Psychology and Video Games, part deux

Hey everyone, time to get back to our talk about psychology in video games.

Let’s dive right back into our previous discussion about conditioned and unconditioned responses. Just a quick reminder so we don’t need to back track: conditioned responses are like tutorials, reoccurring quick time events, things you find out on your own through trial and error, etc. Now we get to delve into unconditioned responses, which deal with a players natural response to stimuli… and hopefully we can get to fight or flight before the third part of this incredibly long blog post!

Unconditioned responses: not touching a hot stove after having found out that hot=pain, knowing that a headache is not good, being parched after a good workout. We train ourselves unknowingly to follow these responses day in and day out to make our lives easier and safer. Games use this natural human trait and expand on it within their world by giving you experiences that you the player may like or dislike but give you one crucial fact to these experiences: they won’t let you progress. Well, that’s not entirely true since secret bosses can be ignored throughout a whole game. Okay, let’s just say that games use unconditioned responses as a tool to make a game more vast and explorative in more than just ways that hinder ones progress… but for now we will stick to progress hindering. To present the way it works, take an imaginary game where you are the main character and you have to save the world from bad guys. These bad guys have attacks that will hurt you and you can attack them back. As an added bonus, the game gives you areas that you can hide while they attack, so you can wait for the perfect time to strike. At this point you have a few choices but two main choices. Do you charge in, guns a blazing? Or do you take the safe route and wait patiently for your time to strike?  Both can get you further in the game, but what if one of those choices almost always ended you up in failure? Say the charging tactic would get you killed instantly because your enemies can kill you the closer you are to them. You’d try and try to kill these enemies over and over and always come up short. Sure, you might get lucky sometime but that’s probably not going to happen with how this area is designed. Frustrated, you stop and think about what you can do to avoid failing over and over again. You remember that there were areas where the enemies couldn’t attack you and take advantage of them next time. Suddenly, the enemies forget you are there and nod off for a bit which gives you the opportunity to attack them for a short time and finally win, leaving you happy and satisfied. The game developers gave you two ways to handle a task where both could get the job done, but one made it easier than the other. One way made you furious, and the other made you happy.  Although my reasoning is a bit broad here, the unconditioned response was your feelings towards each different style of playing. When you got killed doing something one way, you got furious which is how any human reacts when they can’t progress, but when you did progress, you were satisfied and glad. It is the natural way we would react to something when stimuli is presented to us such as being hungry when we smell food, or being thirsty when it’s too hot. I’m really banking on the universal thought that people like to progress in life and only touching on the mechanic of progression inside video games today so don’t think that this is the only way that game developers use unconditioned responses in video games today. Anyways I think I’ve given a good idea on both conditioned and unconditioned responses. Time to move onto the fight or flight reflex in gaming!

Let’s keep this part short and sweet. Fight or flight is the reaction that we get when presented with a situation that requires an almost immediate response. You can’t have some in-between answer for this problem; it can be only one or the other and has to be made right then and there. Early video games really banked on fight or flight since it always kept the player engaged and gave opportunity for replay value. A perfect example of this reflex in the past is the game Rally X where you are in control of a car that is speeding within a confined space with three or more racers trying to crash into your car. Your goal is to capture flags so you can advance to the next level while avoiding the enemy cars with a burnout mechanic equipped on the car that can disable any car caught in it’s smokescreen. That burnout mechanic is what really made that games fight or flight input shine since the paths you could take were designed to have the enemy cars corner you and destroy your car, but was expansive enough so you could use that burnout or your own skill to get yourself out of sticky situations. The real defining factor that made it fight or flight was the games ability to give you choices that ended you up in either one place or another: I’m running into a tight space…do I avoid them using my own skill/the burnout button, or do I just accept my fate and try again? The choice in which one is better is irrelevant, because at this point you have two choices: die or survive. Many old school games use these choices to make a much more exciting experience and let the player progress the way they would like.  These days fight or flight is used, but sometimes in more confined experiences. Quick time events are perfect examples of this since some are optional, and some are required in order for you to progress. Not to say that mandatory fight or flight choices are bad, but a little variety never hurt anyone, right?

I’m really glad I got through all that in under 1,000 words… oh darn I’m already over. Well, at least this touched on one complete topic. All we have got left is subliminal messaging and relatable video games. Check you guys next time!


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