Competition, Cooperation, and Play

One of the topics that’s conspicuously absent from this blog is that of the relationship between violence and video games. The short version of the reason why is that I think the issue is too polarizing and too much tends to get read into findings on either side. Something I did recently find worth discussing,…

Trials Evolution, Social Comparisons, and Second Place

Is it worse to come in second to last or second to first? I’ve been playing a lot of Trials Evolution lately and this question kept occurring to me as the results of my run at each track came up. Trials Evolution is a side scrolling, motorcycle driving game with a heavy emphasis on physics.…

Seven Psychological Sins of SimCity Social

I have recently been hearing a lot about SimCity Social, the “Farmville with a candy coating of SimCity” game from Bigfish and EA. Mostly I’ve heard about how the game pulls all kinds of tricks to get players to spam each other, trade items, recruit new players, and spend real money. All of these things…

The Psychology of Diablo III Loot Part 4 Historical Items

Wait, did I say the series on Diablo III loot would be a three parter? By that I obviously meant it would have four parts. Don’t put words in my mouth. I was listening to the always excellent Giant Bombcast podcast recently and the gang was talking about their experiences using the Diablo III auction…

Draw Something Uncertain

Imagine that some wealthy lunatic comes to you with an offer to choose between the following gambles in order to win five bucks: Option 1: A stock is selected at random from the Wall Street Journal. You guess whether it will go up or down tomorrow. If you’re right, you win $5. Option 2: A…

Needs and Gratification Theory and Game Genres

Hey, do you guys watch Extra Credits? If not, you should. Each week the team there shares insightful, animated essays on topics related to video game design, culture, and business. They’re often pretty amusing, too. A few weeks ago they did a series on the difference between Western and Japanese RPGs that reminded me of…

The Dunning-Kruger Effect and Multiplayer Games

Let me describe a scenario that I think we’ve all been in. You pick up a game like Gears of War 3 or Starcraft II or the deck-building iOS game Ascension. You jam through the single-player campaign or do a little comp stomping in skirmish mode –maybe even on the second-to-hardest difficulty ‘cause you’re totally…

Two Lessons From Team Fortress 2

I’ve gotten sucked back in to Team Fortress 2 (TF2) lately and taking notes of the changes that have happened since I last played. In the course of poking around the Mann Co Shop I’ve been reminded that they have some pretty smart cookies over there at Valve and I for one welcome our new…

Self-Perception Theory and Marketing through Avatars

I recently found out, via this article on Mindhacks.com, about an interesting paper by researcher Jeremy Bailenson in The Psychologist. In it, he reviews recent research on how viewing online representations of ourselves –like our avatars on the Xbox 360 or our Miis on the Nintendo Wii– can affect our behavior. He talks some about…

Ideal Self Image and Game Choice

So why do you think you choose to play the games you do? NO! WRONG ANSWER! Well, actually, you’re probably mostly right about that, but an recent article in Psychological Science suggests that your choice of games and your motivation to keep playing them may have something to do with how well they allow you…

The Psychology of Child’s Play

Many of you may be familiar with the Child’s Play charity that was started by the guys behind the video game webcomic Penny Arcade. Since 2003, the organization has encouraged gamers to donate new video games (or cash or other toys) to children’s hospitals around the world so that little Timmy can distract himself from…

Thoughts on Immersion in Skyrim

Like most Earthlings, I’ve been playing a LOT of Skyrim lately. I hated Oblivion and Morrowind, but this particular role-playing dragon murder simulator has really gotten under my skin, thanks in part to how immersive it is. It’s not uncommon for me to hunch in front of my keyboard for hours, forgetting time and space…

Burnout, Crunch, and the Games You Play

The need for “crunch time” in the game development business has been a perennial drum that gets pulled out and beat upon from time to time. The biggest kerfuffle in recent memory was caused by “EA Spouse” who composed a magnum opus on Livejournal in which she recounted the cringe-inducing conditions under which her husband…

Benign Envy and The Psychology of Tiny Tower

I’ve been messing around lately with Tiny Tower on the iPad . If you haven’t played it, the gist is that you build up a tower full of “bitizens” who live in your tower’s apartments and work in its shops. Employed bitizens make money over time, which you can spend to build ever more floors…

Netflix, GameFly, and Predicting the Future

Behavioral economist Dan Ariely has a great article in the current issue of Wired Magazine (also available to read here) where he discusses how online companies use psychology to squeeze more money out of us. (Incidentally, I have an article in the current issue of GamePro magazine about the same things in the context of…

The Psychology of Fair Play

GamePro.com recently put up my article on the psychology of fairness as it applies to video games. You can read it here once you’ve managed the art mouse clicking. Again, it’s in the form of a nicely formatted pdf file so you can see the nifty layout work they did. This article also has one…

The Psychology of Microsoft Points Part 2: Conversion Factors

Note: This is Part 2 of a two-part article on the psychological effects of using point-based currencies like Microsoft Points or Nintendo Points. Part 1, which you can read by executing precision clicking acts here, dealt with the psychology of waste. Below, I’ll look at how research on anchoring and consumer behavior using foreign currency…

The Psychology of Microsoft Points Part 1: Waste Aversion

Note: This article got a little out of hand, so I’m breaking it up into two related posts. Enjoy Part 1 below, and Part 2 here. Doesn’t that feel like you’re getting more for your money? Woo psychology! Ever bought something from Xbox Live Arcade? The first time you may have been a bit bamboozled…

Situational Judgment Tests as RPGs

As is my habit, I recently attended the annual conference for the Society for Industrial/Organizational Psychology (SIOP), which is the professional organization for people who apply psychology to understanding human behavior in the workplace. Trust me, we I/O psychologists actually do know how to party. Apparently some of us also know how to play video…

The Psychology of Loot

UPDATE: GamePro is gone, and so is the link for the article. Sorry! GamePro.com has posted my article from a recent print issue on The Psychology of Loot. The article aims to look at what psychology has to say about why gamers love loot and loot drops so much. Turns out it’s not so much…

Just World Hypothesis and Homefront

Years ago I watched a friend (hi Chris!) play through some of the later levels in the original Deus Ex and commented on how he was repeatedly subjecting Majestic 12 security personnel to death by natural causes, in so much as shooting them in the face would naturally cause their death. I noted that there…

The Unit Effect and Player Perceptions

Hey. Hey! I’ve got a some questions for you: Do you think you’d be more likely to buy a new MMO if it came with a 28 day trial vs. a 4 week trial? Would you be happier if your game character got a new ability with a 1.5 minute cooldown or a 90 second…

Book Review: Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal

Unlike people who apparently pay attention to what’s going on in the gaming industry, I only recently became aware of Jane McGonigal, a Ph.D. in Performance Studies best known for designing alternate reality games and thinking really big thoughts. After reading her book, Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How they Can…

The Psychological Weight of History

Despite a huge backlog of games trying to get my attention, I found myself playing a lot of Team Fortress 2 (TF2) lately. This is in part because of the loot system, which drops random items –mainly hats or weapons– for you to use in customizing your avatar. This system has been in TF2 for…

Procedural Justice and Nerfing

Most of us have been in a situation where we feel that we’ve gotten the short end of a pointy stick. Maybe we were booted from a game server, banned from a message board, or had our favorite MMO game character weakened by a patch in such a way that left us shaking our tiny…

Freezing Your Decision-Making Synapses

A reader sent me a tweet recently pointing to something that reminded him of an article he’d read here: the pre-order options for Frozen Synapse, a PC strategy game in development by Mode 7 Games. BEHOLD: Here’s the gist of the options, with US Dollars Option 1: game + copy for a friend ($25.99) Option…

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…

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…

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 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…

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…

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…