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Design Psychological Design

Discussion in 'Game Design, Development And Publishing' started by CardinalCoder64, Sep 14, 2018.

  1. CardinalCoder64

    CardinalCoder64 Member

    May 19, 2017
    If it's one thing that games do best, it's getting people to think, both stategically and emotionally. I've been sitting on the idea for a few years even and would like to bring the discussion up to the devs:

    How can we start designing not only at the entertainment level, but also at the psychological level? Not implying that it hasn't been done before, but I see great potential in using games to treat depression, anxiety, maybe even addiction. I believe it would do the world a lot of good if we can find the right way to do it. Albeit everyone's experience with depression and anxiety are different, and one solution isn't gonna solve every problem, but the best we can do is to help those who need it. I know I can think of a few times where games have lifted me up through dark times, without even being the games' intended design. Maybe we could build a game that's ideally a big therapy session, without the player even knowing that it is. Games that are morally driven are especially great for this, and I think it would be interesting if a game wasn't so much built around the morality of the player, but the morality of the game itself, possibly helping the player with any mental struggles. A soul-lifting game, if you will. Strike a balance between the enjoyment of a video game and the brain-science of psychology, and I think we would have something very special. What are your thoughts?
    Triangle likes this.
  2. sylvain_l

    sylvain_l Member

    Sep 18, 2016
    complex subject.

    At a "clinical" level as far as I know in some way it's already used more and more. But generally not really called "game" more "application" or something that feels more serious than "game".

    VR is used in treatment to help people come over fear (vertigo, and all kind of phobia). But of course, it's just a tool that comes with a therapy in general.

    it's also used in treatment when people lose an arm, leg or anything to help in re-education with artificial member, or when they have "ghost pain" (<- not sure how you say it in english, but some people can have hard pain in their lost arm, and you need to trick the brain because telling people it's just in their head doesn't work generally as with other tool like hypnosis)

    I have depression and anxiety, there is a lot of thing (some more serious than other) like for example https://www.superbetter.com/ and even my therapist does recommend app ( one that is called "petit bambou" in french on google play so I can help to do meditation )

    a lot of serious game for eduction in all kind of fields or to inform, make people more aware (like energy consumption, global warming, etc...).

    but there is the other side
    that means also it used by commercial/shopping/brand company: your mall receipt has a QRcode that used to access a lottery game or download a game for your kids or have a free game that promote their brand/product, brand that place their name in game to help you associate their name with your fun .
    (or sometimes its just a no-brainer choice from the game designer: high energy/sugar soda used as loot for recharging your health... like if it's that good idea to associate healthier and those soda drink?)

    Personally, the game This war of mine did make me realize again how bad war can turn out for civilians, physically and morally, and also just that you can die not from a bullet but simple illness, the lack of access to drinking water, etc. I mean all the years of TV news and also the FPS turning around war theme did just obfuscate that in my mind. That's an interesting situation as here both side you have games.

    Gamification is a whole field on its own.
    our brain was first, then we created games. That's why games are powerfull tools to interact with our brain to have fun, to help also in learning, socializing, and act on our mental state... but it's also as much dangerous; addiction, loot box and gambling; bullying; etc...

    just a little common feature like the restart button or even automatic respawn is more than that.
    Best way to success & progress is trying, even if it means failing multiple time before. So helping people to go to that mindset through game mechanics with that little feature is somehow a good thing. Or not. ^^ Because that's also a thing; IRL there is no such thing as a restart button. And there is no such thing as an artificially virtual enclosed world as in the game. That mean action(or no action) always have consequences, will lead to a next situation more or less different than the previous time.

    I could go on.
    But going to take a shortcut to close on an important point. Even if we would like to not overthink it.
    Games are games and meant to be used by humans, and even if you don't consciously design at a psychological, moral, ethical etc... level they'll have an impact there too. lots of people spend time playing game; that must lead to an impact at all level voluntary or not. We should better be aware of that.
    And that's where having an education in morality, psycology and ethics should help. What's strange is most our higher cursus (bachelor, master, PhD) be it in game design or engineering or what ever, don't bother having such thing in their required cursus.
    The M and Triangle like this.
  3. Yal

    Yal Member GMC Elder

    Jun 20, 2016
    Real depression patient here. Kinda falling asleep so I'll keep this brief.

    Part of the stuff I did to stay afloat was self-medicating with binge-playing the Neptunia series.


    It's a grindy, fan-servicey game which reuses content to the point everything feels the same and has very little artistic merit. But it's colorful and happy, it doesn't demand anything from you, and it rewards you from putting that time in. In other words... the perfect contrast to the dark, dreary reality you just want to escape from.

    Later on I moved over to Dark Souls, and I mostly credit my ability to not give up no matter how crap things are to the series. Those games are about failing, learning from your failures, and get good. In other words, it's trial and error, but with enough consistent mechanics that your overall skill improves as you progress - enemies and traps might catch you off-guard the first time, but you start expecting that, and you advance cautiously into new situations to observe and hopefully react to any fun surprises before they get you. They practice thinking ahead, patience, and observation, but more than anything else, they teach you to be persistent.

    So my takeway is: design games that let people escape reality and teach them just the skills you need to overcome disease. They don't need to be directly, obviously applicable to help.
  4. OblivionSkull21

    OblivionSkull21 Member

    Sep 26, 2017
    I see a lot of psychological games out there.

    I don't really have much experience with developing (I'm currently working on my first game), so this may or may not be a good idea.

    As a concept for a game, you could come up with something very traumatic as the theme, have really dark and upsetting events that the player must go through (as if you were playing inside someone else's head). I know triggers for people can be a bad thing for some, but personally I think the triggers are what get people truly attached in an emotional sense. Don't throw triggers all over the place mind you, but you could touch on some dark subjects to show "the truth" behind things.

    People can get attached that way (if they relate to the situation or just simply feel sympathetic).

    Now here's where you turn that frown upside down. You have all this traumatic stuff going on in your game to draw in the player, but when the game reaches its end... give it a happy/semi-happy ending. Show the player that no matter what happens to you, there's always something good that will come around. Give the player hope. Treat this game like it was more of a lesson for the player. A lesson to be optimistic.

    Take that as you will, like I said I don't have much experience in this field.
  5. CardinalCoder64

    CardinalCoder64 Member

    May 19, 2017
    100% agree. I think it's important to realize the dramatic impact games can have on people from an emotional standpoint. I like to think of games not as "video games", but as "interactive experiences", and like any experience, a person can take something from them and move on with that knowledge. I'll argue that people tend to learn more from the bad experiences than the good ones, because they'll never want to have that same experience again, and they can learn from that. I think that's something to consider when designing a game with such complexity, it shouldn't be so traumatizing that the player quits playing, in fact it shouldn't be "traumatizing" at all. The theme must be subtle, allowing the player to get back up every time they fall, and actually getting something out of it. Which leads me to my next quote...

    Dark Souls is probably the best example of this. I could go on about DS's game design for hours, but I don't wanna make this post longer than it already is. I admire DS for teaching the player that if they make the wrong move, they'll likely suffer the consequences to come after, but here's the genius: the player actually improves as a result, both mentally and statistically, and if they're smart, they'll know not to make the same mistake twice. DS does it in such a way that the player will actually maintain that mindset throughout playing the game, and I think DS would be a great source of reference for building a game up psychologically.

    I can see where you're coming from with this concept, however I believe the theme shouldn't be so obvious. I think it's as abuse to mess with someone's triggers, so while I may not agree with your concept, I feel like we can still take something from this. The game needs to have contrast, a balance of both light and dark but not so much dark that the player is left feeling more depressed than what they were before. It's best to tread lightly when dealing with subjects this sensitive. Not to say it's a bad idea, just that it could produce unintended results.
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2018
    Yal, The M and Triangle like this.
  6. Triangle

    Triangle Member

    Aug 16, 2018
    Now THIS is a good topic.

    It's important to keep in mind at all times that this sort of thing is a monumental task. It's got some heavy ethical as well as conceptual questions behind it, and behind THAT is the question of the entire field of game development: why we do this, and for whom?

    The single reason why I decided to go into development instead of writing screenplays or books is because of the one fundamental difference between videogames and almost all other art and media - audience autonomy. When you read a book or watch a movie, you have only a choice between paying attention to it's creator's vision or ignoring it (by leaving). These mediums connect very personally with the audience, of course, because human experience is unique and the value in art is essentially a conversation between the creator and the audience where the creator tells a story and the audience explores that story through their own experiences. The same is broadly true with videogames (when the creator actually WANTS to tell a story), but now the audience isn't RECALLING experiences any more - they are genuinely, on some level, experiencing the story ITSELF in am uniquely raw way.

    That's what I mean by 'autonomy' - there is no longer as much of a fourth wall, a player can see that the experience is progressed by THEIR actions and the consequences that come with them. And when confronted with those consequences, they then must engage with them and take further action.

    This would be an interesting footnote in a book of art criticism somewhere if it wasn't for the fact that autonomy is so intensely a core part of human life. An impressive amount of human wants can be simplified as desires for autonomy, and an impressive amount of human miseries can be simplified as a suppression of autonomy. After all, how many human rights are basically rights to be who you are with the freedom to make your own choices?

    Many of these miseries of suppressed autonomy are represented in psychology, as consequences or causes of psychological pain. If you are depressed, you may feel like your choices are arbitrary or not even existent, or that their consequences are arbitrary too. If you suffer from something that compels you to do obsessive or compulsive actions, it is often described as a need for 'control'. If you are traumatized and suffer from something like PTSD, you might not rest until your perceived need for safety - which is a sort of control, I suppose - is fulfilled. Of course, tragically, that need for safety is almost impossible to fulfill without intervention - similarly to how the control or feeling of consequence needed in the first two examples is often just out of reach. This is the reason psychology exists - to attempt to ease these pains by reestablishing a confidence in autonomy. That's all a gross simplification, but in my own humble experience, it's held true, more or less. And this brings me to your question:

    Can we use the unique abilities of videogames to help ease suffering?

    I firmly believe that this is absolutely possible. But it's a scary undertaking - I'm working on a game right now that has some elements of what you're talking about, but even so, it's still a conventional game, deconstruction or not. The idea of making something specifically to address suffering is undoubtedly one of the most intimate and consequential projects in not only just videogames, but possibly all media before now. And it's a project that strikes a particular chord with me as I was one of the several in this thread to find themselves uplifted by certain games at dark points in life. I don't need proof that games can provide meaningful assistance to suffering both as a form of escape and as a form of confrontation - I've seen it myself.

    But despite all that, the responsibility, the difficulty of making a game to address such personal experiences so directly - I am unsure as to the merit of making a 'therapy' game. I feel like people gravitate, as I did, to games that first allow them to escape suffering, and stay as those pains are addressed indirectly in the game, once they've comfortably settled into the game's world, but I also know that people would tend to be alienated by something that directly takes aim at experiences that are so intimate right off the bat. There have been attempts to address psychological illness directly with games, but they've often generally been rejected.

    People still in this day and age generally play games to relax, to enjoy themselves, or at least to get a break from their life in general. People can often connect more with an RPG then an ultra-realistic psychological thing because nobody wants to escape their life to a copy of their life. And if they don't feel in control in life, feeling helpless in a game isn't going to improve their mood either.

    I feel like the reason why we have so many games with big swords and guns and clear-cut bad guys is much less because we love violence than because we love autonomy. People want to escape lives where they feel out of control and unsure what to do to worlds where they have control and a clear mission. I don't believe all games should be like that - there's a lot of room for strife and genuine suffering. But, again, the player has to be comfortable first. And to be comfortable, they must feel in control.

    People play games to be free. Give your players freedom and an evil to fight, and you will have done more for them then you might've thought.
    Yal, The M and CardinalCoder64 like this.
  7. CardinalCoder64

    CardinalCoder64 Member

    May 19, 2017
    Coming back to the thread after some thought.

    I guess another way of how to approach this design would be like how music affects emotional pain in regards to how this article puts it (among many other psychological effects listed, some more relevant than others):
    Of course that's speaking for music and not games, and not all games are gonna make you feel "motivated, happy, and relaxed as a result", but what if we applied this mindset to game development? Design a game of the same intention, and as with music, the message would be indirect. Built in such a way that would be enjoyable yet therapeutic.

    This might sound weird, but I think humor would serve an important role in accomplishing the enjoyment aspect. To lighten up the mood, ease the tension, and let go of all the seriousness, give some time for the player to process the game's message and relax, like catching a breath after an intense exercise.

    I swear I should write a book or something lol. But really I think this design approach holds a lot of potential. Makes me want to play with it a little bit, record different effects on emotion as a result of playing a small demo or something.

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