Symbols in Valheim
In Valheim a set of twelve symbols was used (Fig. 1). The set uses the meaning (function) of the symbol in presentation through pictography. Pictographs can be interpreted correctly without prior learning or using the legend (Korpi et al. 2013). Due to this advantage pictographs are usually included in maps for beginners or occasional users, such as tourists (Kostelnick et al. 2008). The authors would also include gamers in this group, as this group of users cannot be overwhelmed with too complicated map symbols. A map is an integral part of each video game (in which it was used), constituting also the navigation element, and it should not be an obstacle to playing the game. The developers of Valheim boosted the level of difficulty in terms of exploring the world of the game by not considering textual explanations to individual symbols used in the map interface. Analysing symbols as a whole, the creators employed top-down mechanisms, i.e. dependence on the environment (other symbols), directing the user’s attention towards features of potential importance or suggesting the importance (Yarbus 1967; Wolfe 1994; Connor et al. 2004). They also assumed for the most part that gamers would identify symbols on the basis of their previous experience (Keates 1989).
To raise the probability of finding the symbol quickly, the symbol should be easily distinguishable from other symbols and also from the background (North 2016). The authors of Valheim wanted to suggest the most important symbols by assigning them suitable colours: yellow (symbol 2) and red (symbol 7). The employment of the white colour for all the other elements allowed one to distinguish symbols with colours more effectively. Such strategy made it possible for game developers to use top-down mechanisms that gamers are driven by. Top-down mechanisms direct our attention to significant features of the symbol, such as its colour (Itti and Koch 2001).
The set of 12 symbols can be divided into two groups (Table 1) according to how they are supposed to be manipulated. The first group consists of symbols 1–7 that cannot be added to the map content (symbols 1–3, 6–7) or can be added only through the interaction during the game (4–5), not the interaction directly with the map. The second group includes symbols 8–12. They can be manipulated freely on the map (the gamer may add them, delete them and add descriptions to them).
Symbol 1 (Fig. 1) presents four stones arranged in a ring, with an altar in the middle. It is one of the crucial symbols on the map during the game. First of all, it is a symbol that gamers can see on the map from the very beginning of the game (apart from their own position—symbol 2 or the position of other gamers—symbol 7). During the game the symbol adopts three fundamental functions:
it is a place in which the gamer starts the game and which serves as a place of revival when the game character dies until the moment of building a shelter and a bed (symbol 4),
it is a place of putting trophies from bosses that documents the progress of the game,
it is also a place of activating one out of five special skills (each for every trophy).
Moreover, the symbol is the central place of our gaming world as it defines its precise centre. The symbol is fixed on the map, it cannot be moved or deleted. There is also no description below (Table 1).
Symbol 2 (Fig. 1) represents a yellow arrowhead with a sharp tip. The symbol informs the player about their position on the map (and consequently, about their position in the game). It moves in four directions, and the arrowhead suggests the direction the character is going in (Table 1).
Symbol 3 (Fig. 1) demonstrates a bag. In the game it informs about the location of the Merchant (the only non-player character in the game). The symbol appears on the map along with discovering the Merchant (swimming or walking near him). The gamer, not exploring the space or being in the early stage of the game, may not meet the Merchant (and the symbol). There may be more Merchants in the game (more than one). Symbol 3 cannot be moved or deleted by the gamer on the map, it does not have a description either (Table 1).
Symbol 4 (Fig. 1) represents a Bed. It informs the player about the location of their bed as a place in which the gamer may take a rest (wait the night out, move to the next day of the game). The symbol appears on the map after building a shelter and a bed, and individual assigning it to the character. Each gamer has a different bed. When the bed is assigned, the position of the symbol on the map changes. The symbol cannot be removed from the map (only in cases when the character does not have a bed that is assigned to them) and does not have a description (Table 1). Symbol 4 plays a crucial part for the game, because when the character is assigned to his bed for the first time (and for all the subsequent times), the gamer receives the information, where exactly in the game space, he will appear when he dies.
Symbol 5 (Fig. 1) depicts a skull with two crossed bones. It is a universal symbol of pirates, threat, or death. In Valheim it performs an informative function, informing about the place of the character’s last death. It is essential to each player, because when a character dies, he loses his entire equipment that he had on him. The position of the last death allows players to regain their lost equipment. The symbol changes its position along with subsequent deaths of the character. The player cannot remove the symbol from the map. The symbol does not have a description (Table 1).
Symbol 6 (Fig. 1) presents a simplified monster’s head (an oval and two horns). It informs about the position of the altar for calling one out of five Bosses in the game. The symbol appears as the new subplots unfold. In the world of the game we find certain information that are crucial to the game by reading stone runes. When we find the appropriate runes in the appropriate land, we unblock the position of one of the altars (Bosses). Each Boss has the same symbol but a different description (name of the Boss) to make the distinction easier. There can be several positions of one Boss (altar) in the game. The player may remove the symbol from the map after, for instance, defeating the Boss. The symbol is a breakpoint of the game as without defeating Bosses the player cannot move on in the game. When one out of five Bosses the player receives a trophy that he puts in sacrifice (Symbol 1) and receive one of the unique super skills.
Symbol 7 (Fig. 1) presents a red, simplified (pawn-like) silhouette of a man wielding a sword and a shield. The symbol informs about the position of the other player or, with the Player versus Player option on, a potential enemy. In the right bottom corner of the map interface it is possible to reveal or hide one’s position to other players (Fig. 2). If there is just a single player, the symbol will not appear. The symbol moves along with the position of other players. The maximum number of 10 players may participate in the game, so the player may see up to 9 co-players. To distinguish between players, their nickname is always under their symbol (Table 1).
Symbol 8 (Fig. 1), according to the authors of this article, should denote the position of a Bonfire. The Bonfire is an important place in the game as the bed (symbol 4) needs to be located nearby and also meals may be prepared nearby (thus, it determines the standard of living of our character). However, the creators of Valheim offered players an opportunity to subjectively add symbols 8–12 to the content of the map (Table 1). Hence, the function of the symbol cannot be easily established, because the player can use it to tag anything he wants and add any kind of description to it. Symbols 8–12 can be added (or removed) thanks to the panel located in the bottom right corner of the map interface (Fig. 2).
Symbol 9 (Fig. 1) should, in the authors’ opinion, denote the position of the main Shelter in the game.
Symbol 10 (Fig. 1) represents a Hilt of a Sword. In the world of the game it should, according to the authors of the article, denote the position of the forge. The forge plays a significant part in the game, because it helps players create, improve, and fix their equipment (made from metal).
Symbol 11 (Fig. 1), in authors’ opinion, represents a Point or a Circle. For this specific symbol one can talk about full subjectivity when it comes to determining its function in the game. The symbol may denote basically anything, from the position of the enemy’s camp to the position in which the deposits of natural resources are located.
Symbol 12 (Fig. 1) represents, according to the authors, a Runestone or a Portal. Portals play a significant part in moving around the map. Without them we can cover distances only on foot or by boat. Portals shorten the time needed to cover long distances.
Online surveys help researchers determine the level of knowledge and experience of the respondents. This method allows researcher to collect data from a large group of people from any part of the globe, who have access to the Internet. A digital surveying process secures efficiency and optimal results in terms of collecting data for a database (e.g., Excel) to be analysed afterwards. The authors decided to use the LimeSurvey surveying platform to collect answers (Cybulski and Wielebski 2019; Horbiński et al. 2020). The survey was available on the platform between 19 and 31 March 2021. A link to our online survey was distributed internationally through gaming-related fora (Reddit, Gamespot, IGN, NeoGAF, Facebook groups) with the opportunity for anyone interested to participate in the survey.
The survey consisted of 16 questions divided into two parts:
basic information about the respondent and his relations to the game of Valheim,
questions about opinions on map symbols occurring on the map.
In the first part of the survey users were asked about nationality, age, previous experience in playing Valheim, and how much they had already played if they had some experience. In the second part of the game the user answered the same question for each individual map symbol: in your opinion, what does this symbol mean?
Designing the survey, the authors specified its several features:
no opportunity to go back to previous questions,
no opportunity to omit some questions/give the “None” answer,
the opportunity to fill out the survey just once for a single IP computer,
unlimited amount of time for answering the questions,
both open questions and single answer questions were used.
After the survey had been finished, all answers were exported in the.xlsx format for Excel.
Group of Respondents
The number of respondents who participated in the survey was 1043. To make individual surveys valid, the user had to answer all questions and send the notification about completing the survey. The analysis of answers showed that 352 surveys were incomplete, not meeting the requirements, and they had to be deleted. Out of 691 respondents who filled out the entire survey, the players of Valheim (Gamers) turned out to be the largest group (74.2%). Posting the survey in social media or on forums allowed the researchers to reach a diverse group of respondents, with Americans (29.1%) and Poles (19.4%) as the two dominating nationalities (the survey was filled out by respondents from over 50 countries). Although the authors expected the survey to be filled out mostly by younger people, the age of respondents was diverse as well (Fig. 3). According to temporal data, respondents had to spend 5 min on average for the survey (the maximum of 30 min and a minimum of 1 min).
Categorisation of Answers
The data of the unprocessed text of open questions used in surveys are frequently difficult to analyse and laborious. However, the database of the answers is highly valuable due to the fact that the survey does not limit answer opportunities and does not suggest answers to respondents. Using the method of categorisation, the researchers provided answers to open questions (5–16) related to map symbols on the map. All answers to individual questions received their base of categories. Researchers worked out a separate data categorisation for each symbol due to variety of features and meaning. The answers were categorised in relation to the entire group of respondents, without dividing them into players and non-players of Valheim. In order for the answer to be put in a specific category, it had to include at least one word commonly considered acceptable, because otherwise, the answer was categorised as “None”. If the respondent gave more than one answer, only the first word, crucial to each question, was taken into consideration. Synonyms, words of similar meaning and words concretised to fit the meaning present in a certain working or professional environment (boat–anchor–harbour) were analysed in terms of one category. After the categorisation had been completed, the number of answers from all categories for each question was analysed and it was determined that the category was to be included in data analysis when the number of answers exceeded the number corresponding to 1% of all answers in a given group of respondents.
To check whether there are statistical differences between the interpretation of symbols by respondents who play and those who do not play Valheim, Pearson’s Chi-squared test (with multiple comparisons—the Benjamini–Hochberg Procedure) was done for nonparametric data in the PQStat software (v 1.8.0). For the data that did not meet the Cochran’s theorem (i.e. some categories had very few answers), Fisher’s exact (dealing with a small sample size in categories) test was additionally done.