The Psychology Of Good Game Design

Apparently we play Farmville because we want to look like good parents, and play Grand Theft Auto for the feeling of power and autonomy. We play Angry Birds because of our primal need to shoot at stuff and Call of Duty because we enjoy being overwhelmed. The Guardian has just posted an extremely interesting article about the psychology of game design, and it's well worth reading.

"Games are increasingly complex systems that offer a variety of different experiences," says Dan Pinchbeck, an experimental game designer and lecturer in creative technologies. "Titles such as Red Dead Redemption and Assassin's Creed have a central design ethos that players should be able to define their own play to an extent. There's an emphasis on the pleasure of choosing and planning. We've moved quite dramatically away from the action games of the 80s and 90s, where the primary mode of engagement was reaction to events. Shooters still have this core of fast, reactive action, but a game such as Crysis 2 is also about approaching a situation, making a solid plan and then defining the template for this reactive mode, depending on your preferred play style."

There's a lot of great stuff in there, especially for those interested in the psychology of game design.

"Games allow us to create these little systems where learning is controlled and taken advantage of really brilliantly," says Margaret Robertson, development director at innovative London-based games studio Hide&Seek. "We do love learning and we're good at it, but it is often frustrating in the real world because you don't always get to go at the pace you want to go and often don't immediately see the application of what you're doing. Also, learning is rarely done in an atmosphere that's a little bit illicit. Something we don't talk about is that, actually, one of the strengths of games is the stigma that still surrounds them – they feel like bunking off!"

Worth reading if you have a spare 15 minutes.

The seduction secrets of video game designers [The Guardian]


    urg, its far more complex than that silly article. But complex doesn't sell stuff.

      It's a mainstream news article - not a peer reviewed journal. I thought the article was well written.

    :O Dan Pinchbeck! I can't get away from this guy, in a good way though.

    I will read this when I'm not brain dead.

      I know the feeling. I'm not really firing on all cylinders right now, so when I tried to read this I ended up completely missing the actual content.

      There were words, my eyes processed them but my brain did not.


    Not very creative.

      That doesn't make the design any better or worse. They use the same design in soccer every time and no one seems to mind.

      Possibly they get away with reusing the same stuff because it was a solid design in the first place? If the original idea is good enough then you would expect to make it last. No one hits gold and doesn't continue along the vein.

      I think you're thinking on different lines from the article.

      "Call of Duty : Black Ops owes some of its popularity to its 'disproportionate feedback', with players being hugely rewarded for performing relatively simple tasks."

      He talks about the experience and feeling that players get while playing games like COD. And how that can be attributed to the series' success.

      It isn't about creativity, the art or the features, so to speak, but about how players engage, are rewarded and feel when playing certain genres and certain games, and why they're willing to dig their wallets for that feeling.

      On another note, it was a great article.
      Enjoyed reading it.

      It's actually great game design, which is why it works!

      Creativity was totally a factor in the first run, but now its a franchise and they don't want to spoil a winning formula.

      Tell that to the number of people still playing the last 3 titles.

      Creativity ≠ Good

      I think you missed the point... Just because you don't like something doesn't mean it isn't well-designed. It hasn't changed because it works. Personally, I agree, CoD is stupid. I play multiplayer from time to time but I can barely remember finishing the campaigns because they all blur together. But it's sense of time, place and action is unparalleled. They're creative in their sound design and set pieces, not in story or setting but again, "creativity" and "innovation" are subjective terms, they don't mean the same thing to everyone. Just because something is different doesn't mean it's good and on the other hand something doesn't have to be "creative" or "innovative" to be good.

        Geez I'm sick of hearing those words "Black Ops." "I play Black-Ops," "Do you play Black Ops," "Black-Ops is good" "I like Black-Ops because I bought it" "I'm better than you at playing Black-Ops" "O you dont play Black-Ops" "You should play Blac-Ops." Hey guess what, Black-Ops sux - cheap arsed cookie cutter due bro fluff, you've been had by Activision, and you'll be lining up next year while I'm playing Bioshock Infinite, XCOM & Mass Effect 3. Suck it!


          Fail trolls are funny.

    Think you might want to change the Black Ops picture to a game which is actually made with effort...

    Hey I just read the article, thanks for the heads up! Really interesting points...

    As a game designer myself (student... still counts)I would say sure our primal nature plays a role in the appeal of 'good' games but a more useful approach to applying psychology to game design is in the effective use of visual semiotics. Basically how signs and symbols are used to direct the attention of the user. You will find games that can hold the attention of a user, provide all useful information and keep the play constantly immersed in the experience is reliant on symbols and signs that are already established from our primal nature For example: there is a correlation between how we react to colours and the colours of our natural prey and predictors. An example of this can be to have friendly NPCs blue and enemy red. Without even telling you the game can go on and you automatically think blue is your friend, unless in a case like Unreal Tournament but there is a clear two side concept already established.

    On a side note here are some interesting applications of how colour can play a role in our choices:


      I think that we tend to use Red & Blue that way because those two colors are opposite ends of the visible light spectrum so they offer the greatest contrast against each other.

        That is why we use it but I just find it interesting that how we react to them can influence how we play a game.

    Yay, another person gets to feel like they mean something in the world because they wrote an analysis on something.

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