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Psychology and game design


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#1 clickalot   Members   -  Reputation: 173

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 05:22 AM

As a disclaimer, I am work as a programmer in the game industry so I might have missed or misunderstood some things concerning game design.

I've read some papers on game design and psychology but they seem unsatisfactory.

Before I will proceed with my questions and issues I shall list the articles here:
http://www.gamasutra..._of_.php?page=1
http://www.gamasutra...ign.php?print=1
http://www.gamasutra...php?story=23724

Valve has some interesting papers even if their focus is more on playtesting rather than the design process before the playtest.
http://www.valvesoft...Playtesting.pdf
http://www.valvesoft...ck-Ambinder.pdf

The gamasutra articles seem a too shallow in my opinion. They don't go into detail and I feel that they just scratched the surface a bit and established some "rules" and "tips" by oversimplifying everything. Most of the time I feel that the way they use to model a player is a super simplistic state-machine.
In reality we are really complex creatures, and even if you can trick us into certain things because of some hard-wired connections in our brains caused by evolution I feel that the players should be treated with more respect and research in these areas should explore further than skinner box examples or models.(something more complex than what zynga or the casinos are doing Posted Image).

For example I am interested right now in how can I raise certain feelings in my player. Let's say I want him to feel vulnerable and afraid. But I don't want him just to feel the fear of dying and starting over again, I want him to be afraid on a deeper level.

Or If I want him to have a feeling of hope how can I do that without using some cheesy flowers blossoming and trees growing and other similar childish things. I want to do it in a more subtle way.

Are there resources where I can learn about psychology and the ways humans tend to respond to visual and audio stimuli?

I think that games could go a level further in exploring these areas because unlike movies, the person interacts directly with the medium and is not only a receiver, so if you have any studies that involve games it would be even better Posted Image.

Thanks in advance for at least reading this huge post Posted Image.

Edited by clickalot, 21 June 2012 - 05:24 AM.


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#2 dufake   Members   -  Reputation: 103

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 05:39 AM

I believe so we should be more concrened how drama and game mechanics could merged.

Blinkmonk's society made an audio game for Blind.

http://www.moddb.com/mods/blind-monks-society

That's a good experiment I think.

#3 Stormynature   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2554

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 07:57 AM

Welcome to gamedev and whilst you may achieve some answers to your questions in your post, you sure as hell chose a topic area that despite having been around a fair number of years still remains very much in it's infancy when it comes to being defined with any real clarity. In essence you are looking for a fusion of a soft science (psychology) into a hard science (engineering) framework and even to this day that is a very tricksome reality to establish comprehensively.

The gamasutra articles seem a too shallow in my opinion. They don't go into detail and I feel that they just scratched the surface a bit and established some "rules" and "tips" by oversimplifying everything. Most of the time I feel that the way they use to model a player is a super simplistic state-machine.



What are the mathematical equations that define love, hate, fear, hope, loss? (If someone says "eating chocolate = love"...I will look at you with disdain! Posted Image) In the absence of having a defining set of math, how do you then determine appropriate values for emotional triggers to be programmed into a game. If you approach this from a social sciences aspect i.e. psychology then how do you program the experience of say "love"? Issues such as: add the pheromones, define the audio cues. The simple answer is you can't...or at least you cannot do it very well. In a game you have already removed the smell and taste of things from this reality you are creating, your tactile ability is muted (think vibrating joysticks/controllers), so your immersion into this world is primarily through the use of audio and visual elements. However I am somewhat harsh as it has been demonstrated that simply an audio element can promote panic and fear. I refer to the infamous "War of the Worlds" radio play done by Orson Welles as an example. Adding visual elements I only have to think of the many emotions attached to movie stars, models etc. The question often becomes -- what is it in these elements that provokes the emotional response. The trouble with psychology is that there is a plethora of opinions, a great deal of inferences and very few defined answers. No person meets the absolute norm in psychology instead people exist within a set of ranges...deviation outside of one of these ranges is seen as abnormal. Ironically if you dig deep enough you come to realisation that having a deviation outside the norm is a norm in itself. These ranges also alter with regard societal / cultural / ecological etc etc changes. Immigrating from one country to another with a dissimilar culture, environment etc can cause all sorts of flow on effects including a rise in xenophobia in inhabitants introduced to the immigrant simply because the behaviour is "different" from their norm.

This topic has me rambling. Do player's toons get created with simplistic realities...yes. Because as you add more complex social/emotional elements you create an environment that swiftly bashes into the limitations of the above-mentioned fusion not having been developed very well. Defining what elements contribute to a specific state can be tricky -- however at the end of the day if you buy the girl; flowers, chocolate, candy and jewellery you will probably be fine...maybe.

There is a lot of literature out there about emotional states, creating them and changing them. There is a lot of literature covering the fields of psychology. There is a lot of literature out there regarding audial and visual stimuli. However I can't really pick out one text and say this is a defining text. I would be interested if someone could actually point out a definitive text though. The fact is the information you are looking for is scattered amongst many different sources and you will have to hunt through them. One field you might pay attention to is the field of "Human-Computer Interaction" but even this covers a range of areas and some not in the depth I would like.

There are so many ways that I can continue on this post but tbh If I don't stop I will not eat for several months while typing. Some points to leave you with -- look at the existing media (including games) that do stand out as moments of inducing emotions. Instead of trying to create a superbly complex interactive system -- define a set of limitations so that you can actually create an achievable goal, and perhaps the final point: games with simplistic systems with little respect for the player beyond rewarding players with a happy set of beeps or minor virtual reward have a legitimate place in the psyche of our race...else they would not thrive the way they do.

Edited by Stormynature, 21 June 2012 - 07:58 AM.


#4 clickalot   Members   -  Reputation: 173

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 08:39 AM

Thanks for your responses.

Well I'm not really looking for mathematical formulas or as well defined things, nor do I search for a recipe of triggering emotions in players, but somehow I am hoping that there are some studies about emotional responses to certain stimuli.
For example let's say that I was a scientist and I wanted to study fear. I would pickup a series of photographs that are considered "scary", get 1000 subjects, and then make them rate each one's level of scariness. In the same time I would measure their response to the stimuli checking their heart rate, etc.
Then I would take another 1000 subjects and measure their response while I would show them the same pictures with the lights off.
Another measure could be by associating some creepy music with the pictures and rate their response, etc.
I would conclude that pictures depicting humanoid faces with exagerated features generate the most powerful responses while viewed with the lights off and preceded by certain sound types.
Also It would be interesting to compare what the machines measured about their fear level (heart rate, etc.) and compare with what they thought was their fear level.
This is more or less the type of study that I am hoping to find at some point. It would be especially interesting to have a study that can check if no matter the culture the same things are scaring us in the same way or not.

Edited by clickalot, 21 June 2012 - 08:43 AM.


#5 Stormynature   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2554

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 09:13 AM

There are hundreds if not thousands of studies of these types hence my earlier overuse of the words "There is a lot of literature". It really is not that easy to extract completely relevant data without wading through a giant pool of festering mind innards :(

Some links for you though


http://recherche.univ-lyon2.fr/emc/IMG/pdf/royet_al.pdf

http://neuro.cjb.net/content/20/20/7752.full

http://www.brainmusic.org/MBB91%20Webpage/Sloboda_1991.pdf

http://ced.kaist.ac.kr/pdf/kei2008.pdf

http://www.edmondschools.net/Portals/3/docs/Terri_McGill/READ-LITTLE%20ALBERT.pdf

http://www.livedescribe.com/wiki/live/shared/clt2/shared/Papers%20For%20Jorge/Empirieal%20Studies%20of%20Emotional%20Response%20to%20Music.pdf

#6 Tom Sloper   Moderators   -  Reputation: 7450

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 09:22 AM

Clickalot, it sounds like you are hoping this thread will teach you a semester's worth of psychology. Or at least you are hoping we can give you links that you could probably find yourself if you just do a Google search. The thing you want to learn is definitely valuable in game development, but you are seeking to learn something that is not fully explored within game development. You will need to do a lot of reading, and not everything you will read will inform your games. You need to pursue this with a patient frame of mind. You probably won't find a quick answer, but what you find will be useful.
-- Tom Sloper
Sloperama Productions
Making games fun and getting them done.
www.sloperama.com

Please do not PM me. My email address is easy to find, but note that I do not give private advice.

#7 Luis Guimaraes   Members   -  Reputation: 231

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 10:39 AM

The problem is that emotions and frames of mind are not one dimensional. Instead of simple levels of response (heart rates, hormonal levels), because they are too vague and can be correlated to many emotions, the designer would have to know everything that's going on on the players mind, including smoothed flows of memory (past) and anticipation (future).

There aren't many ways to do it.

Asking the testers is only good for knowing if it's working or not, but not exactly how or why. Unless you have a really huge sample, say, like using crow-computing for it. To analyse proper subject responses it'd take a combination like Kinnect, FaceAPI and some retina analyser. To properly map and calculate, body language, hand movements, facial expressions and eye behaviour, and cross the information into a Neural Network to find all related patterns and compare with what's going on in-game.

The second way is if the designer is really good at emulatory empathy, and subject himself to test with a hightened level of self awareness while still avoind thinking about the gamey part of his own creation. Which is hard for most people. Sure you can keep a mic on at all times and try to record the moment-to-moment sensation, and ven get drunk before the experiment to reduce your designer's thoughts, but still, you brain is faster than your mouth and you can't.

For a more dynamic approach you can make an AI agent intended to simulate player responses and the duration and intensity or stimuli and it's relatioship with other stimuli, previous or foreseen. Then you could make every in-game event add input into the agent's mind simulating what'd be happening with the player at the exact same moment. This way you would keep a rough model of what could be going on in the player's mind, and lead the experience based on that. The more accurate or elegant the model, and the better the stimuli evaluation system, the closer to the actual, more complex, player frame of mind the simulation will be, and so the better will be opportunities to cause the desired effects.

#8 Tom Sloper   Moderators   -  Reputation: 7450

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 11:10 AM

To add to what I wrote above: the thing a game designer has to do is learn a lot, about a lot of things, then apply creativity. Rather than looking for solutions or formulae others have already found and offered up for you, you need to learn about psychology, then get creative and come up with something interesting of your own.
-- Tom Sloper
Sloperama Productions
Making games fun and getting them done.
www.sloperama.com

Please do not PM me. My email address is easy to find, but note that I do not give private advice.

#9 Luis Guimaraes   Members   -  Reputation: 231

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 12:06 PM

To add to what I wrote above: the thing a game designer has to do is learn a lot, about a lot of things, then apply creativity. Rather than looking for solutions or formulae others have already found and offered up for you, you need to learn about psychology, then get creative and come up with something interesting of your own.


Pretty much this. There's no recipe, formula or "game design for the masses".

#10 Legendre   Members   -  Reputation: 937

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 12:18 PM

but somehow I am hoping that there are some studies about emotional responses to certain stimuli.


Of course there are. Your best bet would be to look up undergraduate psychology textbooks.

I think I know your train of thought: "psychologists say X stimulate fear" and "I put X in my game", hence "my game is scary".

Unfortunately, "what to put in a game/movie/book etc to make it scary" is a deep topic that will take a long time to unravel. The shortest answer from biology would be to pump the body with chemicals that induces fear...sell drugs lol. :P

#11 mpl   Members   -  Reputation: 114

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 01:21 PM

Let's say I want him to feel vulnerable and afraid. But I don't want him just to feel the fear of dying and starting over again, I want him to be afraid on a deeper level.I want him to have a feeling of hope how can I do that


This is the same as any director of film or music, the individuals fit for these positions are separate from the rest of the teams creativty. They have a vision and an understanding of how to create that vision. Being that the industry is so young, I see the designer position becoming much, much more valuable and praised than it currently is. Rewinding the clocks back twenty years, a programmer could do an entire game themself. Five years later that programmer needed an artist. A few more years after that they would need a writer or content creator. Today we have teams working on multimillion dollar projects and a structure to match other forms of entertainment. Not everyone is a game designer, the same as all else. Sure maybe everyone can come up with an "idea" and possibly even evolve it to a workable form, but don't look for another project because chances are it won't be there.

Blizzard learned this to an extent, they recycled much of their content creators for World of Warcraft, creating things such as their raids and battlegrounds.

If things were as simple as "do (x) to make the player (y)" then it wouldn't be very entertaining, now would it?

Edited by mpl, 21 June 2012 - 01:22 PM.


#12 Stormynature   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2554

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 01:37 PM

If things were as simple as "do (x) to make the player (y)" then it wouldn't be very entertaining, now would it?


Not quite true. If you stumbled onto the holy grail of being able to create and foster a positive emotional connection with "do (x) to make the player (y)" then you would rake in millions from the poker machine business. (Not to mention possible "brainwashing" concerns such as the ability to foster emotiional addictions by creating them). At the very heart of games...it is all about different forms of repetition. It is an inescapable reality that can only at best with today's technology be disguised with pretty art, great stories, challenges, etc. Call of Duty Multiplayer one of the more popular FPS's out there not only contains consistently repetitious gameplay but the entire franchise emulates this as well. The only non-repetituous aspect about the game are the players themselves...but even then their goals never really waver: Kill the enemy (a repetitious task), Capture the flags (A repetitious task), etc. The only true freedom comes down to moving where you want within the confines of a mini-sandbox, and choosing what actions to take (if any) - but at the end of the day the actions you have don't step out of confines of your repetitious limitations.

Edit: I left of the tail end. -- Basically video games already pretty much do (x) to make the player (y) especially in linear games where content progression requires players to follow the designed course....matching that with an emotional component successfully and with intention provides the type of immersion that makes a game attractive to play, sell, recommend etc

Edited by Stormynature, 21 June 2012 - 01:44 PM.


#13 Tom Sloper   Moderators   -  Reputation: 7450

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 02:42 PM

Rewinding the clocks back twenty years, a programmer could do an entire game themself.


Correction: change twenty years to thirty years.
Twenty years ago, in 1992, it took a team.
I should know - I've been in this industry thirty years.
-- Tom Sloper
Sloperama Productions
Making games fun and getting them done.
www.sloperama.com

Please do not PM me. My email address is easy to find, but note that I do not give private advice.

#14 clickalot   Members   -  Reputation: 173

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 03:02 PM

Of course there are. Your best bet would be to look up undergraduate psychology textbooks.

I think I know your train of thought: "psychologists say X stimulate fear" and "I put X in my game", hence "my game is scary".

Unfortunately, "what to put in a game/movie/book etc to make it scary" is a deep topic that will take a long time to unravel. The shortest answer from biology would be to pump the body with chemicals that induces fear...sell drugs lol. Posted Image


As I said I'm not looking for a recipe.I am aware there isn't one because of two things because if it somehow existed then everyone would be doing it.
I'm just a bit confused on where to start reading about these things, and very much afraid on loosing time reading irrelevant things.
I am trying to make a game in my free time because I want to explore some ideas, so i need to optimize everything.
I am aware that I can do a google search about this, witch I did, but I found unsatisfactory results in tings related to psychology and games. The answer to what I am trying to find out more about seems to be more in the psychology field rather than in game development.
Of course If i find a paper that says that x stimulates fear, I will try to see if it works in a game and how it can be improved upon:).

@ Tom
Well I was kind of optimistically hoping for a shortcut or some sort of tutorial (like the ones you find for programming subjects)
Nevertheless it seems that I need to explore this path on my own.If I find things that I consider relevant I will share them Posted Image.

Thanks for all your replies.

Edited by clickalot, 21 June 2012 - 03:22 PM.


#15 Stormynature   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2554

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 03:30 PM

@ Tom
Well I was kind of optimistically hoping for a shortcut or some sort of tutorial (like the ones you find for programming subjects)


Unfortunately you come down to the reality that a soft science is very different from that of programming. Programming persay exists in a fairly stringently defined set of rules whereas a soft science such as psychology has at best guidelines through which to navigate the field and these guidelines are often nebulous at best.

Nevertheless it seems that I need to explore this path on my own.If I find things that I consider relevant I will share them


I wish you the best in your search. My only recommendation is that you find a basic primer for psychology and work up from there rather than trying to jump in at the deep end. Take heed of the numerous mentions of the word patience...because I am afraid that it is a necessity for this area of study. Too many opinions, too many inferences and very few facts. And above all if you do find the holy grail of generating defiinitive emotional contexts then you will find yourself in an enviable position of unravelling a mystery that has been haunting the entertainment and marketing industries for a very long time.

#16 clickalot   Members   -  Reputation: 173

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 03:49 PM

And above all if you do find the holy grail of generating defiinitive emotional contexts then you will find yourself in an enviable position of unravelling a mystery that has been haunting the entertainment and marketing industries for a very long time.


You need to believe in that sort of holy grail in order to go search for it :)).

I will start my studies with some courses from here:
http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/#brain-and-cognitive-sciences

#17 sunandshadow   Moderators   -  Reputation: 4161

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 03:53 PM

I'm tempted to just say, "Well, that's why it's an art." When you are talking about creating a new game, the science side of things is pretty much only relevant as heavily-simplified rules of thumb and the semi-scientific activity of playtesting and surveying players. The part about creating fear and hope and other emotions in your audience is art, the exact same thing writers, visual artists, musicians, etc. do when they create their art. Game production/direction, like movie production/direction, is a combination of visual art, story, and music, and if you want to know how to use any of those elements to strong effect within your game the logical thing to do is study within yourself how pieces of visual art, story, and music have an effect on you. Each of these fields has some written works of theory (usually not based on any kind of scientific study, but instead on someone's personal experience and philosophizing) which discuss topics like how to lead the viewer's eye in visual art, how to create and satisfy suspense in story, and why major keys are perceived as happy and minor keys as sad in music. Those works of theory are cool, but they are meant as add-ons for the designer's artistic instincts, not any kind of a replacement for them.

Edited by sunandshadow, 21 June 2012 - 03:55 PM.

I want to help design a "sandpark" MMO. Optional interactive story with quests and deeply characterized NPCs, plus sandbox elements like player-craftable housing and lots of other crafting. If you are starting a design of this type, please PM me.

#18 Tom Sloper   Moderators   -  Reputation: 7450

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 04:14 PM

<br />1. As I said I'm not looking for a recipe.I am aware there isn't one
<br />2. I'm just a bit confused on where to start reading about these things,
3. and very much afraid on loosing time reading irrelevant things.<br />


1. No, you weren't. You found a few articles and they didn't say what you were looking for, and you figured what you were looking for must be out there to be found.
2. As has been said above: any psychology text. You have to learn psychology, and put that together with games yourself.
3. This fear is stopping you from making progress. Life is all irrelevant. Life is all relevant. Embrace the irrelevant, and someday you'll see the relevance.
-- Tom Sloper
Sloperama Productions
Making games fun and getting them done.
www.sloperama.com

Please do not PM me. My email address is easy to find, but note that I do not give private advice.

#19 jefferytitan   Members   -  Reputation: 1190

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 04:28 PM

Unfortunately I read a lot more articles than I bookmark, so no links for you! But a few things that I recall below:

1. Lighting and level design. There was an article about ways to attract the eye to parts of a level by visual distinctiveness. Use of light/shadow can also (sometimes) promote feelings of hope, unease, etc.
2. Use of space in level design. There was an article that explored the use of space to foster emotions based on evolutionary psychology. For example the idea of creating safe nooks/caves for the player to run between, the feeling of safety when at a high vantage point, etc.
3. Worse things than death. In the horror game Amnesia instead of death per se, contact with monsters decreased a sanity meter until possibly hallucinations etc, but definitely the player "passes out" and wakes up somewhere else with various things having moved around. The fear of the unknown was a more powerful fear motivator than "dying" and re-trying.

#20 Legendre   Members   -  Reputation: 937

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 06:00 PM

I am aware that I can do a google search about this, witch I did, but I found unsatisfactory results in tings related to psychology and games. The answer to what I am trying to find out more about seems to be more in the psychology field rather than in game development.


Yeah you're right. There isn't much materials regarding using what we learned from psychology in games. I did some searching myself a while ago and the only thing out there is about Flow theory, which you linked in your OP. I actually think flow theory is quite a big breakthrough in "game science" or applying psychology in games.

I suppose there are also some prospects in applying economics (which is closely related to psychology) to games, e.g. choice engineering. Or stuff like usability design. I'm a mathematician and I apply mathematics to my design quite often.

My opinion is that game developers aren't scientific lot. This is to be expected, because they're game developers, not scientists lol. E.g. most of the stuff I read about MMORPG economics are IMHO rubbish (I had training in mathematical economics).

Why don't academics engage in game development? Because there isn't any money or glory to be made. Shallow, cheesy games with high graphics sells. No one is going to notice your academically correct mechanics. Also, academics/scientists aren't game developers. There is quite a communication gap between the two "realms". I think Flow theory is very much hyped because its one of those rare gems that both scientists and game developers grok.

P.S.
Sorry if I am a little bit incoherent. Its late over here. :P




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