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The Psychology of Video Games
March 10, 2010 10:46 AM   Subscribe

The Psychology of Video Games. Jamie Madigan has a Ph.D. in psychology. He's also a Gamer with a capital G, has written gaming strategy guides and countless game reviews, and follows the gaming scene like some people follow baseball. In his blog, Jamie tells you "why things are" when it comes to game psychology. Conan the Loss Averse Barbarian. How Reciprocity Yields Bumper Crops in Farmville. Phat Loot and Neurotransmitters in World of Warcraft. posted by Cool Papa Bell (58 comments total) 56 users marked this as a favorite

 
God, I'm so glad I got out of gaming when I was 12. It's like when they anti-drug people talk about how "today's pot is 10x stronger than what you smoked in the 60s." Only in this case, it's actually true.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:48 AM on March 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm still addicted to pac-man. I feel like a speed taker at a heroine party.
posted by ExitPursuedByBear at 10:50 AM on March 10, 2010


How do I unlock the achievement of never having to hear about how addictive Farmville is again?
posted by DU at 10:54 AM on March 10, 2010 [2 favorites]



I especially enjoyed reading about The Glitcher's Dilemma. Thanks for sharing!
posted by dealing away at 10:55 AM on March 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I hope Civ 5 comes out after I turn in my dissertation.
posted by demiurge at 10:55 AM on March 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think WoW has really moved past the slot machine aspect of it all to a large degree. Most of the loot at endgame comes at a predictable rate from badges you earn for doing certain things. There are still awesome random drops from raid bosses but after you replace your epic mace of legend several times over four years it becomes way less of a rush.

It really is turning into a more casual and social game, as a direct result of conscious decisions from the developers. You may need the slot machine addiction thing to get people hooked in the first place though.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:59 AM on March 10, 2010


....they're making a Civ 5?

I don't need new and improved crack.

I'm kissing. I need it. I need it like oxygen. I need it like I need NUCLEAR WEAPONS
posted by The Whelk at 10:59 AM on March 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


kissing/kissing. Freudian slip of the tongue there. Oh come here you beautiful jewel case you
posted by The Whelk at 11:00 AM on March 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Civ 5 : Yes. And it has hexes.
posted by absalom at 11:01 AM on March 10, 2010


This is great stuff.
posted by Mister_A at 11:03 AM on March 10, 2010



Civ 5 : Yes. And it has hexes.


*sobbing* you ...bastards.....you utter....complete....I just...mastered beating it on Monarch you can;t do this to people oit's ...wrong...
posted by The Whelk at 11:06 AM on March 10, 2010 [7 favorites]


My personality is the sort that totally goes in for the loot games. Interestingly, I have no problem walking away from slot machines, but that doesn't invalidate the theory in the "Phat Loot" article–just goes to show you that the brain is complex and I like to hold on to my money. Sort of.
posted by Mister_A at 11:15 AM on March 10, 2010


I never thought to describe the "it's 4 o'clock in the morning on a Tuesday but I'll stop for real this time after I find some new armor" response as a form of arousal but it makes sense. In a semi-creepy way.

Man, a lot of nice stuff at the site. Good post.
posted by cheap paper at 11:16 AM on March 10, 2010


Shouldn't Civ 5 have pentas not hexes? ugh sorry

This is a great find. I'm looking forward to the amount of work I'm going to not do while I read articles about video game theory instead.
posted by Babblesort at 11:17 AM on March 10, 2010


furiousxgeorge: I think WoW has really moved past the slot machine aspect of it all to a large degree. Most of the loot at endgame comes at a predictable rate from badges you earn for doing certain things.

At that point it's only partly about accumulating frequent-flier-mile-type points ("Only 7 more emblems till I get the new gloves! I should go find another raid!"). There's still the slot machine aspect for many great items but loot tends to now be determined by relatively small "loot tables" with a few specific items possible for each boss. There's also the added "fun" of competing against the other members of your raid as that amazing epic spellcaster staff drops and every single mage, priest, warlock, druid, and shaman rolls the dice to see who wins.
posted by luftmensch at 11:22 AM on March 10, 2010




Civ 5 will be out Fall 2010, according to that website. So, you know, start saving up that PTO and saying goodbye to loved ones now.
posted by PMdixon at 11:25 AM on March 10, 2010


can someone please explain something to me? civ has always been hex based, hasn't it? the hexes just weren't visible. was it some other shape? it certainly wasn't square or diamond. was it octagon based?
posted by shmegegge at 11:26 AM on March 10, 2010


This is great timing, considering Final Fantasy XIII was just released here yesterday. I have no interest in WoW or Farmville, but oh man, the FF series just worms its way into my brain every time and forces me to do nothing else for a month. I'm positive there's blatant addiction principles at work. They might be inherently built in to the RPG genre.
posted by naju at 11:26 AM on March 10, 2010


Civ II-IV were definitely square based, and I assume Civ I was as well?
posted by PMdixon at 11:27 AM on March 10, 2010


There's also the added "fun" of competing against the other members of your raid as that amazing epic spellcaster staff drops and every single mage, priest, warlock, druid, and shaman rolls the dice to see who wins.

lolstaffshaman

noob
posted by monju_bosatsu at 11:29 AM on March 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm sorry, I temporarily mistook this thread for the Blizz forums.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 11:30 AM on March 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


furiousxgeorge: I think WoW has really moved past the slot machine aspect of it all to a large degree. Most of the loot at endgame comes at a predictable rate from badges you earn for doing certain things.

Well, yeah. But with achievement rewards/points and events and arenas and BGs, WoW isn't so much a game as a collection of games. So even if you reach the point of boredom with say, raiding, you could do BGs or Arenas instead and have it push the same buttons but in a different way.

They are also making efforts to thread the needle between rewarding hardcore effort and still allowing people less dedicated to see endgame content and have the full experience. I can't say everything they have tried has been successful, but things are much improved over even the BC experience where only the hardcore got to see sunwell at all, or in vanilla when you'd have 40 people in a raid only to have 3 pieces drop from a boss.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:32 AM on March 10, 2010


The Picking Your Guildies article is so true. Back when I still raided one of the reasons our guild was so successful was that we didn't only evaluate skill, but they had to fit in with our sense of humor, too. Whenever someone new was irritated by the prevailing sense of humor they'd try to nag other people into acting how they wanted, or they'd be all prissy and passive aggressive about the sorts of things we'd joke about and cause drama. One person acting prissy or causing drama can make it really unpleasant for everyone else to play, plus the presumption there is really incredible, so we'd just kick them even if they were really good players otherwise. If you only accept skilled people to begin with AND have a fun atmosphere, attrition is lower so we rarely had problems replacing anyone. Most of the time we had to turn away applications.

What's funny is in the article he notes that isn't exactly "mind-blowing," but so few people seemed to get it. Some of the people we kicked would complain we were being "unfair" because they'd done everything else right during their trial period. We'd have to explain to these people that WoW isn't a job and no one wants to play a game with people they don't like. When they don't like the people they play with, they leave or quit logging in so we stand to lose a lot more than we'd gain by accepting them. Hell, even most jobs aren't going to hire someone that everyone else hates. We also couldn't figure out why the hell these people were so obsessed with loot that they'd want to raid with us even though they seemed miserable playing with us. We were the top guild on the server so I guess they just wanted the best loot without having to server transfer or something.

And it wasn't just failed trials that didn't get it, it was other guilds, too. For four years, we watched other guilds with good players fall apart because they had the idea that they couldn't let go of good players no matter how much drama they caused. When we'd recruit people who came from guilds like that, it would take them a while to feel safe rejecting trials that were good players. Or some guilds would have unrealistic rules like everyone should put aside their differences for the "good of the guild," and there'd be all these rules about what was okay to talk about and what wasn't, just like an office or something. Everyone who came from guilds like that would be surprised that anyone talked in our gchat, because no one in their old guild ever talked or joked around with each other. When you try to make it somewhere anyone can be, then the guild just becomes somewhere no one wants to be. When you accept someone who doesn't fit in, you're not gaining a member, you're pushing other members away. How well the people get along and how little drama is tolerated always seemed to be a lot more important than anything else, but so many guilds would try to pretend if they just had the right rules or the most stringent raiding schedule (we did better than guilds that raided twice as much as us) the other stuff wouldn't matter. People don't work like gear; you can put the best people in the right slots and get nowhere if everyone is miserable.
posted by Nattie at 11:34 AM on March 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


This is one the better blogs I've seen. Thanks so much for bringing it to our attention.
posted by Malor at 11:35 AM on March 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Civ 1-4 was square based, but diagonal movement was the same length as orthogonal movement. This is often called Chebyshev distance.
posted by demiurge at 11:39 AM on March 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


civ has always been hex based, hasn't it?

No, they've definitely always been squares, laid out like diamonds, but the distances from point to point were all the same.
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 11:42 AM on March 10, 2010


On preview- yeah, what he said.
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 11:42 AM on March 10, 2010


can someone please explain something to me? civ has always been hex based, hasn't it? the hexes just weren't visible. was it some other shape? it certainly wasn't square or diamond. was it octagon based?

Civ 1 was square-based. For Civs 2-4, they turned them on their sides to make diamonds.
posted by adamdschneider at 11:49 AM on March 10, 2010


Civ 5 will be out Fall 2010, according to that website. So, you know, start saving up that PTO and saying goodbye to loved ones now.

Our first child is due in August. I expect the baby will spend the first years of its life thinking its name is "One More Turn!"
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:53 AM on March 10, 2010 [7 favorites]


How do I unlock the achievement...

What I think is awesome about this is that I've just recently added this expression to my personal lexicon for non-gaming events, glad to see I'm in good company.

Most recently used when talking to a coworker about something stupid: "Whoa, I just unlocked the 'not giving a shit' achievement."

posted by quin at 11:55 AM on March 10, 2010


well, now that I think about it, I guess I was wrong about civ tile shapes. feh, I say! feh!
posted by shmegegge at 12:10 PM on March 10, 2010


How do I unlock the achievement of never having to hear about how addictive Farmville is again?

No, no, no! Never having to hear about that again would be an actual reward. The whole entire point of achievements is that you do some otherwise unrewarding task (preferably many times) and get no reward other than the check mark in the box next to the name of the achievement.

If collecting all the foozles unlocks a new game level or turns off the loudspeaker that keeps telling you over and over about how addictive Farmville is, it's not an achievement.
posted by straight at 12:18 PM on March 10, 2010


The whole entire point of achievements is that you do some otherwise unrewarding task (preferably many times) and get no reward other than the check mark in the box next to the name of the achievement.

You must only play games with crappy achievement setups.
posted by kmz at 12:37 PM on March 10, 2010


You must only play games with crappy achievement setups.

Achievements that give you things are usually termed "unlocks." Although I hate that term.
posted by JHarris at 12:48 PM on March 10, 2010


Civ 5?? Well, I suppose they might mess it up (I hated the culture mechanism of previous sequels so it's not impossible). But damn, even the original Civ is still addictive, if not as pretty.

Funny, though, now that I'm primarily a console player (Xbox) for the first time since the Atari 2600. I'm trying to imagine Civ "achievements" aside from the obvious (beat X opponents on Y difficulty). And Civ to me has always been solitary hours hunkered down in front of a computer screen, not relaxing on a couch with the dog in front of a big screen affair. Hrm.

Didn't care for 5 Creepy Ways but there looks to be some great stuff here. Just One More Level has particularly caught my eye. Thanks!
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:11 PM on March 10, 2010


I thought the culture mechanism was fixed with the Beyond The Sword pack, it was finally possible to win a high-level game without starting a single war, long-view planning. It changed the game enough to make it fresh, for me anyway.
posted by The Whelk at 1:29 PM on March 10, 2010


Two links that add to the conversation! Dopamine ahoy!!

Achievement Unlocked - satirical yet fun!

The Chairleg Story - all lies, of course! But is it? Yes! BUT IS IT!? YES!!
posted by Sebmojo at 1:33 PM on March 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


You must only play games with crappy achievement setups.

More like I refuse to play games with achievements, all of which are crappy.

Extrinsic rewards suck. If a game isn't intrinsically fun to play, I'm not interested.
posted by straight at 2:37 PM on March 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I never thought to describe the "it's 4 o'clock in the morning on a Tuesday but I'll stop for real this time after I find some new armor" response as a form of arousal but it makes sense. In a semi-creepy way.

In psychology, "arousal" is used in a more general sense, more like "energizing".

I am assuming you were using it in the sexual arousal sense. If not, ignore this comment.
posted by naturesgreatestmiracle at 2:38 PM on March 10, 2010


Though, I suppose for some people, the sexual arousal thing is appropriate, given how many of the characters are drawn.
posted by naturesgreatestmiracle at 2:39 PM on March 10, 2010


I'm sorry, I temporarily mistook this thread for the Blizz forums.

ZOMG UR UNDERGEARED 4 METAFILTER GO BACK 2 DIGG NOOB
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 2:42 PM on March 10, 2010


About Civilization achievements, some of the ones from the space 4X game Sins of a Solar Empire would probably have some analogies (win a game without building archers, win a game without declaring war, win a game before entering the modern era, etc).
posted by whir at 2:50 PM on March 10, 2010


More like I refuse to play games with achievements, all of which are crappy.

Generalizing much? How about any of Valve's most recent game?
posted by arcolz at 3:00 PM on March 10, 2010


I clicked over to read a couple, because it sounded a little interesting, and now I'm doing a full archive binge, just because this guy's writing is not only interesting, but entertaining. I particularly love the image captions and the footnotes.

Thanks for sharing!
posted by Katrel at 3:50 PM on March 10, 2010


I'd love to read all this, but I have so much still to unlock in Tatsunoko vs Capcom. Favorited for later.
posted by Kirk Grim at 5:05 PM on March 10, 2010


Psychology of Games is a really cool website -- glad to see it here!

Also: hell yeah Civ V
posted by danb at 7:57 PM on March 10, 2010


Generalizing much? How about any of Valve's most recent game?

Valve, bless their hearts, have this thing called "off-line mode" which means that I can play their games without any awareness of whatever online achievement crap they've attached to them. I don't play TF2, which I know has achievements (many of which appear to be grindy sucktastic do-X-50-times crap). If any of their single-player games have achievements, (HL2? Portal?) then I'm blessedly unaware of them.

If Portal shoved a bunch of achievement crap in my face, it would no longer be my favorite game evar.
posted by straight at 1:38 AM on March 11, 2010


(disclaimer: I spend way too much time playing WoW)

I really like the achievement system in Wow at least. For every achievement that makes you feel obligated to grind some mindless boring task ("achieve exalted reputation with irrelevant early-game race x") there's one that encourages you to try to do something outside the bounds of normal gameplay, like storming the opposing faction's cities, or nudges you to go see areas of the game you may have missed. I find that I end up playing more non-linearly as a result. It's like they are saying "hey, don't rush to the end - see the whole game!" Also since achievements are shown in guild chat and to players in close physical proximity, it encourages a bit of extra social interaction in the form of congratulations.

Of course, I'd love it if there were ways to encourage all these things that were more intrinsic to gameplay, but that's really hard to do, and I think developers will keep trying to do it anyway. It's not either-or.

And I also am really glad to find out about this site!
posted by freecellwizard at 6:51 AM on March 11, 2010


hell yeah Civ V

I came. I saw. I conquered. Over and over and over again.
posted by The Whelk at 6:52 AM on March 11, 2010


What a great thread - Psychology of Games is really interesting, I learnt that Civ 5 is coming and I can wonder at the marvel that is the wiki article on the Chebyshev distance. God I love Metafilter.
posted by patricio at 7:01 AM on March 11, 2010


Conan the Loss Averse Barbarian

I wrote just the other day about how loss aversion could be used to increase conversion rates on trial games. [...] but the gist of it is that people hate to lose things more than they like to gain them.


Which is funny because the real* Conan regularly risks everything he's got.

*I know Conan. Conan is a friend etc.
posted by ersatz at 8:32 AM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


[The better kind of achievement] encourages you to try to do something outside the bounds of normal gameplay...It's like they are saying "hey, don't rush to the end - see the whole game!"

I agree that's better than the grindy ones, but you could do that just as easily by giving players a list of "Have you tried...?" or better yet, by having characters in the game (or hints found in the environment for games without other characters) make the suggestions, keeping that stuff inside the game rather than breaking the fourth wall.

I saw a story online about a guy playing Far Cry 2 and he gets to a moment where he fails to save the life of an NPC who dies dramatically and then a message pops up: "ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED! GOOD NIGHT SWEET PRINCE: Comfort a Buddy and ease his passing (40)." I would rage quit a game that did that.
posted by straight at 11:56 AM on March 11, 2010


The problem with non-grindy achievements is that they're usually already in the game in some other form. So I've played a few lately where the game already has you chasing this or that tertiary goal, only to be met with the in-game reward *and* an "achievement" 2 seconds later. Which is irritating and unnecessary. And yeah, when there's some serious story element involved, it's also terribly distracting and kills the immersion. It's not the story world rewarding you. It's your GAME CONSOLE, blinky-blink.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:38 AM on March 12, 2010


I love achievements. Good achievements extend the life of the game, and at times make me do things I wouldn't otherwise do.

It's completely possible to turn off achievements, if you can't stand them. Turn them off. You miss a lot of fun games by making blanket statements about something that can be easily ignored completely.
posted by graventy at 8:28 AM on March 12, 2010


I don't miss any fun games by virtue of my feelings about achievements. I never know whether they're handled well or not well before buying and trying the thing, after all. I may miss some of the fun in games without achievements to get me to explore odd corners of the game, but a good game is already doing this. I mean, I recently finished Crackdown, and if enhancement of your powers wasn't a good enough reason, they have 500 permanent agility boosts all over the highest rooftops and spires, and another couple of hundred multi-ability boosts hidden throughout the city. I didn't need to get 400 of the first and another hundred + of the second to then check out the achievements and find that I hadn't done a particular thing with my car, or get *every* agility boost (despite being maxed out on agility) to get some kind of achievement. I finished the storyline at max abilities having seen nearly every corner of that game, and still maybe 20+ achievements to go. That's when I turn the thing off and play something else.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:10 AM on March 12, 2010


(now that game should have ended in a showdown with the Agency. Somehow I doubt doing 30 more oddball things in the game environment would have provided the same sense of closure, nevermind "fun".)
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:35 AM on March 12, 2010


In an interesting coincidence, Civilization designer Sid Meier gave the keynote speech at this year's Game Developers Conference on the psychology of game design.
posted by danb at 8:41 AM on March 13, 2010


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