With my recent return to university, I’ve become enamoured with the practical implications of diverse research for game design, particularly research from Organizational Behavour. Zubon has a very interesting post about the neurological basis of wanting versus liking and its implications for games and MMORPG’s in particular.
In the most important neurological finding I have read all year, mammals have correlated but entirely separable systems for wanting and liking. Ponder that a moment … Your brain gives you the same neurochemicals for watching that little bar fill that it would for actually accomplishing something. Even if you know you are accomplishing little [...]. There are lots of flaws in the human brain we can exploit to make you feel like you need to continue, preferably keeping you from pausing to consider whether you are having much fun or if you should stop.
Many of us eventually reach a point where we consider the value of the games we play with respect to their opportunity cost (time, money, physical activity, in-person social engagement, alternate hobbies). I’ve “quit” playing MMORPG’s more than once.
More and more games focus exclusively on simplistic activities that activate the fun (opiod distributing) circuits of the brain. You continue playing for the chemical burst, often well beyond when you might rationally conclude you should stop.
In contrast, games like UO and (dare I mention it) pre-NGE SWG included more sandbox and simulation. You could more easily engage in activities beyond the standard pixel bashing. Build a player city. Develop a crafting-based business. Role-play. Such activities no doubt also induce the release of neural-fun-juices (yes, that is the technical term). But other factors contribute to enjoyment. In helping to build a player city I engaged creative skills, math and language, and acted as a salesperson, planner and diplomat.
I returned to these games for the visceral fun (neural-fun-juice) and skinner-box rewards. But I also returned, I think, because I *wanted* to (motivated in the Expectancy Theory sense). There was a sense of community, creativity and contribution in the player-built-city that I valued.
I am waiting for the day someone releases a Sandboxy Social Online Game for Casual players that actually manages to gain traction with a substantial player-base. In other words, I would really *like* a game that I am able to rationally *want* and rationally do not *want* a game that I merely *like*.