Taking Fun Seriously, Part 2

At a recent GDC Canada event, Dr. Clive Chandler discussed several aspects of psychology in MMO’s.

One topic was belief, which relies on trust, which can depend on some very odd things. For example, an NPC’s accent:

In 2003, research found that interviewers had different biases against interviewees with different accents, even with identical qualifications and experience. BT also found that customers were most likely to trust representatives with a Scottish accent.

“If an NPC looks like a ruffian and has an accent of a ruffian, they are perceived as less trustworthy,” says Chandler. He explained that the feeling of belief is achieved when the emotions of acceptance and trust are developed. Partly: “Designers need to design for trust,” he advised.

Hmm, is it a coincidence that the most trustworthy member of OOTS (my favorite webcomic) speaks in a Scottish accent?

We all like our games to give us “an edge”, don’t we. I know I’ve pined for the “good old days” where a long corpse run was just one bad pull away. We’re talking about fear, and prolonged fear. But it’s just a game, right?

Wrong? According to Dr. Chandler, fear

which can cause physiological responses due to the “fight or flight” impulse. Many people love that sensation: “Look at the prevalence of the horror movie; it’s everywhere. Look at horror games.”

“Surely there’s no harm in that? Well, actually, there is,” said Chandler: Scientists have recently determined that after sustained fear, bodies stop producing adrenaline and being producing cortisol, which begins to break down non-essential organs and tissues to feed vital organs, increasing pain, promoting heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.

While adrenalin suspends digestion and dissipates after resolution and exercise, cortisol does not.

But as of this year, scientists have apparently determined that there is another anti-stress hormone that potentially counteracts the effects of cortisol. It induces emotional bonding like hugging and kissing, as well as “basic feelings of comfort, security, and love.”

Which, of course, will mean it subject to mocking and ridicule. Really, who wants to be healthy when it means being labelled a “care bear”? Really, I don’t think a game needs to be all unicorns and rainbows, but there needs to be a rhythm to it, an alternation between comfort and stress, between safety and danger. Oddly, the slower pace of old Everquest gave you just that.

In Everquest 2, the fast pace of combat makes this design much harder, since an instance that is very challenging for one group can be a cakewalk for another. One possibility is to engineer built-in waits. LOTRO instances are usually guided by an NPC who at times will go inactive and stay there until you tell him or her to go again. This provides a good opportunity for biobreaks, and dealing with other afk stuff, and allows a mental rest period. This sort of thing doesn’t have to be built in, the smart group leader can build them in, but she will have to judge the challenge level the group is experiencing. If it’s easy, then probably everyone will want to just keep going.

In any case, it’s one more example of how gaming, gaming situations, and characters are real enough as far as our brains and bodies are concerned to give us real world issues.

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