Why does winning feel so good? That’s the question tackled by the delightfully nerdy Jamin Warren in the video below from PBS Game/Show. Placing a focus on video games, Warren interviews biologist and science writer Joe Hanson of It’s Okay to Be Smart, who explains that victory triggers releases of chemicals such as dopamine in the brain. These chemicals are neurotransmitters tied to positive memories and motivation, which makes us want to repeat actions such as clearing a line in Tetris or blasting noobs in Call of Duty.
Warren then delves into Behavioral Game Design, which is when gamemakers design toward positive biological and psychological reactions in gamers. Collecting coins, unlocking achievements, leveling up: these are all what are called Game Loops and they’re designed to harness the power of repetition to keep gamers feeling good throughout their experience. If this sounds like Behavioral Psychology to you, that’s because it pretty much is. Gamers chasing the big reward at the end of the game are enticed with smaller rewards along the way.
Warren also touches on the ethics of this sort of game design. After all, manipulating gamers’ biological reactions is great if you’re selling them escapism. It’s a whole other thing if you’re using it to bleed their wallets dry.
If you haven’t already, check out the full video above for more on this really neat subject and find out why those Blizzard games always keep you coming back for more.
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