This research study investigated the effects of high fidelity graphics on both learning and presence, or the "sense of being there," inside a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). Four versions of a VLE on the subject of the element mercury were created, each with a different combination of high and low fidelity polygon models and high and low fidelity shaders. A total of 76 college age (18+ years of age) participants were randomly assigned to one of the four conditions. The participants interacted with the VLE and then completed several posttest measures on learning, presence, and attitudes towards the VLE experience. Demographic information was also collected, including age, computer gameplay experience, number of virtual environments interacted with, gender and time spent in this virtual environment. The data was analyzed as a 2 x 2 between subjects ANOVA.
The main effects of shader fidelity and polygon fidelity were both non- significant for both learning and all presence subscales inside the VLE. In addition, there was no significant interaction between shader fidelity and model fidelity. However, there were two significant results on the supplementary variables. First, gender was found to have a significant main effect on all the presence subscales. Females reported higher average levels of presence than their male counterparts. Second, gameplay hours, or the number of hours a participant played computer games per week, also had a significant main effect on participant score on the learning measure. The participants who reported playing 15+ hours of computer games per week, the highest amount of time in the variable, had the highest score as a group on the mercury learning measure while those participants that played 1-5 hours per week had the lowest scores.