Video games attract millions of players and billions of dollars of revenue. What makes them so alluring? Here are some thoughts: They use reinforcement and shaping. Having your character meet some challenge tends to be reinforcing by itself because of our strong desire to achieve. Games often reward effective players with gifts of extra time, power, or opportunities. The best games adjust difficulty level to fit each player, so that the challenge is stiff but within the range of the possible, making reinforcement intermittent. The best games have story lines that put the player into exciting (reinforcing) roles with a clear mission involved. Players interact with friends and with villains. Hence, there is usually the tension of good vs. evil. Failure exists as a constant risk, but the opportunity to try again and again is a countervailing blessing.
What psychological lessons can we take from the success of video games? Here are several:
1. Humans, including students and psychotherapy clients, like challenges. Think of athletes and warriors.
2. Everyone likes a chance to start again. Think of criminals and individuals who have gone bankrupt.
3. Humans like taking actions and seeing what happens. Think of gamblers.
4. Immediate success/failure feedback can be very motivating. Think of archers and target shooters
5. Humans like carrying out missions. Think of soldiers.
6. Humans like to know who is good and who is bad. Think of the formation of nations, religions, etc.
7. Humans like to interact with others. Think of individuals at a Rotary or AA meeting.
8. Humans like roles. Think of police officers, teachers, rebels.
What psychological lessons of the success of video games have I missed?
Thanks to Ashley Emmerton for suggesting this blog topic.
John Malouff, PhD, JD
Associate Professor of Psychology