Sunday, 3 October 2010

Short on Behavioral Psychology

Reinforcer: An outcome or result, generally used to refer to a reward. Examples: experience points, leveling up, a weapon drop, a coin in Mario / Sonic

Contingency: A rule or set of rules governing when reinforcers are given. Also referred to as a schedule of reinforcement. Examples: a level every 1,000 experience points, a bonus level that is only available if you kill a certain opponent.

Types of contingency:

Ratio schedules - provide rewards after a certain number of actions.
  • Fixed - killing a constant number of 20 opponents. Usual behavior - First there is a long pause, then a steady burst of activity as fast as possible until a reward is given. The long pause - having a period of time where there is little incentive to play the game can lead to the player walking away.
  • Variable  - target number is unknown, only the previous experiences are known - steady flow of activity at a bit lower rate

Interval schedules - at first action after some time have passed
  • Fixed - time required is constant - pausing for a while after a reward and then gradually responding faster and faster. Increase is gradual , because we suck at time estimation
  • Variable - a steady, continuous level of activity, although at a slower pace compared to variable ratios. The motivation is evenly spread out over time.

The 4 contingencies above can be combined at will

Response: An action on the part of the player that can fulfill the contingency. This could be killing a monster, visiting an area of the game, or using a special ability.

Extinction: stop providing a reward - behavior after the end of a contingency is preserved by what the contingency was for a long period of time before gradually trailing off.

Extinctions and reducing the level of reinforcement provide aggression and frustration

Positive reinforcement - using contingency schedules to make subject increases activity to get more rewarding stimuli
Negative reinforcement - using contingency schedules to make subject increases activity to kill the negative stimuli
Punishing reinforcement - using contingency schedules to make subject decreases activity

Purchase of lottery tickets is combination of variable ration schedule with fixed interval schedule. Pleasure comes from long period of reward anticipation, regardless of actual reward value and probability

Humans need places to stop, like end of paragraph or chapter in a book, or level in a game. Abuse that necessity to make them perform activity indefinitely
-         stops are very separated – MMO raids
-         steps are very frequent and chapters are extremely short – potato chips

Definition of Addiction:
Through reinforcement (chemical for drugs) rewards are made much more emotionally beneficial than their original value. That benefit is perceived only, not actual, it is a product of the reinforcement and causes the irrational behavior.

Reason for addiction is subject’s necessity to satisfy some need or desire (example – low self esteem). The reason is different than the object of addiction.

How close is “fun” to “reinforcement” in your game design? Is addictiveness a good quality for a game then? And is that “fun” a good thing?

Personal opinion – MORALITY
I assume that everybody is well informed of what behavioral psychology knows and how that can be used in everyday life. Provided a person can make an INFORMED decision on bad games, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, advertising, etc, I see no moral problem – it is his weakness to go the escapism path and potentially damage himself in exchange for pleasure.

Personal opinion – RATIONALITY
This is how you train an obedient animal, a dog or a horse for example. Humans’ evolution path is that of rationality, but we still haven’t grown beyond those animalistic pleasure drives. Exploiting them degrades us back to animal level and that doesn’t help our evolutionary progress as rational species. So go fuck behavioral design.


Note – the second article is humoristic and biased, but still provides valuable points and links