Posts Tagged ‘psychology’

So… PAX is ruffling feathers with their “diversity” panel.  Seems like comments around the web range from outraged to offended to offensive to dismissive.  Coincidentally, a few days earlier, I made a comment on diversity in literature over at tor.com (#7) that pretty much covers what I think about diversity and how I’m fond of MLK’s dream, and ran into a person (comment #8) who espouses a position that I find… baffling.  I suppose that their position is where Affirmative Action comes from, though, and I’ve always thought that to be deeply flawed.

It seems that a lot of it comes down to what I think of as tribalism.  You know, the human reflex to want to associate with those who are like you, or who are perceived as like you, and shun those that are not.  That “other” guy isn’t part of the tribe, so he isn’t to be trusted.  It filters into everything, from politics to gaming.  World of Warcraft is one easy example to point to, with their strict divide between factions, even to the point of enforcing it on otherwise genial Pandaran characters.  It’s an easy thing to leverage in game design (and psychology); whip up some fury against the Other, and the emotional argument can stay ahead of logic and evidence.

For the Horde!  Go, go, Alliance!  …or whatever.  (And ultimate victory goes to the cabal pulling the strings or jockeying for money or power, never the people doing the fighting.)

The whole core of “diversity” as a concept enhances the subconscious categorization of tribes, since everyone gets tagged and filed away in neat little categories.  It fosters continued contention as factions jockey for position and prominence.  It has always seemed to me to be Sisyphian, or perhaps Schroedingerish, where the “cure” perpetuates and even creates the problem.

When it comes to games, though, there’s an extra wrinkle.  Some people play games and imagine themselves in the game, and want their game avatars to represent them.  They want to connect with the characters on a personal identity level.  This isn’t how I play games or read books, but it’s an understandable approach.

In fiction, this is less of an issue since books aren’t assumed to have a high level of interactability.  Games, though, bank on giving players some level of autonomy, so it makes sense that players would also want their identity to be a part of that.  I don’t care about it as a player, but it’s something game designers should keep in mind because some players do care.

For a point of reference, two of my favorite books in my teens were The Blue Sword and Sabriel, despite being neither a necromancer nor a kelar-gifted horseback warrior.  I loved the heroines of those stories for what they did, and their gender and other “diversity” flags didn’t matter.  (In fact, to this day, it sticks out to me that there’s a bit in Sabriel where the lead character thinks a bit about her period.  It just seemed shoehorned in to show she missed her mother and to bracket her age… and that she’s a she.)  Rather, they were fascinating characters with interesting choices in intriguing scenarios, and I learned about life seeing them grow, even though I didn’t really identify myself with either of them.  I didn’t need to.  To quote Dumbledore, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.

In games, we are given the ability to make choices.  I think this is crucial to the whole point of making a game in the first place.  It seems to me that choices are the best vector to really look at diversity.  I do love a Final Fantasy and its plucky band of teenagers and token minority characters out to save the world via weird leveling up schemes and oddball weapons, but it’s trite storytelling sometimes.

So… it’s not something that really bugs me, this push for diversity, except that I think it embraces the wrong priority.  I think that a greater diversity of motivations, choices, conundrums and consequences are the far more important direction for creators to address.  With luck, as the medium matures, this will happen naturally… though given the PAX kerfluffle and that quota-based mindset evinced in the tor.com article, I’m not sure that it will happen significantly quickly or profoundly.


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Rowan has a great article up that digs a bit into the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivations for play.  Penny Arcade fortuitously has a similar article from a game developer (for the game Don’t Starve, a curious game that I’m looking forward to playing).

I come down firmly on the intrinsic side.  I love Minecraft because it lets me just go do stuff (especially in Creative mode where I can fly and have access to everything).  I love Burnout Paradise because I can just go drive around and see what the city holds.  I love SSX 3 because you can start at the top of the mountain and just snowboard down to the base, purely exploring the terrain.  I love flying in World of Warcraft.  I love just moving around in game spaces.

I want to do things that I do because I enjoy doing them, not because there’s a reward for doing them.  Living and doing things you love are rewards in themselves.

Carpe Diem, as it were.  Live, don’t just survive.  Play.

It’s good for you.

…though I can admit this is fun.  Metagaming the achievements, whee!

 Achievement Unlocked

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Just a few scattered thoughts and an announcement.

First and foremost, I now have a shopfront over at Shapeways.

Tish Tosh Tesh Toys

This is where I will be offering miniatures for games I’m designing as well as a smattering of other widgets and wodgets.  Yes, I’m making Zomblobs! into a tabletop game that maybe someday will be digital, but it won’t be the only miniatures game that I do (yes, there’s another IP I have in mind, I’ll dig into it once I nail down the Zomblobs! and get it out in the wild).  It will mean codifying some rules into dice rolls and the like (a convenient excuse to design dice, by the way), but that’s just a fun design challenge.  Presently in the shop, I just have some rings I’ve designed as a response to Big Bear Butt’s article over thisaway.

What to Get the Geek That Has Everything

I’ve been meaning to set up a Shapeways shop for a long time, and it seemed like a good time.  I still need to finish illustrating my mother’s book, but that’s close, so I’m trying to find ways to be productive and maybe earn a little coin.  It beats playing games all the time when there are bills to pay.

A few other things online caught my eye of late:

Doodling is good for your brain, apparently.  Seems right to me, but then, I’m an incurable doodler.  Even if I weren’t an artist (I planned on a career in the sciences at one point), I’d still doodle all the time.  It’s how I’m wired, I guess.

I also consider this to be doodling, albeit origami-inspired… this is where bad Magic the Gathering cards go to die in my office.  My coworkers play a lot of Magic, and some of the cards are just… bad.  As in, “don’t play with them because it might give you a bad impression of the otherwise excellent game” bad.  So, we may as well do something useful with them, right?  (Yes, that’s my computer, and yes, I made this.  It took a few minutes here and there over about 3 weeks.  Apologies for the phone camera shot, it’s all I had at the moment.)

MTG Menger Sponge

Questing and flow… I tend to think that the problem of losing track of what you’re doing while questing in an MMO task hub is that you have a lot of threads going at once, and that the quests aren’t really linked in any obvious way in your quest log.  I wonder what a better log might do; better record keeping and ways to review what you did before and how it connects would be one way to make quests and narrative work better.

Tangentially, I always find it hard to jump back into Final Fantasy XII after a week or month away.  I don’t always remember why I’m doing what I’m doing, and the game only gives me the barest direction of where to go.  I think a “last time on your adventure…” intro bit (optional, of course, maybe just text tucked away in a log with convenient wiki-like links to key players), like we see in serial TV, in a log would go a long way to making it all feel cohesive.  These games are so big and the narrative occasionally so byzantine (or would that be Gordian?) that a pocket primer of what we’re actually doing might be a useful thing.  Even in a linear game like FFXIII, time away can diffuse the narrative.

There’s a minor storm brewing about gear and the acquisition thereof that the MMO Melting Pot has been keeping tabs on.

Is It Actually Worth Gearing Up Any More?

Points-Based Loot, Difficulty and the Decline of WoW

I’ve only skimmed these, but I’ve written on difficulty before and even the “ease” of WoW, but as to gear, well, I really don’t like the lottery drop system.  Yes, grinding up currency via dungeoneering to buy special loot might seem like more of a chore than the lucky drop in the first run, but to my mind it’s more honest and easier to plan around.  If I’m going to care about gear (I usually don’t, I’m just sayin’), I want to be able to plan for it, not gamble.  The few pieces of loot I’ve tried to find to get the best gear for my level 20-capped Paladin in WoW’s Starter Edition are… frustrating.  One is a very rare drop from a rare spawn, and others are from dungeon bosses.  The randomness of achieving that goal undermine the desirability of doing so.  Getting these bits of gear wouldn’t be me achieving anything (I’ve already demonstrated mastery by beating the bad guys before), it’s not me learning anything new, it’s just me outlasting an evil Random Number Generator.  That’s not satisfying gaming in my book.

Gaming Addiction?  How about putting a face on it?  This is a great video from the Extra Credits guys:

Game Addiction Pt. 2

And I do try to avoid this sort of thing, but sometimes a financial/political post really just needs to be shared.  This is one of them:

OWS: Want to Turn the Tide?

It’s ultimately about math and how leverage and exponential functions are killing us, fueling political unrest.  We live in interesting times.  It will be interesting to see where things go, and just what sort of revolutions pop up.  Be prepared and pay attention.  Hopefully it’s a tempest in a teapot, but it doesn’t hurt to have food storage, water and emergency preparations ready to go.  Even if all the politics in the world suddenly turn really boring and inconsequential, nature can still break stuff and cause some trouble.

If nothing else, you should have enough for pancakes.  Everyone loves pancakes, right?

Star Wars Pancakes

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I’ve never been a fan of the subscription model.  I find it to be abusive and detrimental to game design, even though I can technically afford a sub these days.  What’s more baffling to me are those who reflexively defend the sub model as being the One True Path to gaming goodness in the MMO sphere.  It seems to me that these poor souls suffer from a sort of Stockholm Subscription Syndrome.

In short form, Stockholm Syndrome is where prisoners start to sympathize with their captors, usually because said captors aren’t worse than they presently are, no matter how bad that is.  It’s a weird bit of cognitive dissonance that involves a lot of rationalization and psychological trauma, even abuse.  Maybe the huge time sinks and grinds in modern MMO design aren’t technically abuse, but they sure skirt the edge of psychological manipulation sometimes.  (I think there’s an argument that games embrace it fully sometimes, too, but interestingly, even designers might not notice that, positioned as they are, deep in the bowels of the game industry, suffering their own psychological maladies and warped frame of reference.)

To be sure, each MMO business model has pros and cons.  Subs are good for some things, Free 2 Play is good for others, and Single Sale (the Old School model of buying a game once and playing it forever, like Guild Wars… sometimes with expansion packs also sold in single sale chunks) is good for others.  Each has good effects on players and game design, each has bad effects.  Honest commentators see the differences.

It’s those who blindly suggest that subs are the only way to go that I’m talking about here.  (It should be noted that F2P and Single Sale doctrines have their blind acolytes, too, but they seem far fewer in number, and they function differently as they argue for different priorities.)  Sub devotees seem to love their grind.  There’s also a bit of that old “Sunk Cost” thinking going on as well:  players who have sunk time and money into something want to keep up with it to mentally validate what they have done already.  When you pay for time to play, you’ve already acquiesced to the premise that you’re paying for access, not content.  That’s a significant mental shift that changes the value calculations in game purchasing… and once you’re hooked, it’s hard to make the mental shift back.

Businesscritters naturally exploit this tendency, though they tend to be careful not to draw too much attention to the persistent blood loss, lest they draw too much attention and trigger a response.  It’s up to the players to pay attention, but far too many just cruise on and get used to things, then turn to defend the status quo.  (This happens in design, too, to both players and designers.  Don’t do something just because “That’s Just the Way It’s Done”, pay attention to the “why” underlying design choices.  The collapse of the MMO genre’s design potential into DIKU clones is one example of this blinkered thinking… thankfully, one that’s changing, if ever so slowly.)

The simple reality is that more and more people are playing games as time goes on.  The bulk of the audience is shifting to those who have grown up a bit (incidentally, not the same as aging), and have different priorities in life, as Chris eloquently notes thisaway (edited to add: or as Syp notes thisaway, with changing priorities leading to different notions of sociality, which is one of the pillars of a good MMO).  Games and businesses that rely on a captive audience to defend their unchanging ways will naturally be left with that part of the audience that won’t move on.  That’s neither good nor bad, really, just a reality that game devs and businessmen need to be aware of.

Players, for their part, need to watch out for their own needs and pocketbooks.  The businesscritters certainly aren’t interested in our welfare.  Smart parasites don’t kill their hosts, but if there’s an endless stream of new hosts, that changes the dynamic a bit.  We can’t let ourselves get used to the little costs (in time or money) and annoyances that shift our perception.  That “Overton Window” paradigm shift almost never works to our benefit as the consumer.

Edited to add:  More food for thought from Scott Jennings over at Broken Toys… SOE’s John Smedley: Subscription Model Dead

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It’s coming to get you, whether you like it or not.  (“Or not” being more likely for me and these fine authors.)  It’s soulless.  It’s relentless.  It’s remorseless.  You just can’t get rid of it.

It’s coming.  It will eat your brain and suck your soul.  In the end, you will embrace it, and you will be happy.

Be aware and beware.

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Better writers than I have pontificated extensively about PvP in games, but I can’t help but echo Brian “Psychochild” Green’s comment on this recent post from the Elder Game writers:

Community Friendliness: Size Matters

Psychochild rightly notes that the social environment in his venerable Meridian 59 MMO is driven to toxicity by the guild-based PvP design.

Contrast that with the original “Horde vs. Alliance” design of World of Warcraft, and how it has changed over the years.  Sometimes it seems that everyone is happy to be fighting the Big Bad of the series, even if it means ignoring the old “Us vs. Them” mentality for a new “Us and Them, ’til Undead Destruction do us part”.  Sure, that plays havoc with the lore, but it does make for a somewhat less contentious social atmosphere for the game, with players united against the computer controlled bad guys.  That’s probably no accident, and probably good design.

I really do think that game design can have a significant effect on the population of a game, and that a deep focus on PvP and “Us vs. Them” will naturally be more toxic.  I also think that’s unhealthy.

Interestingly, as anyone who follows politics might note, “a house divided against itself cannot stand“.  It’s always interesting to me when political debate is less about the Big Bad of economic or social situations, and more about name calling and hyperbolic caricaturing of the Other guys.  Interesting, and sad.

So why do game devs persist in using such design mentality?  Certainly the Soldier vs. Demo campaign stirred up by Valve for their Team Fortress 2 game caused a considerable stir in the fandom.  It’s even lampshaded by the Valve guys at one point, with the Soldier noting that he doesn’t even know what the special weapon is that he gets if his team wins, but he WANTS it because it’s either him or the Demoman, and obviously, HE can’t have it.  (I read this somewhere, but now I can’t find a citation… my search-fu is weak today.)

One almost has to wonder what might be behind the contentious curtain.  In the TF2 case, probably nothing, and it’s just a self-aware clever PR stunt.  Does factional warfare make games more interesting than they have any right to be?  Did WoW benefit from the distractions of “Us vs. Them” when the daily gameplay was so… repetitive?  Did Warhammer Online bank too much on it, only to falter when it didn’t have enough to carry the game?  Is Darkfall (or any other heavy PvP game) worth playing?  (The answer on that last one probably depends on whether or not you like Counterstrike or TF2, methinketh.  There is a clear PvP mindset that you need for those games.)

Oh, and Allods Online makes me sad.  I’ll just echo Randomessa on this one.  I mean, I did already point out what I wanted out of my own ship… and that’s just not it. It sounds like it’ll be great for the “forced group” “us vs. them” crowd… that’s just not me.

And, perhaps most importantly, what exactly do the Democrats and Republicans want us paying attention to… and why?  Could they be obfuscating anything really vital?  Is the media doing their job at actually finding the truth?  Could there perhaps be something more important than endless namecalling and gamesmanship, shallow “debates” and partisan hackery?


I have games to play.  Flonne keeps telling me that Angels, Demons and Humans should get past prejudice, after all, and I’d hate to disappoint her.  Us and Them need to go storm heaven.

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I’m sure that this isn’t news to everyone who reads this, but Nick Yee’s Daedalus Project has been put into hibernation mode.  I can understand where he’s coming from, and I wish him well in his future projects.  It would be a shame if people forget about the body of work he has assembled, though, so if you get some time, I highly suggest popping over there and digging around in his archives.

Daedalus Project

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I work in the video game industry.  I play video games.  (Probably too much.)  I enjoy seeing other people have fun with video games.  (The brand new family Wii is a great source of fun for the sideline jockeys like me.)  I believe that video games have vast potential in storytelling, education, and plain old fun.

Yet, I have a decidedly strong retro streak in me.  One of my favorite games of all time is a little tabletop shuffleboard game.  (I’ve not played it in years, but so maybe it’s the nostalgia factor speaking, but I love that game.)  There’s just something wonderful about a tactile experience in gaming.  I love pinball games.  I love board games.  I love card games.  I love volleyball.

There is much that video game designers can learn from other games.


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I figured out what it is that I don’t like about MMOs.  There are just too many people in them.

This article sums it up nicely, and it reminds me of Saylah on occasion.  (That’s a good thing; she pegs the solo MMO player mentality extremely well.)

The Trouble With Other People


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