Monday, 16 September 2013

Rewards and Punishment

This post is a bit behaviouristic oriented to keep it simple. Simplified; to stimulate behaviour you can follow it up with a reward, and if you want to discourage behaviour you can deliver punishment to an actor. One condition is to deliver the reward or punishment directly after the behaviour it is contingent to.

Rewards: Positive Reinforcement; I'll give you Money if you do x
This is one of the most familiar forms of reinforcement in games, rewarding good behaviour. Achievements, unlockables, points, item rewards, temporary boosts are almost always contingent to behaviour desired within a game. Most of the time these rewards are also used to make taking risks more interesting like the bonus point fruits in Pac-Man.Still the most common mistake is not clarifying to a player how they can increase their reward.

Rewards: Negative Reinforcement; I'll take your money till you do x
I never quite know why this is considered a reward, because basically you start with a reward but it diminishes before you perform a certain action. I don't recall this reward being used a lot in games, there must be some time trial fun hiding in this form of reinforcement.

Punishment: Positive Punishment; I will take your Money if you do x
This is the most straightforward form of punishment, obey the rules or be punished. If you're not shooting people in shooters, your punishment is digital death. If you pickpocket someone with witnesses, you'll be fined in some rpg's like Skyrim. Ofcourse there are other forms of punishment like the loss of money after losing a pokemon battle : (  In the end punishment also got to be contingent to behaviour, and clear. Even though you lose half your money if you lose a pokemon battle, the punishment is not clearly visualised and the contingency remains unclear.

Punishment: Negative Punishment; I will not give you money if you do x
This is a fleeting punishment and even seems like a reward with prerequisite. You are promised a reward, but won't get it if you perform a forbidden action. In certain stealth games you might lose the reward for your mission if detected. In an RPG you might break a piece of important armor to be looted from a boss if you are careless in battle. But in the end this form of punishment is not implemented a lot (or is it?).

Well next time I might combine these forms of behaviour reinforcements or speculate on their relation to intrinsic motivation. Game on.


Tuesday, 10 September 2013

The art of Collecting

One of the game mechanics that is used both in games and gamification is collecting. Collecting has such a nostalgic feeling, between the ages of 9 and 12 my collecting behavior exploded. I grabbed whatever I could get and arranged it in a hundred different ways (arranging is important). I still have coins, pottery, gems, minerals and hundreds of stamps lying around from that period. Even games I play now want me to collect, for example in Skyrim (I've played a bit to much lately) I collect books with ingame lore, within the game.

Flickr: What What
However every forum seems to spawn badges to collect. Mostly they are so uninspiring, that I wonder why they bother to put them there in the first place. Badges used to mean something, like military medals or boyscout awards. Basically they have to be really cool (why only make a picture badge on the internet if you can make them interactive?).

Interestingly collecting behavior gets triggered from the age of 9 or a bit before. It's an emerging form of behavior in the concrete operational stage of human development.The brain is developing rapidly around this age. Collecting fits the demand for stimuli very well. First of all it stimulates memory strategies of organizing, kids can rearrange their marbles in hundreds of different categories. The ability of selectivity developing, by discerning one collection piece from others. Collecting certain tokens also increases control of cognitive processes by training to ignore distractions. It's quite a feat to select a blue cat eye marble from a pile of mixed ones. Even at later stages of life this may be quite interesting, Lego-holics seem to keep selecting and rearranging the cubes. What about the hoby clock-maker? Collecting parts of machines just add layers of complexity to overcome.

So collecting badges can be much more than just collecting dull pictures, they can stimulate development of several kinds of behavior.

Bukatko, D. (2007). Child and adolescent development: A chronological approach. Houghton Mifflin College Div.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Highscores indepth

Games and education should go together like milk and cookies, maybe demonstrated by the recent buzz on educational games. After White (1959) wrote his piece to reclaim motivation from behavioralists, a lot of research was conducted on motivation in education. One of the media that is researched quite a bit in relation to motivation are (video) games. So a lot of recent work on motivation in video games is actually building on previous education research.

One of the game elements that's often misunderstood is the place of highscores. Ever since 1959 has game theory been rejected as the sole explanator for behavior contingent to points gained after an action.

The problem can be detected easily using a model of limited effects, as used in communication science.

"Who says What to Whom through Which channel with What effect?"

Behavioral psychologists mostly use very simple models that allow them to expect behavior after a certain stimulus. But these models will always fail to predict reactions of first introduction to a stimulus like a game and learning behavior thereafter, because our environment is complex and we don't do everything just for arousal (what use would such a big brain be). Still our social worlds are grey, so even behaviouristic prediction models can predict a percentage of the outcome of actions.

Awarding points to players is one such problem. Mostly points are rewarded after success in a game (task contingent), or after taking a gamble (risk contingent). I will only talk about the task contingent point rewards here. These points add as a player progresses in the game. Some players see these points as rewards for their action and are driven by it to play more and more. A lot of games reward players early on to stimulate playing and make these points harder to get later in the game. Other players see these points as a proof of personal skill and use them to measure their own competence (maybe due to a lack of other feedback). While the first kind of player is theorized to be mostly aroused by the points and gaining points, the second kind of player is not aroused by the points but finds fulfilment in rising above the challenge to their skill. Even though you might think that both these types of players would end up equally skilled, the first type of player uses a lot of shortcuts and other tricks to increase their points without improving skill. The intrinsically motivated player is more likely to attain a higher skill level, and somehow also enjoyment. [Note to self; this enjoyment might be higher because reaffirmation of skill refers back to oneself and might be more fun because of that]

But how do you point your player in a certain direction? Well for a large part you are powerless as game designer, you can't manipulate the tendencies of people to be motivated by intrinsic or extrinsic factors and you can only try to invoke their interest with a cool demo or trailer. Still there is an important difference between the two kinds of players. Players that relate points to intrinsic motivation see them as informational. This informational character can be emphasized. You can couple points with automated vocal praising to stimulate intrinsic motivation, with quotes like "you're great", "multi-kill", "wow!" Points can also be divided into categories that are related to specific actions in a skill menu and it's also possible to simply award more points to skill related actions like in Skyrim. Anyway, the points have to be related to specific actions while gaining them with clear feedback to stimulate intrinsic motivation. Pinball machines for examples seem to give you points for everything but mostly do not convey specifics, like bumber x is 10 points ans bumber y is 100 points. However some will still remain motivated by the points themselve, humans are not machines. Luckily so, else we wouln't experience the joy of games.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum.

Lepper, M. (1983). Extrinsic Reward and Intrinsic Motivation: Implications for the Classroom. In Levine, J.M. & Wang M.C. (Eds.), Teacher and Students Perceptions: Implications for Learning. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum

White, R. W. (1959). Motivation reconsidered: the concept of competence. Psychological review, 66(5), 297.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Trading Stocks: the game

Lately I have been wondering if it is even possible to discern games from regular activities. Maybe it's just a state of mind while performing a task, making it exciting and challenging. It all begin with a crisis, an economic crisis. All this attention economists get made me wonder what kind of voodoo was going on in their datacenters, well can be fun I know that now.

A tv-channel advertised a free stock trading simulator, marketed as stocktrading game, and I must say it was quite fun. I started off with 100k of virtual Euro's and was allowed to invest it in stocks, options, indexes, resource futures and more. All investment options are linked to the rates in reality, and during the game you have the opportunity to do attend online masterclasses and small vid-courses on stock trading.

I thought it was quite fun, even though I once misunderstood the meaning of going short on a stock and lost thousands. Reading on stock trading was quite interesting, but also very sobering. Stock exchanges are a gathering of gambling, mass psychology and agenda setting. If I would trade with my own money? Well maybe after a bit more practice (40% interest in 8 weeks was not bad ^^).

Still there were no game elements added, the only element added was a leaderboard for short term profit. So here's the dilemma, I enjoyed the activity but does that make a game? There were rules and patterns to shape my behavior and reward points, but maybe a different perspective is needed.

Some parents have the amazing ability to make everything seem like a game to their children, even clearing away toys. But maybe here's where the secret lies, perspective. A lot of games can simply be analyzed as a series of actions strongly guided by mathematical principles, but an analysis like this is devout of user engagement. Games are fun because they satisfy our needs for challenge, arousal, social interaction and maybe even fantasy. However these factors are all very relative and related to our personal interests. So I would say that no mechanical discription of what games are would suffice, because it would ignore the state of mind needed to make a set of rules into a game. Mysteries, mysteries, well I'd better make a game of doing my laundry.

~I'm busy doing the fishstick. It's a very delicate state of mind~
Sheogorath, Skyrim