[MUD-Dev] Psychology and game design (Was Geometric content generation)

John Hopson jwh9 at acpub.duke.edu
Wed Oct 3 12:27:50 New Zealand Daylight Time 2001


At 11:11 AM 10/2/2001, Ola Fosheim Gr=F8stad wrote:
>John Hopson wrote:

>> Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that setting up an
>> effective schedule of reinforcement is all there is to a game,
>> any more than grammar is all there is to Shakespeare.  But it is
>> an essential component of the medium, and one that deserves
>> respect and attention.

> Feedback is important, yes.  But so is context, expectation and
> catharsis.  In the lack of more intellectually satisfying goals,
> primitive social comparison is the common substitute.

While the examples in the article concerned fairly simple goals and
rewards such as experience points and access to equipment, these are
by no means the only kinds of rewards.  A behaviorist is perfectly
fine with the idea of "more intellectually satisfying goals".  We
primarily study simple goals because the experiments are simpler and
cleaner, not because our theories don't apply to more complex
endeavors.  Rewards can be as complex as a successfully roleplayed
relationship or as simple as a new sword.  The basic behavioral
principles still apply.

Now, the nature of the goal does matter and will affect how the
player goes about achieving that goal.  But the fact that there are
variations from the basic theme doesn't invalidate the theme.

> If you make a game for rats (or pigeons!) then maybe what was
> stated about rats was particularly useful.  Unfortunately the
> higher-level goals/needs of rats and humans are
> different. Motivation in humans can not be analysed by a simple
> stimuli-response experiment. If you read the paper, you would've
> seen that the author made a lot of statements about the adaptive
> behaviour of RATS.  What kind of relevance does that have for
> designing a game?

If you're talking about the Gamasutra paper, I did more than read
it, I'm the author.  I included in the article a quick explanation
of why the animal data is useful, but since it seems to have been
insufficient/unconvincing in your case I'll expand upon it.

Every single one of the principles described in the article has been
demonstrated in humans.  What behavioral psychology tries to study
are general rules of learning, universal rules that apply to all
animals capable of responding to their environment.  The majority of
experiments are done with animals for logistical reasons.  Getting
humans to show up to participate in an experiment for an hour a day
for several months is difficult, not to mention expensive.  For
almost all of the behavioral experiments you'll read about, the data
will look very similar in humans, rats, and pigeons.  Some things do
differ between species, but even those differences help tell us
something.

Yes, there are probably motivations in humans that don't exist in
rats.  But motivation is not a unitary thing.  Our actions reflect a
complex interplay of motivations, some of which can be analyzed and
understood using behavioral tools.  The article was an attempt to
offer some of those tools to game designers in the hopes that it
would help them understand some portion of how players react to
games.  I am not so proud as to claim that behavioral psychology can
explain everything, or even most things.

> Who says games in general deserves respect?  I don't!

I do.  Games in general deserve our respect because all games tell
us something about human nature.  Each game offers a tiny window
into what makes us tick, as a species and as individuals.

John Hopson

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