Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Psychology in Games

Psychology in Games

I’m in a course called Digital Arts & Entertainment. We recently got our first Psychology lesson and I must say it astounded me that it had such an impact on gamers. Here are some facts/thoughts and bits of information about our first lesson on this topic.

Most gamers don’t look behind the game mechanics. They play their games, have their favorite genre’s and are looking forward to the release of that new game.

But behind this tension and amusement lies something more, something game designers know about. Without influencing the costumer psychologically, he won’t play your game.

It might sound like a bad thing if you’re a gamer. “What?? He’s playing with my mind?? F**** him and his stupid game!!” is a reaction that would happen in most of the cases. But as a game developer/designer, you must think the other way around. You got to think and know about psychology to keep the player occupied and/or interested in future releases.

The most common way to do this is the reward/punishment method.

When the gamers passes a certain obstacle, he earns points, finishes a level or gets some nice looking graphics/animations (Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball). But when he fails to keep his health up, hits an obstacle or just doesn’t get the picture, he loses the level and/or dies.

Lots of games put this into context with a trial-and-error learning curve in their games. For example: Streetfighter 2. Most people who played this game didn’t read the full manual or all the button combinations, they just started key-bashing. That leads to frustration in the beginning but that also helps to keep the player playing. He wants to win the battle.

After a while, the player will start seeing that a certain button in combination with an other button gives a much bigger blow. The player has learned a new move, is rewarded for that because of the bigger damage he deals, and is happy about it and starts to be better in the game. This all leads to the player playing the game, and keeping him play. The player feels good about himself because of the points he finally scored.

These are just basic examples of what happens inside the mind of a gamer, but it’s all in this general direction. The human behavior in this is predictable (with a certain margin of error), and will give almost the same results with other people.

The main goal of every game developer (huge company/small indie) is/should be to get into the mind of the gamers and use psychological tricks to convince the gamer that it is a good game, they are doing good and the developer did a great job.

The margin of error on this does tend to make some gamers complain about the game, no game will be that good that every gamer in the world would buy it and be hooked on it. The margin just doesn’t allow it.

When speaking about gamers, I tend to use the male form. I know there are female gamers and I apologize to them. It’s no discrimination, just my writing style.

All products mentioned above are property of their respective owners. My views do not, in any way, represent the views of products/companies mentioned above/holding copyrights on any information in this document.


Anonymous said...

It's a very interesting concept, yet I think the word "tricking" isn't the right word here. You're not deceiving the player, what you're doing is using his psychological mechanisms to stimulate him and create a pleasurable experience. It's comparable to other forms of entertainment, Movies, comic books, novels, board games, etc. all make use of basic neurological mechanisms to stimulate pleasure.
So in a way, yes you are "messing" with their mind because you're exploiting the way the mind works by making it respond to artificial stimulae, but this is true of all forms of modern media and hardly constitutes ill intentioned trickery.
Could it be used for something else? Obviously. Simulation, comparable to what little children do when playing house or doctor, has long been used for learning and for intensive training exercises. "Games" are often used in competitions and evaluations to encourage players to do better. At the most basic level, even the most trivial trial and error processes are comparable to what we call "just messing around". This is because fundamentally playing is the natural human mechanism for learning, and it's pleasurable to a person whenever he learns something new or completes an activity which he thinks is meaningful. So when someone plays street fighter 2 and suddenly discovers that a certain sequence of keys makes Ryu shoot a hadoken from his hands, he feels pleasure, and when he beats a character he feels it too, more so if in the process he manages to beat his own best score (This is why score keeping is so important in gaming, it constitutes a numerical, and thus comparable, representation of your level of achievement. By simple nature a player will always try to get the best score he can, thus adding replayability and encouraging competitiveness.)
I believe video games are much more important than we understand. Like alchemy before chemistry or physics before quantum physics, I think video games are scraping the surface of a much deeper and more meaningful as of yet untapped technology.

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Yunardy said...

I just recently got interested about this topic, my personal experience about game there's one aspect intrigue me (so far). I was playing Far Cry 1 back in win 95 era (with amd barton processor, read: its very old), there was a waiting period when you try to load a savegame that's understandable. Now, I play the same game with much much much powerful machine, why there's still a waiting period as it load the savegame? I noticed during progress bar moving there is NO activity in my hard drive or anything. Is waiting period also makes us eager hence psychology effect?

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