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…

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…

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.…

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.…

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…

Conan the Loss Averse Barbarian

I wrote just the other day about how loss aversion could be used to increase conversion rates on trial games. You can read that article for more details and a neat experiment illustrating the effect, but the gist of it is that people hate to lose things more than they like to gain them. Losing…

How Reciprocity Yields Bumper Crops in Farmville

One day when going to check on my friends’ status updates on Facebook, this jumped out at me: Attention Facebook friends: Please for the love of God stop sending me gifts and invites for Farmville, Mafia Wars, Vampires, and whatever other crappy THING you’ve been playing. DO NOT WANT. Just …STOP. GOD. Those of you…

Bayonetta: Witches With Halos

I’m not sure where I first noticed Bayonetta, Sega’s crazy action game starring a witch of the same name (“Bayonetta,” not “Sega”). But I can tell you that I immediately wrote it off as something I wasn’t interested in based on very little actual information. Why? Well, on the 12/25/09 edition of the 4 Guys…

How Social Identity Theory Predicted the Console Wars of ’07

Fanboys. You don’t have to be a very experienced browser of gaming-related forums to see your share of discussions fouled by flames between people hysterically defending their favored game/console/genre/whatever and attacking everything else in sight. Some of it is deliberate trolling, for sure, but not always. There were (and still are) way too many Xbox…

Fundamental Attribution Error and A Tale of Two Tigers

For those of you who somehow don’t know, pro golfer and occasional video game star Tiger Woods has recently been in trouble over not keeping his club in his bag, so to speak. The casualties include endorsement deals with companies who capitalized on Woods’s previous reputation as focused and reliable, but interestingly game publisher EA…

Loss Aversion, Achievements, and Trial Conversions

How could publishers get way more people to buy an Xbox Live Arcade or Playstation Network game after trying the trial version? Let me glue on my goatee and practice my maniacal laugh a few times and then I’ll tell you my idea. But first, let me ask you a couple of hypothetical questions made…

Duke Nukem Forever: Escalating Commitment and Chewing Bubblegum

You probably know about Duke Nuke Forever, the sequel to the trailblazing blockbuster Duke Nukem 3D that became the laughing stock of the industry on account of how it spent 12 years –TWELVE YEARS– in development and burned through tens of millions of dollars before being canceled. Wired magazine recently published a fascinating analysis of…

Phat Loot and Neurotransmitters in World of Warcraft

How are loot-based games like World of Warcraft, Torchlight, and Borderlands related to slot machines, chemical bliss, and evolution? Read on for the answer. During my early days with World of Warcraft (WoW) I remember tromping through Westfall killing crowds of Defias bandits when I was shocked by a loot drop: a rare pair of…

Hot Hand Fallacy and Kill Streaks in Modern Warfare 2

What do basketball free throws, Modern Warfare 2, and murdering 11 people in a row have in common? Read on to find out. In psychology, there’s a phenomenon called “the hot hand fallacy” (a.k.a., “the gambler’s fallacy” or “the hot streak fallacy” or “the clustering illusion”). The seminal work on this kink in the human…

Red Rings and Research Methods

Why do surveys overestimate the number of people experiencing the Xbox 360’s dreaded Red Ring of Death? Lord knows I’m familiar with the Xbox 360’s “red ring of death,” or “RROD” as it’s not so affectionately called. I’ve encountered it twice myself. The term refers to what you get on the front of Microsoft’s console…

Just One More Level: Decision Making Under Arousal

As gamers, I think we’ve all been there: You’re jamming along, feeling the rush as you shotgun foes in an online shooter or tear your car through the twists and turns of a realistically rendered race track. It’s exciting and in the best cases it may actually get our heart racing and our palms sweating.…

Sunk Costs, Pre-Orders, and Game Over

Let’s say you’re compelled to pre-order a game, maybe because the cashier at GameStop got you in a head lock and wouldn’t let you out until you agreed to. So you put down $10 towards Game A and go home, vowing to work out more so this kind of thing doesn’t happen again. Weeks later…

The Contrast Effect: The Cover Art of Borderlands

How did 2K Games get that cover for Borderlands approved by the ESRB? In psychology there’s a concept called “the contrast effect.” Basically, it means that some perception (say, weight, brightness, or sweetness) will appear greater or lesser depending on a perception that came immediately before it. Because they contrast so strongly and the memory…

Confirmatory Information Bias and Tony Hawk RIDE

Why does Tony Hawk think YOU think his game sucks? Released right at the cusp of the Christmas ’09 shopping season, Tony Hawk RIDE (just like that, in all caps, ’cause it’s CRAZY!) featured a humongous plastic skateboard controller and an equally enormous price tag of $130, but promised to revolutionize the genre. Instead, RIDE…