I posted this on my EdTech blog during the semester, and I think it applies to my gaming blog as well.  Enjoy!

I recently watched a very enjoyable TED Talk about 7 Ways To Reward the Brain.

The concepts described in this discussion are very similar to those that I described in my 501 final paper. I really liked his use of the term “reward schedule,” as it does an excellent job of describing the steady distribution of rewards in a game.

I tend to agree with most of the points in this video as they apply to ongoing, sustained worlds. That said, I think more educational value will be derived through micro-games that only take a few minutes to play. Also, when I develop a game for one of my classes, I don’t use the game to teach a specific principle. Instead, I use the game to shape the student’s thought process to one that translates into the work that we are about to do.

I respond to his specific points below.

1) Experience bars measuring progress.

I recently watched a video for my Intro to Edutainment class called “What if…all Learning was Points Based,” shown here. It seems to elaborate on this very subject.

If you build some sort of progression mechanism into your games AND make that progression mechanism matter to the players, then they will continue to play. The tricky part is making the experience bar matter to the the player.

2. Multiple long and short-term aims


3. Rewards for effort.

One of the things that I tend to hate in games is the continuous “progress quest.” You kill monsters to get better loot to more efficiently kill monsters to get better loot…etc. At one point in my life I played a lot of Diablo, so I recognize the power of this phenomenon. This is usually only an issue in games that don’t have a compelling storyline at the front end; you progress through the story in order to complete it, not necessarily to enjoy it. The thing I find frustrating is that these games reward (what can only be described as) grinding.

As I get older, though, I find myself enjoying games that challenge me intellectually. Anyone who has read my reviews and other blogs will recognize that I go on and on about games like Braid, Nyxquest, and Portal, but I think these games are important because they don’t reward progress for progress’s sake. There is no way to grind through these games; you either figure out the solution or you are done.

Nonetheless, I think these games fit into the speaker’s descriptions of long and short-term aims and reward of effort. I worry, though, that his talk placed too much emphasis on the MMO-type of game. Most of the games that most of us will be creating will not be MMORPGs.

4. Rapid, Frequent, Clear Feedback

This is definitely a newer phenomenon in games. Many of the older classics, like Zork, Myst, Maniac Mansion, and Monkey Island didn’t give this rapid and clear feedback. You had to discover the game over a long period of time, and for much of that time you were unsure if you were doing the right thing.

Again, I think this particular phenomenon is representative of MMO’s and progress-quest types of games, but certainly not all games. The experience of games like Shadow of the Colossus and Braid is one that is enjoyed over time, without the constant reassurance.

5. An Element of Uncertainty


6. Windows of Enhanced Attention

Again, this ties in directly to the “Addicted to Learning” section of my 501 piece. By establishing a reward-prediction error, we can trigger dopamine responses in the brain that encourage continuous pursuit provided it is not overused. Players are willing to be frustrated 90% of the time to get the little slivers of rewards that we dole out.

7. Other People

I think this will be the key reward in the future, especially in the way that the 6 other points can be integrated with it. For example, the achievement system on XBox live allows people to compete with each other asynchronously by allowing players to (1) see all of the top scores on their friends lists, and (2) to see the NEXT highest score during gameplay.

The latter of these two schemes is more important than the former. For example, imagine you were playing Geometry Wars and your highest score was 2,465. Now, you might see that the highest score is 486,492,561, but if you do, you are not likely to continue playing the game. On the other hand, if you see that the NEXT highest friend’s high score is 2,532, you will likely continue playing, just to get a little higher. By keeping the goals just outside of their margin of success, they constantly prod you forward to the next higher level.

The “other people” aspect of the game is also very important when considering the addictive quality of the game. Players often don’t care what they characters look like in games that nobody else sees, as the utility of the game’s tools is the only thing that matters. As you introduce other players, though, a sense of pride starts to take over and players may feel inclined to use sub-optimal tools to ensure that their character/farm/etc “looks cool.”