This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.
As with every good thing, there are critics. Ian Bogost is particularly unimpressed with one champion of psychology's deployment: social games. Bogost worries that they forward four trends: enframing, compulsion, optionalism, and destroyed time. By enframing he means that social games encourage objectification, where "friends aren't really friends; they are mere resources."
More and more often, players, developers, and people generally seem to see other people not as who they are, but as what they can do for us. But if it is happening everywhere, across cultures and mediums, then why is our industry the only one responsible? More importantly, if it's already entrenched in society, then people are going to have an easier time understanding how to reward themselves. Many social gamers don't have the time to learn more complex rules – so this is the least aversive, and the most fun.
Bogost also calls much of social gaming compulsive 'brain hacks,' which only serve to keep us clicking. Yet the buildup to the click, and the click, are rewards. These clicks are the fun that design distills, and the only real purpose of a game.
By optionalism Bogost is primarily critiquing the skill-less GameVilles, where rote clicking can be avoided by spending money. This is just another height for game design. Here we've painted the appearance of challenge and skill where clearly there is none! Users who pay simply buy their own happiness, achieving more powerful neurochemical rewards, or fun. Everybody wins.
Of destroyed time, Bogost says, "Social games so covet our time that they abuse us while we are away from them, through obligation, worry, and dread over missed opportunities." Such that even he worries if there's some feature he oughtn't to add for users.
And yet, this worry only adds to the buildup of tangible, chemical rewards. Remember that dopamine is a chemical seeking, it whets our appetite. These little ticks of achievement are no curse, but rather the gift of fun. If people didn't want (or need) fun, then why does Zynga have so many users? Riddle me that, Bogost-man!
But what about those fickle folk who, considering themselves fireborn artistes, foist responsibilities we never asked for? Comics author Alan Moore (best known for Watchmen), in The Mindscape of Alan Moore, says of the media industry:
"They have accepted the prevailing belief that art and writing are merely forms of entertainment. They're not seen as transformative forces that can change a human being, that can change a society. They are seen as simple entertainment things with which we can fill twenty minutes, half an hour, while we're waiting to die. It is not the job of artists to give the audience what the audience wants. If the audience knew what they needed, then they wouldn't be the audience – they would be the artists. It is the job of the artists to give the audience what they need."
Wrong. Our industry doesn't need easychair critics or obscure literary references. The audience pays for a product. They aren't paying to spend a decade finding the flow of actually being the next Jimi Hendrix, or Peyton Manning, and it's not our job to inspire that level of dedication or drug use. It's our job to create Guitar Hero, or Madden, and to give players the most immediate and powerful kick possible.
And if the responsibility isn't to our players, it surely is to our stockholders. It is a truism that without money, no creative project would ever lift more than two inches from the muddy ground. If we take money from publishers, from investors, or from shareholders, then we then have a legal and moral obligation to do everything in our power to give them a return on that investment.
Even where there are no investors, using psychology helps us to stay in control of our own destinies. It helps us to get it all right.
A good businessman would obviously weed out costs related to printing physical copies of a game; perhaps soon we could also synthesize the seed which produces experience. And how long the branches of such a tree! How tempting its fruit! Do not remind me the trifles of consoling the artist, tender and fickle! I have here his evolution!
As our society moves forward, and rewards and GPS chips and screens are further integrated into reality, the better off we'll be. I want more college professors and college dropout turned game designers making my life more fun. Please do not ask for my permission. I want to be rewarded for going to sleep on time, for being brand-loyal with my toothpaste, and for playing by another person's rules.
Like most reasonable human beings, I do not want to take responsibility for my own life. I want only fun. If you reward me for living how you think I ought to, it is no longer my problem; I am saved from aversive worry, and the world's rewards make sense.
The fun that I get from gaming is the only physically pleasurable outlet I have left. If you stop this ever-increasing cascade of fun, then I will have nothing. I cannot change that aspect of my life. Please do not ask me to. That is not your job. I pay you for a product, and that product is a distraction from a world of shit. Everybody in the world feels this way.
Since people are naturally inquisitive and thoughtful where extremely rewarding behaviors are concerned, they will of course become savvy to how psychology is being employed by the media industry generally, and the games industry specifically. Where this happens they will laud you for creating this physical need, and buy even more of your games.
So you see, fun must be the central element to games. You are not a new industry with power and promise, you are just a new cog in an old machine. You were always this way. Myths of small groups making games in garages are lies. It is also a lie that anyone has ever worked on a game for passion rather than profit, or taken a personal risk in order to create something new. No game has ever been profitable with less than 20 hours of gameplay, the latest graphics engine, or millions of dollars in marketing.
Creativity is always an exercise in liability control. Most of all, remember that fun is psychology. Psychology is fun.