Occasionally I like to stroll a site called TED. It’s an incredible site with really insightful videos. In fact, their motto is “ideas worth spreading.” Sometimes there are speakers that you are familiar with, such as Ariana Huffington, and other times there are just small business men you will never hear of again. The site is simply to spread ideas, and not entirely surprisingly, there are some videos on gaming as well.
The psychology behind gaming can be very fascinating, and has obviously changed society in some way or form. One of the TED videos I have found especially fascinating is by Tom Chatfield called “7 Ways Games Reward the Brain.” The video and summary are after the break, so make sure to read on.
Summary and Discussion
Video games are a high dollar industry that have really reflected and responded to the way people think and want to be rewarded. Tasks that we would find in the real world extremely boring, like opening boxes to see which ones have pies in it, we do without complaining in games like World of Warcraft. There are 7 ways that games reward the brain:
- Experience bars that measure progress. Imagine if we had experience bars in real life. Imagine being able to say to yourself, “this is how many more transactions at the cash register I have to do before I get promoted to being a sales associate. If I do especially well at the cash register, this is how much faster I could get promoted.” How much more motivated would we be do to our job well if that was the case?
- Having multiple long term and short term aims. The idea behind this one is to have many different short tasks for people to do that are rewarding in the end. I was trying to figure out how this idea was different than what school classes do anyways (e.g. my class has 4 tests, 10 quizzes, etc.), then I realized that the difference was that in World of Warcraft, I had a choice of what quests to do in order to level up. Not only was I limited to quests, I could do instances as well. On the side, when I was tired of leveling up, I had the choice to do professions or find ways to make gold that would all benefit me in the long run.
- Even effort is rewarded. If you fail, as long as you tried, you get rewarded with something. It isn’t nearly as good as the ultimate reward, but at least you got something. An easy example of this is Mario Kart. Even when you lose, you still get points toward your final score and you still have a chance of pulling out on top in the long run, as long as your points add up.
- Feedback. Feedback helps people learn. If someone tells us we are doing it wrong, but then don’t tell us when we are doing it right, or what we did differently, and so on, then it is difficult for us to learn. How many tips do we have in games when we fail? I have often seen when I die a little tip down at the bottom, “when you need A to do B, then make sure you do C.” Or else you have a companion with you to give you advice on the way.
- Element of Uncertainty. When we are uncertain about a reward, we want to find out more about it, we want to have it and use it for multiple reasons. I know I liked getting uncertain rewards so I could tell others what it was.
- Dopamine. That may seem random, but in case you don’t know what dopamine is, it is the neurotransmitter within us that is associated with learning and with reward seeking. Game playing and rewards makes us braver and more willing to take risks. I don’t know if it is because of game playing, but I have been much more willing to take risks in life than I was before I began playing regularly. That could be because of my personality as well, but who knows.
- Finally, the ability to work with people to receive rewards. You will simply have to listen to the story for this one.
And I want to tell you a quick story about 1999 — a video game called Everquest. And in this video game, there were two really big dragons, and you had to team up to kill them — 42 people — up to 42 to kill these big dragons. That’s a problem,because they dropped two or three decent items.So players addressed this problem by spontaneously coming up with a system to motivate each other, fairly and transparently. What happened was, they paid each other a virtual currency they called dragon kill points. And every time your turn up to go on a mission, you got paid in dragon kill points. They tracked these on a separate website. So they tracked their own private currency, and then players could bid afterward for cool items they wanted — all organized by the players themselves. Now the staggering system is not just that this worked in Everquest, but that today, a decade on, every single video game in the world with this kind of task uses a version of this system — tens of millions of people. And the success rate is at close to 100 percent. This is a player-developed, self-enforcing, voluntary currency, and it’s incredibly sophisticated player behavior.
So what do you think? Do you think that the ideas behind video games could be applied to life and how so?