Apparently, I’m an INTJ sort of guy (78/75/25/56). Bartle pegs me as an EASK (100/50/50/0). Western astrology nuts think I’m a Scorpion, and the Chinese think I’m a Fire Dragon. I self-select Hunters or Druids (strong solo classes with flexibility) or their equivalent in MMOs.
Yay, I’ve been successfully pigeonholed! Right? My past, present and future are foretold, and I can happily slot myself into my grand destiny.
Actually, I’ve never really bought this. Yes, I’ve cited my Bartle genotype on occasion, but even that’s a fairly skewed diagnosis, considering the binary and rather transparent nature of the test. Astrology is pretty bottom of the barrel stuff, and I’ve always been able to identify with any of the critters in either system. Astrologists are masters of peddling feelgoodisms and vague prophecies that let hearers take what they want away from them. I’ll admit, I like dragons, but I don’t identify myself with them. It’s just one step removed from a “ninja vs. pirate” test. [Me and my big mouth... I'm a Nautical Ninja. Yay for curved katanas!]
The Higgs Boson, er, Myers-Briggs scheme is a slight bit more methodical and has some subtleties that aren’t present in other such personality prophecies, but reading some of the class descriptions reminds me rather forcefully of astrology. Again, it’s fairly easy to “see myself” as almost any of the classifications, and I don’t identify strongly with any of them.
This might be why I keep thinking about classless game designs. *shrug*
At any rate, yes, this is building to something a little more than navel-gazing. Well, sort of.
Raph Koster points out a couple of articles that deal with some of the psychology and physiology of gaming:
I’ve actually read bits of the first one he linked to before I saw his link, but the second one was new to me. So how does that tie in?
I still can’t shake some of the Jungian feel of those articles. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like a lot of neuroscience is just handwaving astrology with bigger technical terms. There’s certainly more to it than the pure animal/constellation scheme, but it really doesn’t seem much more definitive than the Myers-Briggs matrix, and certainly not much better at predicting things.
Beside the generalistic nature of these things, there seems to be little that addresses the notion that people change over time (or with different circumstances), and that much of how we approach life is heavily contextual. Neuroscience can look at some of the “what” that goes on psyiologically, but it can’t really dig into the “why” any more than any other non-omniscient entity can.
I suppose I complain a bit too much, since I do generally believe in the power of science, and trying to learn how things work is useful. I just think that the “why” is more important when trying to understand people, and that’s something that takes a lot more work than any of these systems are wont to do. Moreover, I’m generally content to think that people often have wildly different reasons for what they do, even if the results of those reasons don’t directly reflect the thought process behind them.
As game designers or psychologists, (and the two overlap more than might be assumed at first glance), we do need to address some of these things, or at least, be aware of them. When I design a game, though, I’m less interested in trying to understand the players, and more interested in trying to create a scenario or setting whereby they might derive their own understanding. In other words, it’s not my place to try to pigeonhole gamers into narrowly defined classes or gameplay modes that I think are best, it’s my place to give people things to play with so that they might use them in whatever way they need at the moment.
To me, that’s part of the promise of games; giving people a non-judgmental arena to tinker around in, letting them just relax and work out what stresses they may have, maybe learning more about themselves in the process. It’s why I try to construct broad scoped inclusive MMO designs, rather than just another DIKU grind that ultimately only serves certain players.
Interestingly, I’m not a fan of the GTA games, which purport to offer just this sort of freedom. Thing is, I tend to think that those games don’t offer a fair sense of consequence for actions. By not following through on the realities of living a life of crime (ultimately, it’s not all that fun), they do a disservice to the learning process. MMOs don’t really do that all that well, either, what with the attempted genocide and highly abstracted realities.
But, but, it’s escapism, it’s not supposed to be real, right? Yes, to a degree, which is why they are successful as is. It’s just all so shallow and superficial, though, not unlike using an astrologist’s approach to life. I’m not even sure that games have hit the neuroscience stage in their progress, fuzzy as that still is.
Games will always have their cheap thrills and vapid mindless moments. I’m not saying that somehow the industry is “full of fail” or some other cheap sound bite. I’m just finding myself a bit unsatisfied by the “junk food” mentality of games, when I think that they could offer much more. Maybe neuroscience and psychology can help dig a little deeper into the human condition, but games aren’t even doing that level of work.
I’d even suggest that we can dig deeper, but at some point, you cross the line into space that really can only be derived by the individual. Sometimes that’s spiritual, sometimes it’s analytical, or some mix of the two, but part of what makes humanity so interesting is the capacity for self-analysis and the ability to break out of conditioned responses as a result of looking at the bigger picture and analyzing the “why” in our own lives. There really is only so much we can do as game designers to help facilitate this sort of self-analysis, but I do think that we could do more than we have.
We are starting to understand the “what” of game design, considering the studies on addiction and how it intersects with gaming, and we even know some of how to tap into that to get people hooked on our games. I’m simply more interested in the “why” behind the scenes, and how we can explore that question a bit more to make gaming more than a series of Skinner exercises.
The ihobo article linked from Raph’s article does dig a little into this, but settles on the idea that it’s still all about the pleasure center of the brain. That still seems fairly shallow to me. I don’t dispute that it’s useful information, or claim that it’s shoddy work (it’s not), it’s just still very simplistic, and focused on the “what” rather than the “why”. I believe that humans are more than exquisite meat machines, and that we can do much more than merely try to stimulate our pleasure centers.
To me, games are great ways to posit “what if” questions that allow for such thought experiments, since they are uniquely prepared with feedback mechanisms. Unfortunately, we’re not making much use of that potential other than to find ways to get people hooked and sell subscriptions. Perhaps that’s just the harsh reality of living in the world we have inherited today… but I can’t help but want to do more and make the industry better.
Now, excuse me, but I have some dragons to slay. Don’t let the ugly guy over there tell you they are windmills, he’s just seeing things.