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Seduction Secrets In Video Game Design

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the install-that-dopamine-drip dept.

Games 61

Hugh Pickens writes "Drawing on cognitive science, an increasing number of game theorists and designers say that our growing love of video games has important things to tell us about our intrinsic desires and motivations. Central to it all is a simple theory – that games are fun because they teach us interesting things and they do it in a way that our brains prefer – through systems and puzzles. 'With games, learning is the drug,' writes Raph Koster, the designer of seminal multiplayer fantasy games such as Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies. 'In game theory, this is often spoken of as the "magic circle": you enter into a realm where the rules of the real world don't apply – and typically being judged on success and failure is part of the real world. People need to feel free to try things and to learn without being judged or penalised.' Another important element is autonomy as games tap into our need to have control. This is very obvious in 'god games' such as The Sims, where we shape the lives of virtual humans, but it's becoming a vital element of action adventures and shooters, too. Finally another important game design facet is 'disproportionate feedback,' in which players are hugely rewarded for achieving very simple tasks. In highly successful shooters such as Call of Duty and Bulletstorm, when an enemy is shot, they don't just collapse to the floor, they explode into chunks. 'You're good, you're a success – you're powerful,' writes Stuart. 'Disproportionate feedback is an endorphin come-on.'"

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What? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36194876)

Enemies in Call of Duty don't 'explode into chunks' when shot. Sigh. Does anyone who researches video games actually ever play them?

Re:What? (2)

wjousts (1529427) | more than 3 years ago | (#36195056)

I think it's hyperbole rather than bad research. Deaths in video games are more dramatic and often more bloody that they would be in real-life.

Re:What? (1)

demonbug (309515) | more than 3 years ago | (#36195146)

I think it's hyperbole rather than bad research. Deaths in video games are more dramatic and often more bloody that they would be in real-life.

I would argue, in general, more dramatic but less bloody than real life.

Re:What? (1)

wjousts (1529427) | more than 3 years ago | (#36195270)

Maybe. I admittedly haven't seen that many real-life gunshot victims; Hollywood ain't known for realism in this regard either, so it's not a good comparison either. In general it's probably true that games go lighter on the blood because a) it's computational expensive to keep track of every pool of blood (hence the fading blood pools - and disappearing corpses - that we're all used to) and b) the misconception that gaming is for kids and blood will harm their delicate little psyche - so while violence is fine, we must shield them from the bloody consequences.

Re:What? (2)

MyFirstNameIsPaul (1552283) | more than 3 years ago | (#36195668)

I remember in Quake when you'd shoot someone up close with the shotgun their body would explode and their head would ricochet off the walls.

Re:What? (1)

Dunge (922521) | more than 3 years ago | (#36197476)

You had to remember that far? There's hundreds of better games doing that.

Re:What? (1)

MyFirstNameIsPaul (1552283) | more than 3 years ago | (#36197922)

The point was that my Pentium Pro 200 with a 4 MB Matrox Millenium was able to 'handle the gore'.

Re:What? (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 3 years ago | (#36200460)

At 320x200 a 486DX2-66 with ANY VGA card could 'handle the gore'. I still can't believe I was competitive like that, but I was. Quakeworld FTW, baby.

Re:What? (1)

Jesus_666 (702802) | more than 3 years ago | (#36196046)

I've seen a gunshot victim up close. In his case the bullet wound tightened itself up (there was no exit wound as the bullet was stopped by his femur) but that just meant that the bleeding was internal. After a minute he looked like he had a cantaloupe inside his thigh. If that blood had spilled out instead of staying inside his leg, well, it would've been quite a mess.

And we're talking about a single 9mm pistol round from a distance of several meters. Given the kind of ammunition you often pepper people with from much closer, video game enemies seem to have no more than a pint of blood in their entire body. Then again, neither have movie gunshot victims so i guess people expect little blood. (Or, as TV Tropes puts it, "reality is unrealistic".)

Re:What? (1)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 3 years ago | (#36195842)

I think it's hyperbole rather than bad research.

Calling bullshit "french perfume" doesn't make it stink any less.

This new "research" sounds like another conclusion that has preceded the data.

Re:What? (1)

sorak (246725) | more than 3 years ago | (#36195860)

I think it's hyperbole rather than bad research. Deaths in video games are more dramatic and often more bloody that they would be in real-life.

And apparently video game reporting is more dramatic and often more bloody than in real life...

Re:What? (1)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 3 years ago | (#36196488)

I can't remember its name, but a friend of mine played a console game for Nintendo 64(?) that was an RPG similar to Final Fantasy, but when you killed an opponent, a giant gushing fountain of blood would spew straight up out of the character/creature for at least three seconds, then they would die. Now, I'm talking about an amount of blood easily twenty times what was in their body. The battles were isometric, so the blood fountains were ridiculous looking.

Re:What? (1)

Phoghat (1288088) | more than 3 years ago | (#36203920)

I don't know. Have you ever killed someone in real life?

Re:What? (1)

kmoser (1469707) | more than 3 years ago | (#36206408)

I shot a man in Reno 911: Excessive Force, just to watch him die.

Re:What? (1)

Phoghat (1288088) | more than 3 years ago | (#36215986)

When I was just a young boy, my Momma told me :" Son, always be a good boy, don't ever play with guns". Now I'm stuck in Folsom Prison and time keeps dragging on.

Re:What? (1)

wjousts (1529427) | more than 3 years ago | (#36215970)

No comment.

Re:What? (2)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 3 years ago | (#36195508)

Not regularly in Call of Duty, no, but they sure do in Fallout (provided you shoot them enough or have the bloody mess perk) and Borderlands (provided you're using a ridiculously high level gun on low level enemies.) And, yes, it is satisfying. Virtually seeing a head explode in slow-motion after you shoot it with the gauss rifle, with the body ragdolling around a second later is disturbingly satisfying. Taking a level 60 shotgun against a hoard of level 1 "badasses," and seeing torsos disappear, with bits of gore raining down, that does happen in games, and it is oddly rewarding. You do indeed feel powerful on some minor level, even as you realize you couldn't do that in real life even if you DID have a high power weapon and lacked moral qualms about slaughtering people.

In other words, the principle is right even if the exact example is not.

Furthermore (spoilers for modern warfare) there is that one sniping mission where you shoot the target's arm off. Again, satisfying.

Re:What? (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 3 years ago | (#36200472)

Furthermore (spoilers for modern warfare) there is that one sniping mission where you shoot the target's arm off. Again, satisfying.

That much is real, anyway. Potentially. A .50 cal will do absurd damage and it's supposed to be relatively trivial to smack a pie plate-sized target at two miles with match rounds. Which is not to say that I could do it. Or at one mile or so, you can do it with a high explosive round.

Re:What? (1)

Eivind (15695) | more than 3 years ago | (#36216008)

If by "trivial" you mean "the worlds best snipers, on a day with perfect conditions, can do it with some luck", then yes.

Hmm (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 3 years ago | (#36194926)

I'm not sure I should listen to advice on game design from the designer of Star Wars Galaxies?

Re:Hmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36194984)

If he designed pre-NGE Galaxies, his advice is valid.

Re:Hmm (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 3 years ago | (#36195064)

If he designed pre-NGE Galaxies, his advice is valid.

I disagree: SWG was the most boring MMO I've ever played... I didn't even last the free trial week.

Re:Hmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36196360)

Free trial week wasn't offered until AFTER the CU/NGE went into effect. IE you never got to play it as originally designed.

Which is too bad, because without the WoWish class system it was a pretty fun game, especially as a casual player where you could under-specialize and be just good enough at the basics to help out no matter what group you got stuck in. Mind you the real fun was becoming a master of something and either being able to kill the big guys solo, or craft the equipment that all your friends coveted (Especially the Bioengineers/Creature Handlers.)

Re:Hmm (2)

VGPowerlord (621254) | more than 3 years ago | (#36195132)

If he designed pre-NGE Galaxies, his advice is valid.

Raph Koster designed pre-NGE Galaxies, yes.

However, he was still working at SOE when NGE hit in 2005, not departing SOE until 2006.. I don't know if he was still working on SWG or not, though.

Re:Hmm (1)

AP31R0N (723649) | more than 3 years ago | (#36200868)

What is the question asking?

BF Skinner (2, Insightful)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 3 years ago | (#36194960)

Games are attractive because they train you with positive reinforcement quickly delivered.

More complex theories are superfluous.

Re:BF Skinner (5, Interesting)

wjousts (1529427) | more than 3 years ago | (#36195088)

Yeah this is hardly ground breaking: 5 Creepy Ways Video Games Are Trying to Get You Addicted [cracked.com]

Re:BF Skinner (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36197740)

So they're really exploiting security holes in the human brain.
Since a brain cannot simply be patched, I think that this stuff should be made illegal.
There should be a law that states that if a game has these characteristics, the management of the company and the designers and programmers of the game get a 10 year sentence for skinnerboxing.

Re:BF Skinner (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36201044)

Thanks for the article, very intersting.
I was once somewhat addicted to Lineage2 but luckily I did snap out of it easily when I realised that I was wasting my time.

Re:BF Skinner (0)

drb226 (1938360) | more than 3 years ago | (#36195150)

This comment is attractive because it trains you with positive reinforcement quickly delivered.

More complex theories are superfluous.

ftfy

Re:BF Skinner (1)

NoSig (1919688) | more than 3 years ago | (#36195490)

I wouldn't want to play any game you had designed.

Re:BF Skinner (1)

Fremandn (316311) | more than 3 years ago | (#36195902)

I think it would like something like this:

Pick up that can! (Picks up can.) +1
Pick up that can! (Picks up can.) +1
Pick up that can! (Picks up can.) +1
Pick up that can! (Picks up can.) +1
Pick up that can! (Picks up can.) +1
Pick up that can! (Picks up can.) +1
(Switch to variable interval schedule)
Pick up that can! (Picks up can.) +0
Pick up that can! (Picks up can.) +0
Pick up that can! (Picks up can.) +1
Pick up that can! (Picks up can.) +0
Pick up that can! (Picks up can.) +1
Pick up that can! (Picks up can.) +0

Re:BF Skinner (1)

migla (1099771) | more than 3 years ago | (#36196306)

Yes, behaviorism is at the core and sometimes there is not much else, but it's also kind of solved and boring from a waxing-philosophical-about-the-games point of view.

More interesting, IMO, is precisely whatever more complex theories could be applied, even if they just add nuance above the fundamental skinner box.

Re:BF Skinner (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36197728)

The next question is how to encode educational content in general into such a scheme. Systems, subsystems, systems supporting other systems, interacting systems as games, mini-games, achievements and campaigns perhaps. Best practices of using once memory and brains should be encoded along the teaching equivalents.

From an amateur game developer (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36195074)

I can't help but feel a bit of shock at how well this describes very core aspects of game design. I mod games as a hobby, and finding ways to keep players happy makes up a large part of my day. This article is not only completely true (in the areas that matter) but it sums up complicated task in a simple and direct way.

Just how many ways can you find to make the player feel good about simple achievements without drowning the overall experience, or how do you scale your rewards to entice more play time? This is sweetest part of game design, and these types of questions never get old to me.

Missed something (1)

oic0 (1864384) | more than 3 years ago | (#36195160)

He missed another important feature required for a game to be massively successful. It has to allow creativity and be fairly open ended. EX: Minecraft. People don't play minecraft to survive zombies. People play because the game lets them create. I think that is also why people enjoy RPGs, you are slowly creating a character. Another example would be Diablo II. The main draw of that game was that with the various items, skills, etc... you could come up with your own character build and create. The inability to "re-spec" made a large portion of that. When you completed a character, it was something you painstakingly created to your specifications and an example of your creativity much like building hot rod etc... As per the Flyn effect people are getting smarter and smarter but our jobs / lives are becoming more and more mundane. The creativity we used to have to use for our own survival loves to find an outlet.

Re:Missed something (1)

Mad Merlin (837387) | more than 3 years ago | (#36195314)

That might be the draw for some, but given the number of cookie cutter builds in D2, I think it's fair to say that the draw for most was finding items. Creating new characters was just an afterthought when you realize you have all these new items sitting around and nothing to do with them.

For others, the draw was neither of these though. I know some people would spend the entire day in one of the trading channels gradually trading their way into more items. If you knew the typical prices of common/desirable items, you could pretty easily trade your way up this way. Arguably, this is just an extension of finding items though.

Re:Missed something (1)

Eponymous Hero (2090636) | more than 3 years ago | (#36195768)

super mario bros and tetris were the opposite of open ended and didn't allow much creativity, and still were hugely popular games. i think your description is valid only when applied to certain types of games. if a game world like GTA 3 was created but you couldn't roam it, then the lost potential would be a glaring setback. the fact that you can't create your own block shapes in tetris, or design your own levels in super mario bros didn't detract from their success.

then again, maybe game expectations were different back then and guided opinions about success differently as well. if that's true then what makes games successful is relative to many things like culture and technology.

i still think it largely depends on the type of game, though. there are plenty of games that don't offer wide freedoms in gameplay, but are still very popular. online poker anyone?

SW:G and UO (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36195172)

SW:G and UO are barely "games". There's basically no goal other than one the player creates themselves and the gameplay itself is relatively simple. I can't really trust the word of someone who tries to talk about "games" when these games are their primary accomplishments.

Re:SW:G and UO (1)

UnknownSoldier (67820) | more than 3 years ago | (#36199250)

> SW:G and UO are barely "games"

And WoW isn't ?

How do you "win" at WoW ? How do you "lose" at WoW ?

If you don't have a winning and losing state, you don't have a game, you have a toy -- that's what all MMORPGS are -- pseudo-games -- really, toys.

It's true (3, Insightful)

Mad Merlin (837387) | more than 3 years ago | (#36195200)

A big part of games is learning, but also that of mastery and accomplishment. People like to get things done, and they also like to feel that they're constantly getting better. Today's games have picked up on this and virtually all of them have "achievements". People like these because they can put numbers to what they've done and compare themselves to others easily. If I have a thousand achievement points, I obviously much better than the guy over there with just fifty.

For all the time and effort that high budget games put into fancy graphics, they often miss the simple things that make a game fun (learning, achievement, mastery). Take Game! [wittyrpg.com] for example, it's deceptively simple at first, allowing you to learn things at your own pace, but for the OCD crowd there's so many things to find, combine, and cook that to do all of it is quite the task. However, more importantly, there's direct feedback in Game! [wittyrpg.com] about how many items you have out of the total, how many combinations you've found out of the total, etc. This gives people a concrete goal that they can strive for. Ideally, you strike a balance between casual and OCD so that casual players can play through the entire game without too much trouble (even if they might only get 10% of the 'achievements"), while the more OCD players can gradually work their way through every single "achievement".

Gaming can be good for you (1)

Cato (8296) | more than 3 years ago | (#36200782)

Jane McGonigal has written some great stuff about how and why gaming can be not only engaging but good for your level of engagement with life, friends, family.

See http://www.amazon.com/Reality-Broken-Games-Better-Change/dp/1594202850 [amazon.com] for the book, and particularly her "Practical Advice for Gamers" included in this page.

http://vimeo.com/16227360 [vimeo.com] is a great video of a talk she did that's entertaining as well as instructive, gives a flavour of the book I think.

I don't completely buy that gaming is completely positive, as excessive hours gaming can really be a problem, but she makes some good points.

This is just one aspect not necessarily required (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36195274)

If the only fun in playing games was easy succes then why are multiplayer games so popular where you have to compete against players who are in general more skilled than you? I know that this is the new trend in game development, dumbing down games to make them "accessible" but in my opinion games should be challenging. I like Nethack even though I never could finish it.

Re:This is just one aspect not necessarily require (1)

smellotron (1039250) | more than 3 years ago | (#36199854)

If the only fun in playing games was easy succes then why are multiplayer games so popular where you have to compete against players who are in general more skilled than you?

Because you still get positive feedback, even if you suck. You can go 1:10 in a FPS game against a godlike player, but that one kill just feels so good because they had it coming to them. Also, there is no cumulative penalty for mistakes in many games: everyone respawns the same. Games that allow for a higher skill disparity or cumulative penalties tend to be less popular with casual gamers, because they lack that positive feedback.

DOA Volleyball (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36195310)

That's seduction right there!

Real girl with fake silicon breasts or fake girls rendered with real silicon... at least the fake ones don't slap you when you drool at them.

Re:DOA Volleyball (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36218100)

Silicon != Silicone

I lerned all I need to know... (1)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 3 years ago | (#36195312)

about seduction from playing Fable II!

Circling back to Learning... (1)

Ruke (857276) | more than 3 years ago | (#36195680)

How can we take what we've learned from video games, and apply it to education? Our education system is failing a distressingly high portion of students; could we make Math and Literature "stick" better by gamifying the subjects in a meaningful way? I know that (most) of us are over gold-stars at this point, but can we take the lesson of "overemphasize success" from Peggle, and give kids a "you're freaking awesome!" anthem whenever they master a new skill? Would we be better served by a Super Mario Bros approach to Math, where we give children a "Math Sandbox" to play in, until they feel confident that they could master the test? Or giving them "lives" in a class, so they can have some sort of risk-free feedback system for discovering how much effort is needed to successfully master skills?

I know a lot of hate goes into how much we "coddle" children nowadays, trying to make each of them feel like a special little snowflake, but this isn't licence for the education system to stagnate. If video games are beating our education system at teaching children skills inside the "magic circle," there's no reason why we shouldn't abuse the same "brain hacks" that motivate people to play Farmville to teach high-schoolers algebra.

Re:Circling back to Learning... (1)

Grygus (1143095) | more than 3 years ago | (#36196098)

Schools have a lot of problems, but I honestly think that motivating the kids is one of the smallest; any teacher worth the title can solve that one on their own, given minimal levels of funding. American society as a whole is very hostile to schools right now. Teachers are paid relatively low salaries in most places. Schools as a whole are grossly underfunded. We have had a strong anti-intellectual streak in pop culture for the last few decades. We tie funding to superficial metrics like standardized testing that turn what should be a byproduct into the main objective. I think all of those are much more fundamental issues, and none of them have anything to do with the kids. If gamification can lead to better metrics then I'm all for that, but I suspect this line of inquiry won't do much to improve the sorry state of public education in the U.S.; what we need is to decide, as a nation, that real education actually matters - not merely as a means to an end, but as an end itself.

Re:Circling back to Learning... (1)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 3 years ago | (#36196936)

I agree with a lot of what you say - but I don't think funding issues have anything to do with the problems in our schools.

Teachers are generally paid more than people in their community are, and with much better benefits.

School funding in most places is pretty good. In the state I live in we fund schools to the tune of $13,200 per pupil. That should be enough.

We do have great inefficiencies in the schools. The administrative loads are ridiculous. These eat up a lot of the funds that should be spent on actually educating the students.

Ant-intellectualism is not a recent part of American culture. It has been a long term issue in our society. It is very different in Europe. Travel there as a university professor and you are treated with great deference and respect. Here, no big deal.

Look at the faces on European currency. Philosophers, scientists and mathematicians are common. We just do not celebrate our leading intellects.

I think it will take another Sputnik to wake people up again. Perhaps a permanent Chinese moon base would do it.

Re:Circling back to Learning... (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 3 years ago | (#36200712)

Teachers are paid relatively low salaries in most places. Schools as a whole are grossly underfunded.

I agree with you in both cases but neither of these is the primary problem in education. The problem is treating us all the same when we are not, as well as treating us different in ways we aren't. You take a group of kids and tell the teacher they're gifted and they excel, you take a group of kids and tell the teacher they're problems and just see what happens.

Re:Circling back to Learning... (1)

sgt scrub (869860) | more than 3 years ago | (#36197222)

in the south it would have to be a god game.

Re:Circling back to Learning... (1)

mspixi08 (2191912) | more than 3 years ago | (#36220320)

A good number of researchers are quite involved in research into developing games to use as teaching and learning tools. One notable school in New York City, Quest to Learn (http://q2l.org/) actually has a curriculum based around 'game-like' learning and actively uses a number of educational video games as part of the curriculum. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/19/magazine/19video-t.html [nytimes.com] http://g4li.org/ [g4li.org] http://www.educationarcade.org/ [educationarcade.org]

The Path, not the destination... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36196546)

On trips i have taken, i always enjoy the path i take as much as the destination itself. in learning, the path is as much (if not more) important than the destination.
you don't learn by remembering things and regurgitating them back. The experience you have learning/discovering is also very important. if only education was more aware of this accross the board, i would have had more fun in school....

Ummm... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36196788)

Raph Koster, the designer of seminal multiplayer fantasy games such as Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies.

Take away: Listen to what this guy is saying if you want your games to go the way of Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies.

Thanks, but no thanks Mr. Koster.

Disproportionate feedback psych: explains guitar! (1)

Kaz Kylheku (1484) | more than 3 years ago | (#36199262)

Pluck a little string, make a big noise!

Chugging heavy metal riffs is like blowing up objects in a video game.

Oh, and there can literally be "disproportionate feedback", too.

Well... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36199720)

Games don't have to all be bad. Under the current system of the world, where wealth and power are dominated by the numerically few, who is to say that it is desirable for someone to "do something productive?" Once a good decision gets made, it doesn't need 100 mediocre MBAs batting it around with their penises. A few absolute proven masters will suffice. The trend exerts itself in every area -- with automation, the machine does not require you to wait while $MIN_WAGER talks on his cell phone while ringing up your groceries. Codify the good decisions in the hardware of tomorrow and replace the workers.

So, that leaves a lot of people with jack shit to do. Luckily, games and sport are satisfying. Forge yourself in competition [sirlin.net] with your newfound free time, proles. Or don't. But these games are fair, and it's the best you can do to not get yourself killed in rebellion against "the Donald" and his ilk.

Re:Well... (1)

improfane (855034) | more than 3 years ago | (#36199960)

Are you from GameFAQS?

Cringe worthy (1)

lyinhart (1352173) | more than 3 years ago | (#36200602)

Great. Another article about talking heads yacking their heads off about video games, blah blah blah. I cringe when I see flowery text like "Like most titles in this genre, it's designed to put us into a series of dramatic set-pieces." No. It's designed to have you shooting all kinds of people with all sorts of weapons. That is what an FPS is.

I'd be far more impressed if they actual did a study of the human brain and what parts of it are in use while playing video games - pleasure/reward centers etc. Otherwise, all we have in this set of articles is a bunch of people just postulating their "theories" in another long-winded manner that doesn't help anyone.

Here's a novel concept. We play video games that are fun. Yes, fun. Remember that? The original reason we played video games before self-proclaimed video game academics and journalists decided to inflate their own reputations and overthink video games as a whole?

Disproportionate feedback (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36201602)

This also leads to delusions of adequacy and anger management issues when a fail is achieved when emulating game actions in the real world (whatever that is)

Ha ha... wait. (1)

Geminii (954348) | more than 3 years ago | (#36225640)

'With games, learning is the drug,' writes Raph Koster

Insert slightly uncomfortable "America's War on Drugs" joke here...

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