So I was just reading an article on the devious workings of the video game design world, and I found it extremely interesting. Here are some snippets I found worth sharing, which I completely understand. I don't have a ridiculously obsessed attachment to video games, not like this article is talking about, but I do enjoy them. So I certainly can understand and sympathize with these obsessions. Anyway, check it out:
So here's the big question: Are some games intentionally designed to keep you compulsively playing, even when you're not enjoying it?
Oh, yes. And their methods are downright creepy.
If you've ever been addicted to a game or known someone who was, this article is really freaking disturbing. It's written by a games researcher at Microsoft on how to make video games that hook players, whether they like it or not. He has a doctorate in behavioral and brain sciences. Quote:
"Each contingency is an arrangement of time, activity, and reward, and there are an infinite number of ways these elements can be combined to produce the pattern of activity you want from your players."
Notice his article does not contain the words "fun" or "enjoyment." That's not his field. Instead it's "the pattern of activity you want."
...they're designed to keep gamers subscribing during the periods when it's not fun, locking them into a repetitive slog using Skinner's manipulative system of carefully scheduled rewards.
Why would this work, when the "rewards" are just digital objects that don't actually exist? Well...
Most addiction-based game elements are based on this fact:
Your brain treats items and goods in the video game world as if they are real. Because they are.
People scoff at this idea all the time ("You spent all that time working for a sword that doesn't even exist?") and those people are stupid. If it takes time, effort and skill to obtain an item, that item has value, whether it's made of diamonds, binary code or beef jerky.
There's nothing crazy about it. After all, people pay thousands of dollars for diamonds, even though diamonds do nothing but look pretty. A video game suit of armor looks pretty and protects you from video game orcs. In both cases you're paying for an idea.
The Chinese MMO ZT Online has the most devious implementation of this I've ever seen. The game is full of these treasure chests that may or may not contain a random item and to open them, you need a key. How do you get the keys? Why, you buy them with real-world money, of course. Like coins in a slot machine.
Wait, that's not the best part. ZT Online does something even the casinos never dreamed up: They award a special item at the end of the day to the player who opens the most chests.
One woman tells of how she spent her entire evening opening chests--over a thousand--to try to win the daily prize.
She didn't. There was always someone else more obsessed.
The easiest way is to just put save points far apart, or engage the player in long missions (like WoW raids) that, once started, are difficult to get out of without losing progress.
But that can be frustrating for gamers, so you can take the opposite approach of a game like New Super Mario Bros. Wii, where you make the levels really short so it's like eating potato chips. They're so small on their own that it doesn't take much convincing to get the player to grab another one, and soon they've eaten the whole bag.
Why reward the hamster (player) for pressing the lever? Why not simply set it up so that when he fails to press it, we punish him?
Behaviorists call this "avoidance." They set the cage up so that it gives the animal an electric shock every 30 seconds unless it hits the lever. It learns very very fast to stay on the lever, all the time, hitting it over and over. Forever.
Why is your mom obsessively harvesting her crops in Farmville? Because they wither and rot if she doesn't. In Ultima Online, your house or castle would start to decay if you didn't return to it regularly. In Animal Crossing, the town grows over with weeds and your virtual house becomes infested with cockroaches if you don't log in often enough. It's the crown jewel of game programming douchebaggery--keep the player clicking and clicking and clicking just to avoid losing the stuff they worked so hard to get.
As others have pointed out, the point is to keep you playing long after you've mastered the skills, long after you've wrung the last real novel experience from it. You can't come up with a definition of "fun" that encompasses the activity of clicking a picture of a treasure chest with your mouse a thousand times.
This is why some writers blasted Blizzard when WoW introduced a new "achievement" system a couple of years ago. These are rewards tied to performing random pointless tasks, over and over again (such as, fishing until you catch a thousand fish). No new content, no element of practice, or discovery, or mastery was included. Just a virtual treadmill.
There's more, but those were just the best parts. Don't know if anyone here is obsessively addicted to video gaming, but goodness! I can certainly see how those traps would fell people. I've especailly fallen into the "No Stopping Points" or "Extremely Short Level" pit. I would always tell myself, "Well I'll stop playing when I reach a stopping point." But generally they're ridiculously far apart, or they don't even really have them! And then the other scenario, where I say, "Well, it's so short. I'll just play one more. One more. One more. One mor..." And I never stop. So...creepy, don't you think? They design it around our instinctive reactions. We can't necessarily help it (well we can, but only if we realize what's going on), and they're capitalizing on that! But I guess that's how the game is played. No pun intended.
"It's not about the legacy you leave, it's about the life you live." ~Mara Jade Skywalker