What is “Next Generation” usually sparks curiosity in any person who shows moderate interest in something, whether that be cellular technology, robotics, software and ultimately gaming for those of us here at GWW. I want to talk about how the “game” in us has changed, so I will be loosely referring to the OG or Original Gamers of the 80s and taking you through a timeline up until now and lastly arriving at pure speculation, which is true to the title, the next generation.
Because I have way too much to say in general and my opinions usually permeate anything I do, I am going to yet again fall prey to them and only speak on the above direction from the perspective of a gamer playing RPG’s. It is popular, there are many different types and it will be something everyone at least once, experienced and probably enjoyed to varying degrees.
RPG’s began as creative minds came together and assembled an early adaptation of Tolkein’s world, using terminology, lore, characters, monsters and many facets of his wildly popular universe he created, even down to fully functioning languages. This first system utilized the minds of it’s players to fuel story, combat and ultimately resolution or the end whether that be a joyous celebration of thievery and gold or an untimely end at the clutches of a beholder; ughmm, time-stop and meteor swarm are utterly devastating! 🙂 Anyhow, this system, known as table-top gaming is still popular today. At this place in time it was more about the story than advancement and actually playing the role of a character, down to decision making, professions, social interaction and combat prowess were all left to the person with the character sheet in hand. What is great about this is there are no rules, there is no engine to generate a pre-conceived world and no programming to move your PC down the same path every time. Though the game is still structured it remains the purest form of sandbox still to this day.
Next I am going to jump to Neverwinter Nights because of it’s fanbase, updates, play experience and compelling gameplay. Perhaps the first major jump between a game like Baldur’s Gate that really got the attention of people outside of the usual fans as being a great game and a must play. I bet most RPG fans have played NWN and enjoyed it. This game is strongly story driven but also alot of the world it was cast in, giving you histories, physical representations of the places fans read about or experienced in tabletop gaming (The Forgotten Realms) and brought them together with stunning graphics for the time. Gaming was becoming more “real” and the gamer – enthralled.
MMORPG’s like Everquest, Final Fantasy, World of Warcraft are all about immersion into the very same worlds they represent. It’s like your the player character and instead of rolling d20, or looking at the dark alley-way from the same perspective, you can go down it and look all around you experiencing the world from a never seen before lens and changing it as you do so. This movement is so popular, it spread like an epidemic and captured the eyes, ears and hearts of just about anyone willing to pay a subscription (cause it was basically a drug). Now we have arrived at the heart of what I want to talk about and that is the psychology of game design and how we changed and grew up with things that changed with us most likely by design.
I was sitting in a lecture a few days ago on Organizational Psychology, which in short has to do with human interaction in the workplace, but we touched on something that of course overlaps with many parts of our daily life, one of them was gaming. During the discussion we spoke about the Goal-Setting Theory. This theory really came to life in the 1960s and illustrates our desire to form conscious and unconscious goals and how that affects our behavior and ultimately if we reach them or not. First I want to lay out some ground work. What is a goal? Any ideas? According to the source in front of me, a goal can be anything you wish to accomplish that you have been committed to, are provided feedback for and rewarded during that process and it is easier and more rewarding if those goals are challenging and very specific.
Interesting, now how does that relate to gaming, particularly the MMORPG? Well think about the scope of the game, though they have small challenges along the way, normally most of the challenge is at the end of the game… ok duh, it’s like that in most, but unlike other games, these do not end. So if that is true, why are they so addicting? The answer in short is because the goal is never reached, yet we still get rewarded. That is really important to think about because if you take the definition of addiction, it states that the victim more or less cannot help a particular behavior and when removed from a stimulant, one of which could be gaming, they can become physically or emotionally ill. Wow this is getting interesting, at least to me it was and mind you all this is flying through my head during the lecture. So by design, we continue to play MMO’s, because they innately provide rewards that we seek as players playing a challenging game towards a goal that will never be reached. That is powerful because of the monthly fee and the degree to which people play beyond the “end” of the game content. To put it plainly, developers, most likely with the help of survey’s and psychological study have found several key factors about game design to hook their audience and then employ them into games to make more money. That isn’t wrong, alot of businesses do the same. But the use of hard-wired schemes provoked an inquiry and one I am currently fascinated by. “just how far will business take them to make money in uncharted territory”?
As I stated at the beginning we started with early games and gradually moved towards what games are today, specifically RPG’s and lastly the MMORPG. We moved from pen and paper to upgraded graphics on consoles to a 3D world we logged into any chance we got. The reasons for this may go without saying but I want to leave you with some raw information. It is by design we play games the way we do and we all have likes and dislikes that continually alter the value we see in gaming as a hobby, but if we learn to listen more intently to why we like something or don’t like something, it could lead us to better buying practices. Another idea of rewards and goals can be seen in social gaming with the ability to invite friends, view their success and compete against one another. It can be seen on the Playstaytion Network and Xbox Live with trophies and achievements and also in places like Steam, where you can form a steam group to participate in. This is all interesting and explains a little deeper why they are effective tools and how developers need to use these tools or machinations of to continue to create the curiosity to click.
What will the next generation bring besides bigger and better? Will their be another imaginary hook intertwined into the entertainment we call gaming to grab us at yet another primal level to buy buy and buy some more? Who knows and what that looks like is impossible to tell but I can assure you that any and all effort is being spent to ensure we spend our money where they want us to! So is it out of the question to assume you are “hooked” on gaming or at the very least a game? No! According to the way a goal works, in this context, it is entirely plausible you, me and others are hooked or mildly addicted to parts of game design that are difficult for us to consistently be aware of, that do impact and alter our behavior both at the register and while we play!