Gameplay is a psychological experience: it’s all in your head. The vagaries of human psychology define your game more than the laws of physics or algebra. Egomania, Paranoia, Delusion – these are tools to be wielded with precision and care. For the player, perception is reality and the center of the universe is right here. As we follow this reasoning to its logical conclusion we discover a number of amazing things, among them: everyone is above average, 2/1 is not equal to 20/10, and the player is his/her own worst enemy. Player psychology as a fundamental part of game design can lead us to some strangely counterintuitive places and save us millions of dollars in time and resources.
Video games are big business. They can be addicting. They are available almost anywhere you go and are appealing to people of all ages. They can eat up our time, cost us money, even kill our relationships. Research on psychological aspects of digital games has been rising within the last decade. Game companies also started to hire psychologists to conduct research and implement psychological principles in their game designs. Taking the time to learn what’s happening in our heads as we play and shop allows us to approach games and gaming communities on our own terms and get more out of them. With sales in the tens of billions of dollars each year, just about everybody is playing some kind of video game whether on a console, a computer, a web browser, or a phone. Much of the medium’s success is built on careful (though sometimes unwitting) adherence to basic principles of psychology. This is something that’s becoming even more important as games become more social, interactive, and sophisticated.
Scientists have collected and summarized studies looking at how video games can shape our brains and behavior. Video gaming is clearly a popular form of entertainment, with video gamers collectively spending 3 billion hours per week in front of their screens. At a glance, more than 150 million people in the United States play video games regularly, or for at least 3 hours per week. The average American gamer is a 35-year-old adult, with 72 percent of gamers aged 18 or older. Video game use by children, most parents – 71 percent – indicate that video games have a positive influence on their child’s life. Video game sales continue to increase year on year. In 2016, the video game industry sold more than 24.5 billion games – up from 23.2 billion in 2015, and 21.4 billion in 2014. Research to date suggests that playing video games can change the brain regions responsible for attention and visuospatial skills and make them more efficient. The researchers also looked at studies exploring brain regions associated with the reward system, and how these are related to video game addiction.
With sales in the tens of billions of dollars each year, just about everybody is playing some kind of video game, be it on a console, computer, Facebook, or phone. Much of the medium’s success is built on careful adherence to basic principles of psychology, which is becoming even more important as games become more social and sophisticated. Understanding the intersection of design and psychology can not only help you make better products games but get more out of games as a player on your own terms.