The Psychology Behind Games: Designer's Playbook

Many of us play through games and enjoy them just as they are, giving little thought to the design or the psychology behind what we’re playing. Kotaku reader and QUT game design student (who also has a background in psychology), Dominic Williamson, has gone that extra step with his Designer Playbook series.

We'll hand it over to Dominic to explain what he does and why he does it. The video above is one of many he has created.

I started making Designer’s Playbook because I really wanted explore the psychology behind game design. I believe that more serious discussion about games will lead to better quality and better variety of gaming experiences as the industry continues mature.

When it comes to making the videos I’ll either start in one of two ways. I’ll read about a theory and then keep an eye out for a game that does a good job of implementing it. Or, I will pick a game I've played that has done something interesting design-wise, either good or bad. Once I’ve picked a game I will narrow down what I want to talk about to a few key points. With the key points in mind I’ll begin my research.

I’ll read all sorts of things from interviews to game design theories to general articles to research papers. Once I feel I have enough information for each key point I begin production. Because it’s just me making the episodes this part is quite time consuming and I have yet to meet my goal of making a complete episode in less than 10 hours. It takes so long because I have to record the game footage, write a script, record the script, find useful images, record myself for the introduction and conclusion, edit everything together and then render it all.

I will have a new episode of Designer’s Playbook out on the 1st of each month (after fortnightly releases proved to be a little too ambitious along with my studies).

We think it's great that a Kotaku reader is taking the initiative to delve that little bit deeper into the games. You can watch more of Dominic's videos here.


    the abilities aren't on separate pages on the PC version.. you know the one that actually matters.

    We also all know that DA1 was WAY better than DA2

    That kids actually onto something pretty cool. once he becomes a bit of a better presenter, he could do well.

      I try to get better with each episode. Also, I'm already working on an improved visual style so stay tuned.

    this kid is in my game design class at uni props buddy

      Is it gonna be awkward now?

    An interesting way to look at it, nice work.

      Thanks Aidan :)

    I thought he knew what he was talking about; and then he said that combat in DA2 was more enjoyable than DA1?

      Considering DA1 was a clunky mess compared to DA2 as far as battle mechanics were concerned, then yes he's right. Smoother & nicer mechanics were pretty much the only thing DA2 did better.

        i spent like 5 mins laughing at that comment jubs. thanks..hahaha...better...hahaha

    Pretty good, i was interested to watch it all. Keep up the good work, deserves more than 300 views, but 300 views is 300 views. Hope Kokatu help spread the word and post this on the American version as well.

    Good vid, but the whole point of combat in RPG vs FPS is that there is the random element of a dice role and you buff yourself up to overcome that. Turning it into skill based and reaction is no longer RPG.

    hmm this quiet a good review

    has some interesting points in regards to streamlining the system and it makes getting more people to get into dragon age. But I was disappointed because it seemed so much like Mass Effect 2 with the simplified skill trees, the conversation circle (that had little bearing in the end anyway) and a push to a more hack and slash style gameplay (just like ME2 pushed towards become more of a shooter).

    I really missed the long interesting conversations you could have with your team and the varying responses you could give in the original.

    DA2 was a fun game, dont get me wrong. Its just got nowhere near the charm and immersiveness of the original. The three classes also played so alike (melee reigned supreme in the end) that I had little reason to replay other than maybe trying a new romance. The variety of the classes and races was also hugely missed :(

    Oh well hopefully they can strike a middle ground between DA1 and DA2 for the next one.

    As a fellow psychology fan and game analyser I think, with a bit of refinement, these could be quite good. The combat section was a bit "Game-review" but the end and start were interesting. Perhaps something about the growing desire for instant gratification could have been explored regarding the combat.

    I'd have been interested to know the author's opinion on whether small changes to existing areas can still stimulate interest. New stimuli amongst old ones can reinvigorate our interest, however, it takes us less time to grow bored with it again.

    Some concepts I'd like to see explored are:
    - Positive and negative reinforcement in games
    - Using universal body language and expressions (eg. Smiling, frowning, folded arms, downcast eyes, etc.) to communicate a character's feelings
    - Using simulacrums of real life conventions and behaviours to increase accessibility (ie. Spikes hurt us, so they are bad in a game. Cars accelerate, reverse and steer. etc.)

      You've mentioned some good topics and I will certainly keep those in mind for future episodes. Thanks for the feedback Ahtaps.

    I enjoyed the video. The start and the finish were good although the part about combat I didn't really agree with.

    The biggest gripe for me was the combat and the lack of Dice Rolls. The original DA played like an RPG but DAII felt played more like an action/adventure with added RPG elements. In the end it seemed the "ability with the biggest number wins" rather then "yeah you have an ability with a big number but you haven't invested any points for it to hit (increase your dice roll)"

    Also the conversation wheel was also a bit irritating (Bioware removed the randomness from combat and placed it in the conversations?). Half the time I thought to myself "WTF I didn't want to say that". Hopefully DA III will have the original DA conversation system (which is unlikely) or the conversation wheel they used in the new Dues Ex so I can actually see what I am going to say.

    Less randomness in conversations and more randomness (Dice Rolls) in combat please!

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