in what type of situations. Perhaps in these situations, they are primed to devote attention on their portable consoles as a means to compensate for the small screen size.

From a media violence effects perspective, it would be interesting to see how portable consoles might affect an individual’s aggression when playing violent video games. I’d say it’s likely to increase aggressive cognition, but a lesser extent for aggressive affect or physiological arousal.

From an educational perspective, the results can be inferred from this study. A lesser flow experience might mean a lesser engagement with the content and in turn, lesser rate of learning. However, a study that directly examine this contention is needed, given there are various educational video games on portable consoles. Although, I have heard some news about the lack of efficacy from some educational video games (I think Brain Age), I am not updated on the educational field of video games, and therefore it is outside of my specialty.

The authors list of limitations include a comparatively short playtime, did not use educational media, did not use peripherals (i.e. headphones or different portable devices, such as ipod), did not assessed all aspects of flow experience. The authors would like to note that portable consoles are still good and in no means inferior to others, just be mindful that you enjoy your video game or movie a bit less.

Ivory, J. D., & Magee, R. G. (2009). You can’t take it with you? Effects of handheld portable media consoles of physiological and psychological responses to video game and media content. Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 12 (3), 291-297. doi: 10.1089=cpb.2008.0279


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