[MUD-Dev] Psychology & Player Motivation (was Geometric Content Generation)

Ola Fosheim Grøstad <olag@ifi.uio.no> Ola Fosheim Grøstad <olag@ifi.uio.no>
Fri Oct 12 12:26:03 New Zealand Daylight Time 2001

Sasha Hart wrote:
> [Ola]
>> [Rayzam]

> I'd bet the point was that dying, losing equipment and so on were
> parts of why many muds are any fun, and not that a game must
> provide suffering (maybe as contrast) in order to provide
> amusement of any sort, which is ridiculous!

I don't bet, but at least we agree that it is ridiculous.

> I agree that many, many computer games I have played depended
> critically on the availability of risks to make them very engaging
> - this does seem to be one of the most salient characteristics of
> a "gamey game," as opposed to totally free-form roleplay,
> building, etc. which are also enjoyable, but are very different...

Well, yes, but also notice that the type of games we see are limited
by the capitalistic low-risk high-profit motivation, i.e. to
repackage the old and well known easy-to-implement ideas as new and
better, to avoid establishing new genres due to the difficulty of
marketing etc. We got games like Sim City and Populous (and Zork and
what not) _despite_ the presence of the game industry...

One reason I don't really look much at games anymore (beyond reading
reviews) is that they are all reimplementations of games I've seen
in the 80's (or early 90's).

> Although it is arguable that there is challenge, I don't think it
> is controversial to say that games *feel* different without such
> risks, or even that players act differently depending on whether
> the risks are there. Hence it may be an important consideration to
> the extent that we care to compare games in this way. (Harangue me
> if that was vague.)

I do not disagree that perceived risk will increase involvement, it
does of course make the player narrow down and intensify his
focus. It might even induce stress which spill over into offline
activities. Risk and conflict is related, and conflict is one source
for drama that is easy to exploit, so yes of course... However,
MMORPGs do not provide major in-game risks in the objective sense
(although you do have the social ones).

> Lack of punishment isn't what makes things boring. But the
> possibility of failure may be the spice which makes things like
> leveling rewarding *to begin with*.

Maybe, although I think social comparison and the lack of other
valid activities are more important reasons. Low level players are
also significantly under powered and have good reason to feel
discontent, so the activity is, I believe, for many players, a
struggle for a more promising future. Which in my opinion is the
single feature that MUDs exploit the most. I.e. "This game is
mediocre, but I keep playing because I want to see if it gets better
when I get that new spell, after that update, the new expansion..."
When the game fails to meet expectations I see statements like "I
can't believe I have invested 5 months to get _this_, I'll give the
developers another month. _Please_ prove me wrong..."

Still, when you think about it, low level characters are typically
_protected_ from any kind of failure beyond the more symbolic
(possibly humiliating) one...

> I have the same intuition, but it is useful to keep an eye out for
> how even apparently basic motivators work - I think the ongoing
> struggle with this issue is easily seen in the continuous
> discussion of, say, "skill based vs. level based advancement."

Hmmf, I believe the basic motivator is "having your presence
validated by other people", "feeling of being included", "having fun
with other people", "experiencing high involvement cooperative
craziness", "group mind" etc.  Just look at AO, team-play is fun,
missions are less so (unless you can get MORE than your share
(i.e. exploit) "wowow I am rich", but that is social comparison
too).  And of course, getting gifts and surprises (opening
containers) provides an element of fun as well.

> I think John Hopson's analysis goes a long way, but difficult
> analytic and design problems may require us to back off a
> little. I'm not sure that play behavior is at all well understood
> in the same terms that forage and eating behaviors are, and I
> think this is part of what is articulated by Ola's complaints
> about "RAT stuff."

Hmm. I just reread his presentation, and I can't agree that it goes
a long way to explain behaviour in MUDs. Clearly people get aroused
when they believe that they get closer to the goal, for various
reasons, that is obvious. I don't disagree with that. The closer to
the goal, the greater return on further investment. The closer to
the goal, the more reason you have to think about how your new
skillpoints will improve your situation etc. The more intensified
focus increase entropy and thus prevent other foci from getting in
the way. The closer to the goal, the higher loss you risk (in AO you
save all your XP when you reach a new level, so the faster you get
there, the less time you spend being stressed). This is just plain
rational behaviour, isn't it?  Other kinds of behaviour, such as
polling at expected spawn times, is rational too.  Yes, humans are
good at coming up with incomplete models for how the world works,
and act as if they were true, but that is fairly rational given the
fact that we have evolved in an environment where we have to act
upon incomplete and inaccurate information. We do this all the time.
These things ought to be obvious to any game designer, because you
can't make a game without this assumption.  From a research point of
view; it is important to realize that similar behaviour may have
very different causes, motivation etc!

When it comes to killing 10 orcs to get into a cave etc.. Clearly,
you need to break down goals to make them visible.  Most people are
not going to work their asses off to have a great funeral (ok some
might).  Still, there is clearly a difference between having to kill
10 orcs 10 times in a row, and first killing 10 orcs, then entering
a cave, then picking a lock etc... The last version potentially
offers a drama that progress, a story, complex rituals, rising
expectation and awareness by dramaturgical means etc.

I do not agree that loss-avoidance is a very motivating
strategy. People may claim that they only play UO to keep their
house, but who actually believe that they would do this without
other players on. Preventing other people from obtaining your
position is a completely different case, of course, and is a good
motivational factor in most multi-player games. Think about
monopoly, if you play, it is indeed fun to watch the other people's
moves. Some games require fast play in order to be really fun, such
as the card game "war", increased entropy, increased involvement,
arousal. Games are simple, but not that simple. Especially the
multi-user _worlds_.

I think there are good reasons to be sceptical of laboratory
experiments, unless you limit your design to laboratory conditions.
I guess several games do that, but that is not a very good design

> provision by ideas of how the game "should go" of a defined and
> challenging goal for my manipulation of the system (namely, making
> it do funny or clever things.)

This is also my impression, after having studied various kinds of
MUDs for a while. Many players enjoy the funny and clever things,
especially those things that was not intended by the designers. (For
instance, some players found it really amusing to ask the NPCs
questions that made them look bad, erotic ones I guess). It is also
enjoyable to think that you master a small portion that nobody else
know of.  What I don't like about the current crop of games, is the
lack of depth, there is not a lot of room for myths, the mechanics
are so visible and predictable. The limits of the game world is all
too visible.  This is basically an area where the bottom-up
simulationists might get something right.  (Current systems are
fairly rigid top-down "we know what you want" designs)

Players do of course also like to feel that they progress according
to the dominating power structure (validates a sense of belonging to
the world). However, I don't feel that aspect is the one that
provides the most powerful enjoyment. Although nPower types may use
it to reinforce their identity and obtain a base for power, and
nAffiliation types may use it to maintain their affiliation with a

> You can look at behavioral principles as remarkably "portable" -
> the push for fewer assumptions about processes and internals
> actually leaves perfect opportunities for others to work with
> them, even if they disagree violently with philosophical
> statements of Watson or Skinner.

Well, but is it useful?  Does it add anything that goes beyond
common sense? And, if you want to see something you are likely to
see it.  Simple models of human behaviour in social contexts are
very likely to be insufficient (i.e. not correct).

I don't mind models, even completely wrong ones, if they can be used
as a vehicle for reflecting about a domain.  Still, this is a far
cry from conveying _the truth_ which scientist (and even more so,
students) like to think that they possess.  That I object to, too
much positivism in psychology is potentially dangerous.

Ola  -  http://folk.uio.no/olag/

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