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Last year my daughter’s friend had a birthday party. But rather than the roller skating rink, Chuck E Cheese, or that place where everybody climbs inside giant inflatable balls and then spend 40 minutes running into each other, this party involved something I had only heard of recently: an escape room. A group of eight kids were locked into a room sparsely decorated with palm trees told that they were to pretend to be stranded on a tropical island that was threatened by an erupting volcano. They were further told to imagine that there was a boat on which they could escape this disaster, but that the keys were hidden somewhere on the island. They had 60 minutes to find them or face a lethal overdose of lava.

In a way, classic adventure games were the precursors to the escape rooms that are popping up in strip malls and warehouses all over the country. But unlike adventure games, escape rooms take place in physical space with tangible objects. But just like with video games, people who design escape rooms and other kinds of live, narrative experiences can benefit from an understanding of human psychology. What kinds of boundaries do typical human perception and information processing place on how an escape room can be designed? How can the well worn mental shortcuts that people use to make decisions and understand the world be used to advance a narrative or provide clues for a puzzle? And then how can these concepts be looped back around to lessons that can be applied to video game design or even how to play a video game and interact with other players while trying to solve some challenge?

This episode’s guest expert, Laura E. Hall

And what about virtual reality? Can the design of escape rooms inform the design of similar experiences in VR? Don’t those two things have a lot in common?

These are the kinds of questions that I’ll be tackling with the help of my guest expert in this episode.

Some links for further reading and listening:

Audio Credits

  • Robot Motivation” by The Polish Ambassador, licensed under Creative Commons: CC BY-NC-SA 3.
  • “Malicious” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

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Fun fact: Patreon supporters get the audio version of articles delivered right to their phones.

When your character gets something great in a game –something like a buff, a new piece of gear, or even a compliment from another player– do you enjoy it more and for longer if you can’t figure out why you got it? Would you want to hold on to that uncertainty to make the most out of your enjoyment?

Those are the kinds of questions addressed by an article I read recently. In it, the authors explore what they call the “pleasure paradox.”1 The idea is that while uncertainty is usually seen as an undesirable state that should be reduced, once we understand things we tend to find them kind of boring and predictable. But as I have written about before, the surprises are fun and attention grabbing and exciting precisely because they defy our expectations and desires to make sense of the world. As the authors say:

People may be driven to understand the causes of positive events in order to make them more replicable, but understanding them may also make them less enjoyable. We call this the pleasure paradox.2

To test and explore this idea, the researchers set up a series of field and lab experiments where they made a person happy, then either left them a little confused or more certain of the reason. In some of the experiments they performed a random act of kindness by giving strangers dollar coins with either enigmatic or informative notes attached. The note accompanying one person’s gift might tell them exactly who their benefactor was and why they were getting the dollar. Another person might get a much less informative note that doesn’t explain any why or who.

Taken from Wilson et al. (2005).

In other cases they did a little matchmaking exercise where subjects were put in a group and some of the other people supposedly said nice things about them and said they could see themselves being friends with that person. Some subjects were told it was that said such nice things, while for others the exact source of their warm fuzzies remained a mystery.

Across these studies the researchers measured people’s moods and found what they expected: everyone was happy about the gifts and compliments they received, but those who were perplexed by them or didn’t know from whence they came reported being happier for longer. Everyone in the experimental conditions of uncertainty said they would prefer to be less uncertain, but the results show that their happiness would have been diminished.

Why? Because that curiosity and wonder about a positive experience feels good. Having our expectations blown away for something better is a nice surprise. Once we move on past curiosity into certainty, though, it no longer has that interesting and captivating mystery to it.

It’s interesting to consider this in the light of video games, since I have discussed the random nature of rewards as a source of our fascination with loot, loot boxes, and rewards in general. But the two ideas aren’t contradictory. Rewards, random or fixed, can be either shrouded in uncertainty or understanding. As such, it would be interesting to see some games experiment with this prolonging of happiness by withholding some information from the player for a while.

What if you get an unexpected experience point buff from entering a certain area or meeting some conditions that aren’t spelled out until the buff expires?

What if you get a loot box or an in-game item for completing some challenge, only the game didn’t tell you what the challenge was or what you did to meet it until the next day?

What if you don’t know how many votes you got to win MVP in a match until the start of the next match? Or who voted for you?

What if you could randomly gift players with extra lives, gear, or gold and they didn’t know exactly which person on their friend’s list or in their guild was their benefactor?

A lot of these ideas from the pleasure paradox fly in the face of conventional thinking about drawing straight lines from player behaviors to outcomes. The concept of input -> outcome is really fundamental to most game designers. Not understanding what’s happening is usually seen as anathema to good game design. But that’s why the concept is interesting to me. I would love to see some researchers or game developers test these ideas and see if letting uncertainty drape over at least part of a player’s experience would actually improve it. Though the caveat is in order as the authors of this paper point out: the pleasure paradox probably works best when the person eventually figures out the truth and reduces their uncertainty. True randomness and a intractable lack of understanding will probably wear out.

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There’s a well known psychological bias called the “false consensus effect.” In short, it says that we tend to think that other people share our opinions, views, and preferences, and that those who don’t have something wrong with them, or at best they come across as extreme. Imagine that you’re a game developer. When you’re deciding what kind of game to make or what people are generally into these days, the false consensus effect can come into play. If it does, you may think that people like the kinds of game experiences that YOU do, or that they would dislike the things that you dislike. You like and are familiar with that games are offer exploration, discovery, and creativity, for example? You may expect that those are the kinds of things that motivate other players to keep playing as well. And that narrative heavy games with thought provoking points of view are not likely to be popular. What’s more, if there are any people who like something else, you may consider them fringe or not a market worth pursuing.

Maybe this kind of thinking is laid our on the table but cloaked in terms like “industry experience” and “expert insights.” Maybe it’s running in the background of your unconsciously affecting your assumptions, decisions, and priorities. Maybe both.

In this episode of the podcast, I talk to Jason Vandenberghe, a veteran game designer who who has worked at ArenaNet, Ubisoft, Activision, and EA among other places. Has tackled this kind of problem with the aid of psychology and personality theories in order to avoid the false consensus effect and advocate for what he calls “player empathy.” That is, using a framework of personality and motivation psychology to break out of our false consensus and talk about what kinds of gaming experiences that players may want and how to give it to them.

Some links for further reading and listening:

Audio Credits

  • Robot Motivation” by The Polish Ambassador, licensed under Creative Commons: CC BY-NC-SA 3.
  • “Industrious Ferret” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

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There are a fair number of universities and other institutions that offer classes and even degrees in fields related to the video game business, such as game design, coding, art, sound design, and user experience design. I occasionally dig into the stats for this website, which show me when another website sends readers my way. I often see links from an online syllabus for game design courses. Shoutouts to any faculty or students at University of North Carolina Wilmington. Go fightin’ …bird of some kind I think based on a quick Google image search? A Condor, maybe?

Regardless, I love when this happens. I love when people take psychology and use it to teach not only game design, but any other part of any other kind of job in the games industry. I obviously think that’s rad. And apparently it’s happening more and more often these days as faculty teaching people how to make games think, about psychology. How can social psychology inform the ways in which I build my communities? How does cognitive psychology place limits on how I can expect people to use my user interface? How are mental heuristics and learning preferences going to interfere with the tutorial levels I’m planning? Just how important is it to learn about psychology as you learn how to make games?

Those are the kinds of questions that I’m going to talk about with my guest expert in this episode of the podcast.

This episode’s guest expert, Dr. Vanessa Hemovich

Audio Credits:

  • Robot Motivation” by The Polish Ambassador, licensed under Creative Commons: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0
  • “Deuces” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

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In Destiny 2 there is a shop that sells in-game items for real money.1 In that shop there is a vendor. Her name is Tess. Tess knows a thing or two about psychology. Well, three things at least.

Like most big games with an online focus, Destiny 2 lets players buy cosmetic items with “silver” which is an in-game currency that can be exchanged for real world money. This is a nice little revenue stream for Activision Tess, so like any effective salesperson she’ll a few tricks to get you to buy some silver and spend it.

Your friendly Eververse representative is here to help. Isn’t that nice?

One of the first things I noticed is how Tess invokes the norm of reciprocity. At a few points in the campaign an icon is placed at Tess’s store, telling the player that he or she has something to gain by talking to the NPC. Indeed, Tess has a free bright engram gift for you, which can be opened (decoded, whatever) to reveal some sweet cosmetic items! Tess even tells you something along the lines of how she appreciates your heroic efforts and wants you to succeed against Earth’s enemies. And according to the psychological principle of reciprocity, you may feel a little obligated to pay back the favor by doing a little shopping.

The reciprocity effect is put to use by marketers and savvy businesspeople all the time. For years the March of Dimes charity sent me a lovely set of return address labels for use with my Christmas cards. The labels were a free gift, but not coincidentally, they came in the same envelope as a plea to donate. The message is clear: “Dude, we totally just gave you some free stuff. You should return the favor with a donation.” Psychologist Robert Cialdini explained in a 2001 article in Scientific American how the Disabled American Veterans organization used this same trick to increase the success rate of their appeals for donations from 18% to 35%.2

The second psychological sales trick that Tess Everis seems to know is that you probably spend silver more freely than real money. A long line of consumer psychology research has shown that we spend more when we are using store credit, which is basically what Destiny 2’s Silver is. Back in 1998, Drazen Prelec and George Lowenstein published an important paper where they proposed a thoeory about how people experience the displeasure of paying for something.3 Paying money for something causes displeasure or pain. If our expected pleasure from the purchase outweighs the pain, then no problem. But if it doesn’t, then we’re less likely to make the purchase. One way that retailers have figured out to reduce the perceived pain of a purchase is to disconnect thoughts about the payment from thoughts about the purchase.

Okay, I’ll give you some credit here, Tess. So to speak.

Using in-game credit like Silver places a temporal buffer between the pleasure of the thing bought and the pain of the purchase. The pain has already taken place so when the time comes to spend the credit you bought, you don’t experience it and thus are more likely to spend more. Research shows that we tend to think of it as a separate transaction that causes less mental displeasure and perceptions of cost. (If you want more on this topic, I have an entire chapter in my book.)

The third psychological trick that Tess seems to know is is related to something called “transparency” Consumer psychologists have also long known that another way to reduce the pain of purchases is to make it more difficult for you to think about exactly how much you’re playing. That is, to make the transaction less transparent. Cash is highly transparent in that you know exactly how much of it you’re giving up in the transaction. Checks and credit are less transparent because we don’t tend to think as much about the money they represent and we’re likely to spend more.4

But things like Destiny 2’s silver are the least transparent at all. Figuring out how much Silver translates to in real money involves math that most of us won’t bother with. How much did those 500 Silver you just bought? Well, you paid $5 for 500 Silver, there’s 100 cents to the dollar, so …wait. This math isn’t very hard at all. It’s basically one cent per silver.

Y’all. Tess done screwed up on this one. Guess she doesn’t know all the tricks after all. Either that or she’s showing a bit of restraint. Let’s hope for the latter and give Activision a thumbs up for this one.

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Modern video games are complicated and require a lot of learning, problem solving, memory, planning, and other things that psychologists might identify as executive functions of the brain. There’s a lot going on between our ears whenever we play.

And wouldn’t it be great if some of those mental gymnastics were part of a program that helped us deal with more mundane but probably more important tasks outside of games? Stuff like school, work, and interacting with other people? Can you connect game-based learning and practice of these skills with “real life” skills? Might, for example, learning how to equip a party in preparation for a dungeon run in an RPG or plotting out the space and material you will need for some huge structure in Minecraft help you develop strategies for planning out your week at school or cooperating with your friends on some big project?

Might this kind of thing be especially useful for certain people, like kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or who are on the autism spectrum? But even if so, can parents and other caregivers go too far and neglect other types of play that are also important?

These are the types of questions that I’m going to talk about with this episode’s guest expert, Dr. Randy Kulman of Learningworksforkids.com.

This week’s guest, Dr. Randy Kulman

About This Episode’s Guest:

Audio Credits:

  • Robot Motivation” by The Polish Ambassador, licensed under Creative Commons: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0
  • “Groove Groove” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/
  • The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker main theme

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Hi everyone, it’s me: The Devil. Satan. Ole Scratch. I’m happy to announce that I’m writing today’s guest post. Jamie doesn’t normally do guest posts, but I snuck up behind him with a big bottle of chloroform and bashed him over the head. It was hilarious.

Today’s guest contributor

I wanted to write this post because I’ve been hearing a lot about loot boxes lately. A lot of really exciting stuff, like how they’re teaching kids to gamble, how they’re ruining good game design, and how they prey on those suceptible to addiction. And the fan reaction to Star Wars Battlefront II was just amazing –it was the kind of monkey paw shenanagains that usually comes as an unpleasant surprise after making a deal with yours truly.

So, gaming industry, if your aim is to bring down the jackboot of government regulation on loot mechanics and destroy what was once a source of joy to millions of gamers, you’re doing a bangup job. Great progress. But I was looking through one of Jamie’s notbooks entitled “IDEAS THAT MUST NEVER BE SHARED” and it was chock full of great stuff for using some psychological tricks to get you the rest of the way there.1 So let’s dive in before he wakes up.

Festive

Trick 1: The Gambler’s Fallacy
Mortals have this weird misconception about probabilities. If you toss a fair coin three times and happen to get three heads in a row, most humans will think that there’s a higher than normal chance of getting a tails on the next flip. Because the coin is “due” to come up tails. Even though each flip is a separate event that always has a 50/50 chance of being heads or tails. You all crack me up.

But game designers, you could use this quirk to make loot boxes more compelling. When gamers open a box that doesn’t contain some legendary item they’re coveting, keep track! Remind them of how many loot boxes they have opened that did NOT contain an item of that quality. After a few tries, the gambler’s fallacy will kick in and they will think their odds of getting a legendary item will have gone up. It’s like free money! For you! Not them!

Trick 2: Sunk Costs Effect
This one can be summed up as throwing good money after bad. For reasons I cannot fathom, people will use money they’ve already wasted on gambling as a justification for spending more money on the same exact failed enterprise. They’ll sit there and cry “I can’t let all that money I’ve already spent on this be for nothing!” and they’ll shovel more legal tender into the fire. Because they think the money’s not “lost” until they give up.

So, game designers, if you want to leverage this to sell more loot boxes, you gotta remind people how much they have spent without getting a good payoff. Show it right there on the screen. Red font. Bold red font. People will be more likely to keep paying until they win what they want.

And here’s a bonus bit of evil for you: The sunk coss effect happens most often when people feel like they can recoup their losses, like in a casino. If you really want to twist the knife –and I heartily recommend twisting knives at every opportunity– offer players a chance to win back 20% of their recent expenditures when they unbox something of legendary quality or whatever. They’ll spend way more money than they’ll ever get back.

Trick 3: The Availability Heuristic
Another weird thing about mortals is that when they can more easily remember something, they think it occurs more frequently than it really does. If someone you know died from a skydiving accident (ha ha, classic) you’ll have that thought easily come to mind and you’ll overestimate how many people die from that kind of thing. And there’s a whole lot of other evil, manipulative ways you can make something easier to remember. Use alliteration. Set it to a catchy jingle. Tell an interesting story about it. Make it personal to them. Or maybe simplest of all, just shove it in front of their faces over and over again and make ’em look at it constantly. Any way you do it, they’ll overestimate how often it happens in the real world.

You can use this availability heuristic to sell more loot boxes by constantly showing other players opening them and getting the good stuf from them. Hey, I’m looking at you, Call of Duty WWII. Good hustle. But you should never show people getting junk from a loot box, only the good stuff. And make it conspicuous, funny, and interesting. Players will then be able to remember more instances of people getting awesome stuff from loot boxes thanks to the repition and fun animations. And then because of the availability heuristic, they’ll overestimate their chances of also winning.

Trick 4: The Illusion of Control

This one is dead simple and will pay great dividends. People tend to think they have some control over random events, because their tiny human minds can’t accept the idea of a cold, indifferent cosmos.2 Casinos long ago discovered that if they let a player make some kind of meaningless choice or tap a button to potentially “nudge” a slot machine reel into a winning position, they would love it and gamble more. Even when the odds of winning are held constant.

You could totally do this with loot boxes, too. Instead of clicking on a loot box to open it, let them choose between three boxes, all of which in reality have the same contents. But they don’t know that. Because they’re dumb and their illusory sense of participation and control will help them feel a sense of agency and power in their powerless situation.

Okay, we gotta wrap this up. Jamie finally woke up, saw what I was doing, and starting screaming something along the lines of “NOOOOOOOO! STOP!” So I kicked him into a pit full of rakes. Or snakes. I forget which. I think it was snakes. Either way, here’s my fifth and final trick:

Trick 5: The Near Miss Illusion

Here’s another easy one you can borrow from slot machines –which by the way is GREAT optics if your goal is to have the gaming industry slide downhill down like a house caught in a mudslide. If people feel like they almost won, they’re more likely to keep gambling. Seriously, they’ve done studies where people almost get just the right picture on a slot machine or the right card in a poker hand, and they go back for more, more often.3

For loot boxes, this is pretty staight forward. Just add in some kind of animation to the process of opening the loot box that shows a flurry of rewards that finally settles or coalesses into what the player gets. Then make sure you show them almost getting something good before giving them a common spray or a dumb player icon something. Only don’t do it every time. They might catch on.

Well, Jamie has almost clawed his way to the top of the rake pit, and I’d rather not be here when he gets out. Psychologist are tricky. He already won my golden fiddle once, and I like to think that I learn from my mistakes.

Unlike you humans. Enjoy your loot boxes.

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I’m working ahead on new podcasts and articles for next year, so this episode of the podcast contains 12 audio versions of Psychology of Games articles for your listening pleasure. It’s like Twelve Days of Christmas but with fewer guys leaping around and more journal citations.

If you want to get all the Psychology of Games articles in audio format as they come out, that’s one of the benefits of supporting me on Patreon.

About the podcast:

To listen to the podcast right now in a browser window, click the play button below.

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Hey y’all, just a quick note that…

  1. At one point I offered every article as a free e-mail newsletter
  2. At some point the system that managed that newsletter blew up
  3. I had no idea why
  4. I have finally fixed it
  5. You will probably have to reconfirm your e-mail if you got the newsletter in the past
  6. You may be getting THIS post as a newsletter and that is indeed very weird I am sorry

Anyway, sorry for the disruption and newsletters are back up. Each one will contain the entirety of new articles, not just an excerpt. Because I think you’re awesome and you deserve it.

Existing subscribers should get an e-mail asking them to reconfirm their address and subscription. Newcomers can sign up on the newsletter page or using the little form below. Enjoy!

Please leave this field empty

Thank you!

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Consider these two situations from a competitive online game:

Player Y wins a match and is rewarded with two mystery boxes. He opens both. One contains 500 in-game credits while the other contains 250.

Player Z wins a different, largely identical match and gets one mystery box. He opens it. It contains 750 in-game credits.

All else equal, which player do you think is happier?

Or imagine this scenario:

Player A’s character dies and his ghost must spend gold to buy two items to get resurrected. The first item is magical paper that costs 1,000 gold. The second is a bottle of magical ink that costs 500.

Player B’s character, which is of identical level and wealth to Player A’s, dies and his ghost must buy a resurrection scroll for 1,500 gold.

All else equal, which player is more annoyed?

If you presented those questions to a bunch of people, most of them would say that Player Z (who got 750 credits in one lump) was happier and player A (who had to pay 1,000 and then 500 gold) was more annoyed. This despite the fact that the total credits or gold in each scenario was the same. The only difference was whether the gains/losses were in one transaction or spread out over two.

Behavioral Economist Richard Thayler conducted similar experiments with tax penalties and lottery winnings where he either lumped together or spread out wins or losses. He found that people like getting their gains lumped together and their losses spread out.1 This basic psychological fact is well established in the literature and has massive implications for game design. You start to see it all over when you start looking for it.

Before we get into that, though, let’s set things up by examining a related and equally well known kink in the human brain, loss aversion. The short version is that losses are more painful than equal gains are pleasurable. Losing a $5 bill hurts more than gaining a $5 bill feels good.

Maybe this graph will help:

Along the horizontal axis you have losses and gains, with “zero” at the middle. The vertical axis we can simplify here as increasing happiness (top half) or sadness (bottom half). If you plotted the happiness that would result from a certain gain you’d draw the dot right on the line as shown by the red dotted lines on the graph.

Notice that the slope of the line is steeper in the losses/unhappiness quadrant in the lower left. That is, it takes much less loss to create a feeling of unhappiness that is equal in magnitude to the corresponding happy gain. Unhappiness plummets with only a little loss relative to how much gain is needed to create an equivalent amount of happiness. This is loss aversion.

Because of this, we will put in more effort to avoid a $5 loss than we will to get a $5 gain. It also means that we will shy away from risks more if it means losing versus gaining money. And it’s not just something nice and easy to measure like money. Loss aversion applies to experiences, objects, and anything else that has value. In the realm of video games, that would include points, ranks, in-game currency, and lots of other things.

“If you want people to feel ‘safe’ about their risks,” cautions Nik Davidson, a 10-year veteran of MMORPG design including Lord of the Rings Online, “you should consider rewards that are about 3x the corresponding penalties.”

But you can really make things interesting when you start combining or bundling gains and losses. Since we give losses more weight, a 300 experience point gain paired with a 100 experience point loss does not feel like 300 minus 100. It feels closer to zero because the 100 point loss looms so large.

Game designers have to be super careful when taking something away from the player as a mechanic. Consider a first person shooter with an upgrade system which offers gun improvements like “+1 damage, +1 reload speed, and -2 clip size.” Instead of seeing those upgrades as a net gain of zero (assuming that stats are equally important), many would see it as a poor choice because that loss of 2 recoil points weighs more than the gains. “You need to be alert for exchanges,” says Davidson. For example: “A player loses access to one area, and gains access to another area. Seems fair – maybe even more than fair, if the new area is more attractive in some way. But the emotional perception could be quite different.”

But wait, there’s more to it, because the values we attach to gains and losses also exhibit diminishing returns as they increase. To illustrate this, consider this situation, inspired by a classic experiment on the law of diminishing returns (or diminishing costs).

Imagine you’re contemplating the purchase of an upgrade to your agility stat for 15 gold. Looking at a FAQ, you note that the same upgrade can be bought for 10 gold at a different vendor several zones away, but to get there would take you about 20 minutes. Would you make the trip to the other vendor?

Most people who are asked similar questions (involving real-world consumer items like coats or calculators) say that they would indeed make the trip to save $5 when the item costs $15. Now, consider this version of the situation with different numbers:

Imagine you’re contemplating the purchase of an upgrade to your endurance stat for 1,250 gold. Looking at a FAQ, you note that the same upgrade can be bought for 1,245 gold at a different vendor several zones away, but to get there would take you about 20 minutes.

If you had experienced this version of events instead, do you think you’d be any less likely to spend 20 minutes saving 5 gold (or dollars)? Probably so, because we tend to start getting less touchy about losses and gains as they get more extreme instead of thinking “Is 20 minutes worth 5 gold?” in either situation.

Take a look again at that loss aversion graph:

Notice that the curve in the upper right flattens out, the values of two points a quarter of the way up the “Gains” axis side of the horizontal axis add up to more happiness than just one point twice as high on Gains. Two gains of five add up to more happiness than one gain of ten. That’s nice, so we want things doled out to maximize “happiness” Similarly, looking at the lower left part of the diagram, two points a quarter of the way over on the “Loss” end of the spectrum add up to more than one point halfway over. That’s bad, so we want them bundled up to minimize our face palming.

Okay, here’s the important part that relates to the two hypothetical examples that started this blog post. Diminishing anger towards losses and diminishing joy from gains means that we like it when gains are spread out and prefer it when losses are lumped together. And diminishing sensitivity means one big loss of 1,200 points feels like less than three separate losses of 400 points each.

Smart game designers know this, even if they never touched a psychology textbook. It’s the reason why after reaching the end of a challenge in one of the Assassin’s Creed games you find not one big treasure chest, but many small ones. It’s why you often get to visit multiple trainers, vendors, and screens to spend the upgrade points you get when you level a character up. It’s why Dead Rising 2’s Chuck Green gets combo cards and little bumps to abilities at each level instead of drastic improvements every five levels. And it explains why hitting a minimum level requirement to don a bunch of new armor is so exciting –each greave, gauntlet, and codpiece is a separate gain, not to mention a visual upgrade to your character model.

The practice of bundling losses together to maximize player happiness is harder in modern games, but it does happen. It’s also interesting is to ponder games where designers don’t want to minimize the unhappiness associated with failure, and so they spread losses out. World of Warcraft’s resurrection sickness saps all your attributes as well as your damage potential by 75%, making it more of a bummer –not to mention damage to all your equipment.

So the next time you gain a level, upgrade your weapons, or get a reward for completing a quest, take a moment to ponder how loss aversion and diminishing sensitivity may have impacted how things shook out because of our imperfect human brains. Thanks, imperfect brains!

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