The Psychology of Fear in Video Games

GamePro.com has published my article about the psychology of horror games, so if you didn’t catch it in the print magazine a while back you can now. IF YOU DARE. [UPDATE: Sorry, GamePro is kaput and the linked article is gone. Sorry!] I sent a moderately frightened Bobo the Quote Monkey to fetch something from…

The Psychology of Game of the Year Debates

Ah, late December. The time when the gaming press gets its members together and tries to convince each other that one awesome game is more awesome than other awesome games –also known as the Game of the Year Awards. When I worked as part of the creative team on GameSpy.com we would lock ourselves in…

The Psychology of Shooters (Online)

As I mentioned a while back I wrote an article for GamePro magazine about the psychology of shooters and why interacting with game worlds through the barrel of a gun is often so appealing. I got some great input from people doing real research in this area and I like how the article turned out.…

Steamed Endowed Progress a la carte

I recently wrote about the endowed progress effect, which makes us more likely to complete progress towards a goal if we have the impression that we’ve already begun taking the necessary steps. For example, people who get 2 free stamps on a “buy 10 get 1 free” card are more likely to put in the…

Kinecting With Your Emotions

Apparently the Xbox Kinect is a retail success despite the fact that I haven’t personally bought one. Enough people seem to enjoy flailing their extremities about and barking simple commands that Microsoft has sold 1.5 hoojillion of the devices and the holiday shopping season has only just begun. I’ve written before about how motion controls…

Why We Get Nostalgic About Good Old Games

Imagine for a moment that you’re a Swiss mercenary away from your homeland and fighting for some European king during the 17th century. Now suppose that over cups of hot coco and hair braiding you and your fellow mercs begin to pine for the good old days when video games came with thick manuals and…

Endowed Progress Effect and Game Quests

Imagine that two people, Kim and Carlos, notice that their cars are filthy and both go to the same car wash to make things right. With their wash they each receive a special card that lets them earn a free car wash if they get the card stamped enough times during future visits. Kim’s card…

The Psychology of Horror

If you can get your hands on the new issue of GamePro magazine (#267, December 2010 with Diablo 3 on the cover), check out my article on the psychology of horror. The timing with Halloween was better a week or so ago when the issue first came out. This is another one of those topics…

Conceptual Consumption and Kicks to the Head

When it comes to video games, I’m not much of an achievement guy. But when I pop in a new game I usually bring up the achievement list to see what’s there and to look for anything interesting. When I recently did this with Halo: Reach I had to give a snort upon seeing the…

The Psychology of Anonymity

A few months ago I wrote an article for GamePro magazine about what effects deindividuation and anonymity had on gamers. For those of you who aren’t subscribers or who didn’t pick up the magazine, GamePro recently published the article on their website for your clicking pleasure. I turned Bobo the Quote Monkey loose on the…

The Charitable Status Halo Quo

I wrote a while back about the Status Quo Effect and how puny humans are likely to stick with a default or pre-selected option when presented with multiple choices. It’s why e-mail subscription opt-outs are more “successful” than opt-ins, and it’s how services gently steer new customers towards the more profitable options like annual subscription…

Motion Controls and Presence

Does motion control help us feel like we’re “in” a game’s world? A few weeks ago I published an article on presence and video games, discussing a model of what puts us in the curious psychological state of feeling like we’re in a game world. When we experience presence we ignore the technology between us…

The Psychology of Apology (and Hugs)

I’m looking forward to next year’s Portal 2 by Valve, in no small part because of the co-op mode where you team up with another little robot buddy and make your way through test chambers. Mistakes are sure to be made, though, and you may end up flinging or dropping your comrade to his/her death.…

Priming, Consistency, Cheating, and Being a Jerk

How can developers of multiplayer games get their players to behave, cooperate, play their role, and not be such incredible jerks? I have an idea. Psychology is involved. You probably guessed this. One of my favorite little experiments in psychology was done by John Bargh, Mark Chen, and Lara Burrows who were interested in how…

The Psychology of Shooters

The new issue of GamePro magazine (October 2010, #265) is out and features my article on the psychology of shooters. If you buy the magazine on the store shelf, the cover is the one on the left below. If, however, you’re a subscriber and got yours through the mail, you got the variant cover on…

Gaming for Mondays

Andrew Miller, a guy I know, spends his days in an office cubicle, working as a Procurement Officer for a large telecommunications company. Every day he spends his limited patience and good will towards humanity on arguments with various middle managers about why they can’t go out and buy this or hire a contractor to…

Jam and Game Reviews

For every one of us, making decisions is part of our daily human existence. Most of them are of little consequence –what to eat, what movie to see, what video game to buy– so we have developed an astonishing array of mental short-cuts to make these kinds of decisions comparatively quick, easy, and not too…

Gamer Dreams

Do hardcore gamers have more bizarre but less threatening dreams than non-gamers? One of the things I love about academics is that if you chain a million of them to a million graduate students, then one of them –by pure chance alone– will study a question like that. For example, I’ve been reading about a…

Psychology of Games: Now Appearing in GamePro Magazine

Back in January 2010 when I launched this site, I laid out the things it could lead to on a continuim from low to high. On the low end was “Nobody likes it, everybody dies.” On the very top of the high end was “Book deal, everyone lives” and close behind that was “Someone hires…

The Psychology of Immersion in Video Games

Along with “OMGDUDESOAWESOME” one of the words that gamers like to toss around when describing their favorite titles is “immersive.” But what exactly does that mean? And what makes a game immersive? Ask 5 people and you’ll probably get 10 opinions, but psychologists have been studying immersion in various kinds of media for decades so…

Psychological Reactance and Bioware Games

Earlier this year I was playing through Bioware’s Dragon Age: Origins and found myself on the twin points of one of the company’s signature dilemmas: with which of the non-player characters should I pursue a romantic interest? Should I woo the crabby but sexy Morrigan or should I court the more pure hearted and worldly…

Hedonic Adaptation and Game Reviews

My wife and I have a Father’s Day tradition where I get to celebrate the joy of parenthood by kicking everyone out of the house and playing video games for 12 hours straight. This year I decided to take a chunk out of my backlog by unwrapping Bioshock 2 and popping it in. Normally it…

Anonymity and Blizzard Forums

Earlier this week Blizzard dropped a big AoE by announcing that it was greatly reducing user anonymity on its Starcraft II and World of Warcraft forums. Everybody who posts on those boards will soon have their real first and last names displayed. So Trolly McTrollpants will no longer be able to post under that name…

Loss Aversion and the Crackdown 2 Demo

One of the first articles I wrote for this site was about how to use loss aversion to get people to buy Xbox Live Arcade or Playstation Network games. The idea was that during the demo for the game you award people achievements or trophies, then threaten to take them away unless they buy the…

The Psychology of Games Reading List

If I were to compile a list of frequently asked questions people send me, the first would be, “Hey, I have this awesome idea. WRITE AN ARTICLE ABOUT IT!” The answer to this question is, “Uh, okay. I’ll put it on the list. Stop yelling.” Another common question is “I love this topic. What kinds…

The Psychology of Sony’s Playstation Move Announcement

Last week at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (or “E3” if you’re in a hurry) the two big stories for console makers were 3D and new motion controllers. As I watched Sony’s press conference where they pitched the Playstation Move something struck me about the way that they presented the pricing for the product. Peter Dille,…

APB: All Points Bulletin or Aggregated Payment Bias? Both.

Back in April of this year, Realtime Worlds announced the pricing model for its soon to be released MMO, All Points Bulletin, or “APB” as the cool kids say. A lot of people were looking forward to the futuristic cops vs. robbers game, but the announcement about the pricing elicited jeers from a lot of…

Deindividuation + Character Creator = Stab Them in the Face

While doing research for an article on the effects of anonymity on player behavior, I came across a fascinating study that I couldn’t find a place for in that piece, but which I wanted to share somewhere. In an article appearing in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology cultural anthropologist R. J. Watson considered…

Three Reasons Why We Buy Those Crazy Steam Bundles

Steam, the digital game distribution platform owned by Valve, often has these weird bundles for sale where they cram together, for example, every id Software or every Rockstar game or every game featuring squirrels into one package. One message board I frequent has a mega thread dedicated to gaming bargains, and doing a search for…

Login 2010 Lecture Slides

Last Thursday I did a talk at 2010 Login Conference in super nifty downtown Seattle. The title of the talk was “The Psychology of Games: Why We Do What We Do When Playing With Friends (And Screw That Other Guy).” I was pretty proud of myself for getting a talk accepted when it included a…

Irrational Games on The Psychology of Fear

You may have heard about a little outfit called “Irrational Games” whose members can claim varying degrees of responsibility for scary and suspenseful titles like System Shock, Bioshock, and the Thief games. They do a semi-regular podcast about their games called “Irrational Behavior” that is a bit like a cross between “This American Life” and…

Closed Betas and Group Culture

A while back I wrote an article about the Attraction-Selection-Attrition model that I thought could explain why gamers choose what guild, clan, or message board community that they do. You can read the article for the details, but the gist of it is that people… Are attracted to organizations that share their values Are selected…

Et Cetera April 2010

Time for the monthly post where I lump a bunch of stuff together. ONE: Hey! Have you heard about this Facebook thing? Yeah, me too. In fact, for some reason I created a Facebook page for Psychology of Games which you can access by performing clicking motions here. So far I’m really just using it…

To Sleep, Perchance to Pwn

I’ve looked at a few kids, like at the store, and one thing I’ve noticed is that they sleep a LOT. Why is that? And while we’re at it, why is it that I spent an entire controller-crushing hour trying to figure out that one level in the puzzle game Braid before giving up and…

The Status Quo Effect (Or, Pay Without Play)

Many of us have been surprised in spite of ourselves when one day we looked up and realized that we’ve been paying for a MMO like World of Warcraft when we haven’t logged on for months. Or maybe we’re reading our e-mail and we get a cheerful note from Microsoft saying that our Xbox Live…

Zerg Rushed by a Tiger? Just give up.

Neuroscientist and avid blogger Jonah Lehrer recently published a great article in the Wall Street Journal about what he and others call “the superstar effect.” The piece is well timed, seeing as it deals largely with the effect that someone like Tiger Woods has on his competition and Mr. Woods has in fact just returned…

Regression to the Mean and Owning Some Chumps

Let’s say that you’ve hired a coach to help you improve your Slayer game in Halo 3. I’ve heard of stranger things. Let’s say this coach looks like Mr. Miyagi but he curses WAY more. He uses a variety of training and motivational techniques, ranging from grenade throwing drills to trigger finger sprints, doing everything…

Xbox Game Room’s Dummy Pricing (Not for Dummies)

[Note: A version of this article appeared as my column in Gamasutra and GameSetWatch.] Microsoft recently augmented their Xbox Live and Games for Windows services with something called “Game Room,” which allows you to buy and/or play classic arcade games like Centipede, Space Invaders, and the like. Basically, it’s just like when we used to…

Framing and World of Warcraft’s Rest System

One of my favorite things about human psychology is how a punishment can be turned into a reward just by changing the way it’s framed. A few years ago a friend of mine was serving on the board for a large conference and negotiating a contract with the hotel where the event would take place.…

Et Cetera, March 2010

And now comes the time again where I dump a bunch of little stuff I didn’t want to make individual updates for. ONE: The website is getting more attention than I thought it would, so a big thank you to everyone who linked here from your blog, Twitter, Facebook, or wherever. I even got huge…

The Glitcher’s Dilemma: Social Dilemmas in Games

Note: This article is also published in my columns on GameSetWatch.com and Gamasutra.com. Soon after its release, some players of the online first person shooter Modern Warfare 2 discovered what became known as “the javelin glitch.” Someone, somewhere, somehow figured out that through a bizarre sequence of button presses you could glitch the game so…

Why Do We Love Genres So Much?

The guys over at Penny Arcade had a great bit where they poked fun at gamers’ obsession with fitting everything into neatly defined genres. The stars of the strip are sitting at a tasting table with Gabe snootily remarking, “This is more of a late eighties platformer, with …Yes, I believe there’s a hint of…

Anonymity and Antisocial Behavior

What makes people be such jerks in online games and messageboards? And why do these kids keep stealing my Halloween candy? Wait, actually I think I remember reading something about this… Ah yes, a classic experiment done by Edward Diener at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and his colleagues way back in the 1970s Little…

Fun is Had When Your Time Flies

Note: A slightly different version of this article ran earlier on Gamasutra.com. I’ll be updating again later this week with a new article here so that you have something to read that hasn’t been previously published. Because I love you, man. While I generally enjoyed Red Faction: Guerrilla, last year’s third-person action game from Volition…

The Endowment Effect and Used Game Sales

A few years ago I decided that I really wanted a fancy new camera so I could properly indulge my budding interest in photography. Problem was, I didn’t have the cash. But what I did have was a closet literally full of old games I hadn’t played in years and would probably never play again.…

Et Cetera, February 2010

And now for some things that aren’t worth a post by themselves, but which I can dump together. ONE: Hey, did you know that some of the content here is being syndicated by Gamasutra.com and GameSetWatch? You can see my article on loss aversion here, and new stuff will appear bi-weekly. They actually want me…

Psychological Flow and Fake Plastic Rock

I think most of us have been in “the zone” at one point or another while playing a game. You know what I mean: that trance-like state where things just click and you just can’t do wrong, be it headshot after headshot in a shooter, making jump after perfectly timed jump in a platformer, or…