Design and Construction of Modern University of Virginia Themed Pinball Machine, Peering into the Simulation: A Study on the Desire for Realism in Military Video Games

Cook, Thomas, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Wayland, Kent, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Garner, Gavin, EN-Mech & Aero Engr Dept, University of Virginia

The influence of interactive media in the modern day is undeniable. Video games generated 184 billion dollars of income last year, whereas the movie and music industries made around 26 billion each. As interactive media has become more influential, we must take the time to understand how this interaction works. How does this technology affect our society, and how does our society affect it? This thesis aims to examine this relationship by looking in the past at some early forms of interactive media, as well as looking at the present, and our relationship with current forms of entertainment. The technical research topic looks into the past, notably at pinball machines, which served as predecessors to arcade machines, and even the video games we have today. The research topic aims to look more closely at the present and asks why people who play military video games desire realism in their experience, in the hope of understanding how we affect these games.
The technical project undertaken involved the design and manufacture of a pinball machine themed around the University of Virginia. This would build off a technical project from 2018, in which students attempted to build a similar pinball machine, but were ultimately unsuccessful. This year, we salvaged what we could from the old project and designed our own components to create a functional prototype. The team divided themselves into groups that worked on separate components and would change their projects once a week to discourage teammates from gaining a sense of ownership over specific components. For this project, it was also desired that components be created in new ways that could not be found in pinball machines from either the past or the present. Manufacturing would be completed in a variety of ways, mostly using 3D printing and water-jetting aluminum. While the project team did not reach the ultimate goal of creating a fully functional pinball machine by the end of the semester, the team did succeed in finalizing the upper part of the playfield, which takes up around half of the playfield. Many of these components were also planned to be duplicated for the lower playfield, so if given more time to manufacture, most of the lower playfield would be done as well.
The research topic aims to answer the question of why gamers desire realism in military video games. These games have a wide player base and have for years, and it has been proven that an increase in realism both increases enjoyment in players, but also increases their aggression and encourages violent behavior. This question is answered by understanding what realism is, and what kinds of realism are present in these games. Then interviews are conducted with subjects who have had experience with these games in the hope of understanding why they find these games enjoyable. These interviews are then analyzed, giving the results. These results found that this increase in realism led to a sense of believability in these games, which allowed players to achieve a flow state, greatly increasing their enjoyment of the game. The main aspect of realism that contributed to this was simulational realism or the idea that in-game physics is an accurate representation of real-life physics. While this believability is not achieved by realism alone, it is a reliable way for video game developers to have this quality in their games.
The technical project did not achieve its goal of creating a fully functional pinball machine, but the research project ended up being successful. The failure of the pinball machine was believed to be for several reasons, such as the tight timeframe of a month and a half and the system of people changing the components they were working on every week. While the goal was not reached, I don’t feel that the result was disappointing, as the team got a lot done in a limited amount of time. If research were to pick back up, they should start by finishing the lower playfield, and then try to work on the software. The research project was very successful, and it was reassuring to find that people liked realism for reasons other than experiencing realistic violence. This research should be reinforced, however, and the sample size and variety of subjects should probably be increased in the future.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Pinball, Video Game, Realism

School of Engineering and Applied Science

Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering

Technical Advisor: Gavin Garner

STS Advisor: Kent Wayland

Technical Team Members: Mina Ansari, Olivia Bearman, Phillip Bongiorno, Adam Centanni, Ian Chang, Benen Crombie, Scott Durkin, Ethan Green, Tom Habron, Matthew Leclair, Isaac Leshok, Jacob Leynes, Gabriel Lu, Will McClung, Patrick Nguyen, Keith Tam

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