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# How to play tricks on the mind (heuristics)

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Knowing basic tricks that can be played on the mind seems crucial to game design. Contributions welcome. eg. A person is generally poor at cutting losses; that is, a person will continue down a particular path, even when a better alternative is later discovered, if that person has made a significant investment in following that particular path.

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Gamasutra''s Game Design section offers a few ideas.
http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20010427/hopson_01.htm
http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20020204/hopson_02.htm

- If a player perceives the interval of rewards to be random or increasing, they will generally be more motivated to continue to explore.
- If a player perceives the interval of rewards to be decreasing, this causes lack of motivation.
- If a player perceives the extinction of rewards, they will become frustrated and naturally and illogically blame anyone except himself.
- When a player decides the option which maximizes his reward, he will tend to pick the option which rewards sooner rather than later, unless the reward grows significantly bigger after the delay.

I guess some of these should be pretty obvious to any game designer.

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all of which are types of skinner-type conditioning. if you pick up a psychology book and look up B.F. Skinner you´ll find a handful of mechanisms which work quite well in games.

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Interesting topic.

I've often wondered about how players respond to limited vs. unlimited potential for reward.

If there is a maximum level of reward then that becomes a target. When presented with a target, the natural human response is to try and hit it as soon as possible. But what if there is no target, or the target is totally unattainable?

For example, what if we made an RPG with no upper limit on the levels that can be reached? Would powerlevelling be more, less, or stay the same?

[edited by - Sandman on November 22, 2002 10:28:36 AM]

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Funny, i learned all this skinner conditioning stuff a fews ago in my Psych class. I wont go to indepth with it, but heres my take using console RPG leveling as a guide.

First, when levels are really far apart, players get a bit discouraged. I know this through playig Wild Arms 3, which it was pointless to fight enemies between bosses because the EXP dealout wasn''t nearly as great. In fact, one lucky card could cover what you skip.

When levels are really close together, the rewards are a lot less, but the player feels more encouraged to play. Final Fantasy 10 did a great thing here with the sphere grid. It''d take 5 or 6 SLEVELs to get any decent noticiable bonus, but because levels seemed to happen 5 or 6 times as much, I''d fight the extra battle or two just to get the next SLEVEL.

When a bonus or reward requires far too much effort to achieve, I''m far less likely to do it. As such, I never had any special equipment in Final Fantasy 10, and most of my Gear in wild arms 3 went unused.

When unlimited leveling is involved, there seems to be no master goal, thus the player picks a point where he doesn''t care about levels anymore. Example: star ocean 2.

When the upper cap is reached, the player again doesn''t care anymore. Example, Super Mario RPG. Once I hit level 30, I skipped the rest of the enemies.

What this all seems to add up to is frequent goals with a reachable master goal. I think skinner had some of the same results.

-> Will Bubel
-> Machine wash cold, tumble dry.

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deClavier is the master of the minimalist, open post which leaves many possible interpretations. This one is no exception. Although the discussion so far has been on rewards and conditioning, when I read the first sentence of the original topic leveling was the furthest thing from my mind. I was actually thinking graphics.

Before true 3D became a real option(and after in some cases), some 2D side scrollers simulated a three-dimensional background through parallax scrolling, where the background was divided into several receding layers which moved at a certain fraction of the front frame of reference. By having the further-back layers scroll slower than the further-forward ones one gained the illusion of perspective, especially if the scrolling rates were in the vertical direction as well. On the other hand, having the background scroll faster than the foreground, it gave the sensation that one was viewing from the center of a tube, and the character was taking a circular path curving toward the viewer. All illusions of depth created by what was essentially an elaborate puppet show. A basic trick on the mind, crucial to game design.

I remember hearing a name for the phenomenon deClavier describes; I believe it was called the "sunk-cost fallacy". In the real world the sunk-cost fallacy is indeed a fallacy, and one is better off pulling out of a particular venture if the likelihood of success is slim, no matter how much has been invested. Oddly enough, in some games the sunk-cost fallacy is NOT a fallacy and one really is better off continuing along the same path to the end, because the designer is unwilling to punish players who take the hard way round and instead rewards them with "secret stuff". I can think of platformers where the harder path was laden with goodies, or unlocked a "secret ending" or the like. I can also think of RPGs where finishing the game was ridiculously easy compared to finishing it with all the characters/magic/items etc.

If any game ever actually applied the sunk-cost fallacy correctly, it would be booed out of the market by hundreds of indignant players. And rightly so: games are meant to be more fun than real life, and the sunk-cost fallacy is just one of the many ways that real life fails to meet expectations.

-STC

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-SpittingTrashcan

You can''t have "civilization" without "civil".

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I can also think of RPGs where finishing the game was ridiculously easy compared to finishing it with all the characters/magic/items etc.

Is this another Suikoden fan I hear? (Suikoden - 108 characters...not counting optional ones not needed for the "good ending" required to get stuff in the sequel game and then the sequel to the sequel. Makes my head hurt.)

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Mr. Ropple,

I have never heard of this Suikoden, but I''m intrigued. What system, and where can I lay my hands on it?

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-SpittingTrashcan

You can''t have "civilization" without "civil".

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quote:
Original post by SpittingTrashcan
Mr. Ropple,

I have never heard of this Suikoden, but I''m intrigued. What system, and where can I lay my hands on it?

---------------------------------------------------
-SpittingTrashcan

You can''t have "civilization" without "civil".

Suikoden I and II for PSX
Suikoden III for PS2

Amazing games. Definitely worth the cash money.

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As I understand it, heuristics are mental shortcuts that humans use to process information more quickly. We develop these heuristics over time, and are in some ways a product of habit, and in others are a classic case of "you find what you seek".

There are two classic examples of heuristics that come to mind. The first is the question, "are there more words in the English language that begin with the letter ''k'', or have ''k'' as the third letter?". Other than this feeling like a trick question (which it is), the seemingly obvious answer is; more letters begin with ''k''. Think of how many words you can immediately think off the top of your head that begin with ''k'', and try to think of some that have ''k'' as the third letter. As it turns out, there are more words in the English language that have ''k'' as the third letter, but our heuristics that we have developed make this hard to envision.

The second case is a mental thought process. Here is the problem:

There is a logical pattern to this sequence of numbers;
8,5,4,9,1,7,6,3,2
What is the pattern?

Give up? It''s alphabetically ordered. We are conditioned (our heuristics tell us) that numbers are ordered mathematically...not through other organizational means. In many ways, heuristics make us sort of stereotypical in thinking and reduces our lateral thinking. The advantage is that we can eliminate many possibilities with them.

So how can we use this in games? For puzzle type games you can use these tricks to make the player overlook the obvious or to make him think he is on the right track when he really isn''t. One of the neater puzzle tricks I saw was in Jedi Knight Outcas2 at the very end. In one room, there was a wall that was an illusion. If you paid attention to the wall closely, you saw that it shifted slightly. But generally we don''t really look at something as obvious as a wall...so I spent 15 minutes searching for odd spots on the wall (not the wall itself) or other hiding places. I just discovered it by accident by walking right through it...indeed, so ingrained was my conditional thinking that I at first thought there was some sort of horrendous clipping problem.

So heuristics can be used to force the player into thinking more laterally. If we equate heuristics as algorithms of experience, then by using clever levels and missions, it can make the player see that he has to rethink how he solves problems.

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it's nice to see out assumptions challenged in puzzles, that number one above is a bit daunting for eg unlocking a door, but the method involved is powerful

it's terrible when the solutions to puzzles are surreal or in some way obscure or subjective. some of the best problems in games have been when the solution is more rational than we expect

take the scythe in Grim Fandango...
Property	Usesharp		cut open a package		stab something with itcurved		hook onto something and pullmetallic	short circuit		sets off a metal detectorthin		jam it in a gap

and so on...

these make great puzzles, ironically, becuase the solution is a kind of double-bluff on normal puzzle logic: we expect some silly "use the monkey on the pump" (monkey island 2) kind of approach.

this is a bit divergant from reward psychology but establishing the rules of the universe and sticking to them is a great resource for "mind tricks" as the player flicks between the rules of the real world and the game world overlap.

********

A Problem Worthy of Attack
Proves It's Worth by Fighting Back

[edited by - walkingcarcass on November 25, 2002 8:35:48 AM]

[edited by - walkingcarcass on November 25, 2002 8:38:29 AM]

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Assuming that you know nothing about Heuristics and are 14-year-old developing a mmorpg I have to clarify some things.

Heuristics connect with psycholohy. Especially with the congnitive approach.

Heuristics are approach to problem solving as opposed to Algorithms, which are convergent problems. Heuristics on the otherhand are divergent.

Things how to mindfuck the player:

Persistence of set: Sudden change in insight and the way player persieves the world.

Functional Fixedness: Realizing that the object has another use.
Developer must be careful with this since it can lead to situation where the player doesn''t understand that he is supposed to shove the scythe up the elephants ass and produce the waterstream(elephant spits out water in anger) and lift itself up towards the goal using the elephant as an operator.

Creativity(?): What this forum is lacking alots

Conclusion: Ownage.

Bibliography: William E. Glassman "Approaches to Psychology"

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What is the source of your bitter vitriol, Captain Goatse?

Thank you for your concise, well-researched and useful definitions of Heuristics, Persistence of Set, and Functional Fixedness.

When deClavier referred to Heuristics in the title of his post, I assumed he was referring to human mental processes, which are more like heuristics (in that they give a good solution in a reasonable amount of time) than algorithms (which give the optimal solution through sometimes lengthy testing of options). So far I fail to see how his usage conflicts with your definition.

Dauntless roughly defined Heuristics as "mental shortcuts that humans use to process information more quickly", which agrees with deClavier''s implied usage as well as your given definition. Again, I do not see the source of your apparent frustration with our mental development.

Who is a fourteen year old MMORPG developer? I''m not, unless time has mysteriously reversed its flow. Who lacks creativity? Show me where this topic has been discussed previously, and where we are repeating ideas already well thought out. I''d hate to find myself less than wholly original. I am confused by your reference to "ownage": who owns who? It is not the game developer''s goal to defeat the player. It may be the game developer''s goal to defeat other game developers. Is this what you refer to - that you feel that by demonstrating your ability to research definitions (which is excellent) you have defeated us? Very well, you are victorious. I am sure that the game you are developing, in between witty banter with the dullards on this forum, will far outsell any of our efforts and be considered a classic far beyond its time. I will be first in line to buy it.

Have a pleasant day and a successful career.
-STC

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-SpittingTrashcan

You can''t have "civilization" without "civil".

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quote:
Original post by SpittingTrashcan
What is the source of your bitter vitriol, Captain Goatse?

Thank you for your concise, well-researched and useful definitions of Heuristics, Persistence of Set, and Functional Fixedness.

When deClavier referred to Heuristics in the title of his post, I assumed he was referring to human mental processes, which are more like heuristics (in that they give a good solution in a reasonable amount of time) than algorithms (which give the optimal solution through sometimes lengthy testing of options). So far I fail to see how his usage conflicts with your definition.

Dauntless roughly defined Heuristics as "mental shortcuts that humans use to process information more quickly", which agrees with deClavier''s implied usage as well as your given definition. Again, I do not see the source of your apparent frustration with our mental development.

Who is a fourteen year old MMORPG developer? I''m not, unless time has mysteriously reversed its flow. Who lacks creativity? Show me where this topic has been discussed previously, and where we are repeating ideas already well thought out. I''d hate to find myself less than wholly original. I am confused by your reference to "ownage": who owns who? It is not the game developer''s goal to defeat the player. It may be the game developer''s goal to defeat other game developers. Is this what you refer to - that you feel that by demonstrating your ability to research definitions (which is excellent) you have defeated us? Very well, you are victorious. I am sure that the game you are developing, in between witty banter with the dullards on this forum, will far outsell any of our efforts and be considered a classic far beyond its time. I will be first in line to buy it.

Have a pleasant day and a successful career.
-STC

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-SpittingTrashcan

You can''t have "civilization" without "civil".

We seem to have different approaches in Heuristics. I don''t understand how the shortcuts would relate to game design. However, I do understand how problem solving relates to game design.

At this point I have to bring up the point that you people might have been discussing about different things altogether.

As you have fantastically googled up the definition of Heuristics I have to notice that Gestalt theory treats heuristics as a guide to problem solving. As you might google up, guide =! mental shortcut.

At this point I have hijacked the thread and turned it into a troll-fest. My bad I won''t continue.

Please forgive me. I''m just trying to be critical. Sometimes I may turn it into something personal. As I stated above, I''m sorry. No intention in trolling.

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quote:
Original post by SpittingTrashcan
What is the source of your bitter vitriol, Captain Goatse?

Thank you for your concise, well-researched and useful definitions of Heuristics, Persistence of Set, and Functional Fixedness.

When deClavier referred to Heuristics in the title of his post, I assumed he was referring to human mental processes, which are more like heuristics (in that they give a good solution in a reasonable amount of time) than algorithms (which give the optimal solution through sometimes lengthy testing of options). So far I fail to see how his usage conflicts with your definition.

Dauntless roughly defined Heuristics as "mental shortcuts that humans use to process information more quickly", which agrees with deClavier''s implied usage as well as your given definition. Again, I do not see the source of your apparent frustration with our mental development.

Who is a fourteen year old MMORPG developer? I''m not, unless time has mysteriously reversed its flow. Who lacks creativity? Show me where this topic has been discussed previously, and where we are repeating ideas already well thought out. I''d hate to find myself less than wholly original. I am confused by your reference to "ownage": who owns who? It is not the game developer''s goal to defeat the player. It may be the game developer''s goal to defeat other game developers. Is this what you refer to - that you feel that by demonstrating your ability to research definitions (which is excellent) you have defeated us? Very well, you are victorious. I am sure that the game you are developing, in between witty banter with the dullards on this forum, will far outsell any of our efforts and be considered a classic far beyond its time. I will be first in line to buy it.

Have a pleasant day and a successful career.
-STC

---------------------------------------------------
-SpittingTrashcan

You can''t have "civilization" without "civil".

We seem to have different approaches in Heuristics. I don''t understand how the shortcuts would relate to game design. However, I do understand how problem solving relates to game design.

At this point I have to bring up the point that you people might have been discussing about different things altogether.

As you have fantastically googled up the definition of Heuristics I have to notice that Gestalt theory treats heuristics as a guide to problem solving. As you might google up, guide =! mental shortcut.

At this point I have hijacked the thread and turned it into a troll-fest. My bad I won''t continue.

Please forgive me. I''m just trying to be critical. Sometimes I may turn it into something personal. As I stated above, I''m sorry. No intention in trolling.

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I think the relation between shortcuts and game design is simple, if you use mind shortcuts in your puzzles they will be easier than if you just make a logic puzzle. But i think that when you try to make a puzzle that doesn''t use shortcuts at all sometimes players may get frustrated because he can''t figure out the answer and advance(personal experience ), and when he finally finds the solution, he would think "that''s it? is was so easy really but i just couldn''t figure it out".

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Hm...part of the problem with logic puzzles is that computers can''t think. For example, if the player is blocked by a tangle of vines, and the developer has only told the computer that a sharp object could cut the vines, a spell that summons fire won''t burn away the plants, even though it would in the real world. How many times have you tried various spells/attacks/items you have in a puzzle but it doesn''t work even though it theoretically *should*. This especially happens with "newbie gamers" (by that, I mean people who don''t play many games/aren''t technically inclined.) They believe that what they are doing has to work but it sadly doesn''t.

This whole situation brings us to a problem: If we make the puzzles "inside the box", where there is only one solution, and it is conventional logic, it can become boring and irritating to the player, since all the puzzles will probably be based on the same thing.

However, if we make the puzzles "outside the box," players can have trouble, because they realize that the puzzles in the game are a little more real-world (not just math/logic puzzles), they try things that should work, but the developer has another solution in mind.

So if you can program every solution to an "outside the box" puzzle, it is a great thing. But the fact that they are outside the box makes it more difficult to predict what hairbrained solutions the players might think of.

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Here''s another example: if you frame something negatively, as in "Don''t do x", the mind strongly reinforces "do x" but weakly refinforces the "don''t"; whereas framed positively, as in "choose y", the mind will reinforce the positive message.

Skinner''s psychology is based on a model of study that might be suitable to games, ie. person in tightly controlled environment, but does his approach account for personality at all?