7 Ways Games Reward the Brain

I stumbled on a very interesting Ted talk about video games and I thought I’d share the main ideas with you.

Here are the most striking features of video games according to Tom Chatfield and my added explanations about them:

  • Experience bars measuring progress
    • This enables players to track their progress at all time and acts as an incentive to keep players motivated. Furthermore, it seems that some games make the experience bar fill faster when it crosses the 80% threshold so as to counter the players' growing impatience.
  • Multiple long and short-term aims + rewards for effort
    • Combining both types of objectives enables players to receive rewards at a regular and sustained rate, rather than only when fulfilling arduous and tenuous goals. The little rewards work as teasers for the big rewards and keep the dopamine receptors alert.
  • Rapid, frequent, clear feedback
    • Probably one of the most appreciated features of video games: you can constantly evaluate your performance and determine how to improve by looking at the feedback. Perhaps your reaction time was lower than average or you didn’t use a particular strategy as well as you should have. In any case, studies have proved that high-quality, frequent feedback is a key component of good deliberate practice.
  • An element of uncertainty
    • This caters to the addictive characteristic of video games: studies have showed that unpredictability is a decisive factor in addiction mechanisms. That’s why gambling, especially, can become a terrible addiction. If we knew we’d win once every three rounds for example, there’d be no thrill. In games, uncertainty is implemented by making rewards partially random, with rates which are carefully designed: they are low enough to keep players hooked but high enough not to discourage them.
  • Windows of enhanced attention
    • Games altern between high attention sequences (difficult fights for example) and low attention sequences (cutscenes), to enable players to revert their brains to default mode and better process the information they had to intake during high attention sequences.
  • Other people!
    • Obviously, the social aspect of some video games plays a huge role. League of Legends, for example, being a PvP team-based game, is inherently social. More than that, the LoL community is remakably engaged in the game’s life: there is a huge turnout of specatators coming to watch tournaments in real life, and there is much dialogue between players and the game staff to help balance the game’s characters.

Tom suggests to apply these principles in real life: in education, business, government… He argues that the core idea behind video games is how to build engagement. If we could learn from them and transfer that engagement onto other fields, it could lead to fantastic results.

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