Yeah I'm not sure I want to admit what I've been doing gaming-wise the past few weeks, but I figure it's time to update this blog, so here goes.
I have found myself addicted to a farming game on my iPad. A friend convinced me to come play the game with her, so I gave it a shot.
I've spent a pretty pathetic amount of time playing this as of late. This has not been the proudest three or four weeks of my life... But it is what it is.
I recently took a free online course at Coursera called Gamification, which is the process of implementing game design techniques into business -- externally to increase sales, internally to increase employee production. Video games were one subject studied in this course, and we even were instructed to play Plants vs. Zombies during one of the lectures.
From a gaming standpoint, this was an interesting class because you got to learn about the somewhat sinister psychology that goes into a lot of game design and what makes them addicting. There is a chemical in the brain called dopamine, which works as follows (as copy-pasted from my notes) :
Our brains release and reabsorb the neurotransmitter dopamine in response to certain activities. Things that we find rewarding or valuable or surprising tend to result in dopamine release. It works like a shot of a drug that causes pleasure, and there becomes an association with an activity that encourages us to go back.
This is a big reason why seemingly meaningless activities that take place in video games can be made so addicting -- they are given meaning by adding a reward, no matter how big or small, and that reward can trigger a dopamine release in the brain that gives us a momentary shot of pleasure. In other words, whether you realize it or not, you're getting a very momentary high for doing them.
The rewards can be something like achievements or badges, or a piece of gear, or the feel of satisfaction you get when helping other people. The most addicting games are designed to "create rewards that maximize that engagement based on dopamine release" and to keep the activities that result in these rewards on a non-stop loop, meaning that because you enjoyed it the first time, you'll want to do it again and again if the opportunities present themselves.
You can see why some games are addicting over a long-term basis and some really aren't. The ones that aren't don't give you these loops -- instead, they may point you from point A to point B, and once you get to point B (i.e., finish the campaign), you're done. You might have had fun on the way there, and the gameplay and/or story might have been so good that you didn't want to put it down, but once you run out of things to do, it's game over. The ones that are addicting are filled with these loops (called "feedback loops" and "activity loops") and are very effective in continually keeping you wanting to come back for more. They may provide endless loops of these activities, making them very hard to put down because there's constant rewards but no endgame.
Add someone like me to the mix -- someone who is generally easily seduced, weak-minded, has a very addictive personality, and has a very hard time walking away from tasks if they aren't finished -- and boom, there's your addiction.
Hay Day is particularly devilish because it is nothing but feedback loops that never end, designed to get you hooked early and then keep you sucked in until your only choices (if you want to keep playing) are to sink a gigantic amount of hours into the game in order to keep up with the objectives, or pay money to make it easier. You realize that what you are spending time on is silly, but every activity in the game is meant to give you a reward in the above-described fashion, whether it's helping someone else complete their objectives, getting a rare item drop from doing a simple activity, or selling something for profit on the marketplace. Add in that many things on the game are done on a timer, making you want to check in throughout the day to be there when the timer expires so you can start up the next activity as soon as you can, and it can be pretty hard to walk away from.
(It all works marvelously too, as Supercell Games, the Helsinki-based designers of Hay Day, rake in $2.4 million dollars a day, and that's only on iOS... not bad for "Free Games." I imagine it's all a similar formula to Farmville, which is a game I don't know much about and probably am better off not knowing either)
Anyway, it is all starting to get a little old, so maybe I will walk away soon and get back into other games. No matter how addicting game developers can make an endless grind become, at the end of the day, an endless grind is still an endless grind, and over time it will begin to wear on you. So I'm not sure how many more cows I want to milk or fields of corn I want to harvest.
I will say this though -- the whole thing has really got me thinking about my gaming future, because I haven't missed my consoles. At ALL. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised at that, however, since the amount of games on them that are truly not worth missing seems to be going down consistently.
Before Hay Day though, I did manage to squeeze in a few games between my last blog writing and getting hooked on that game. Here's some thoughts I wrote some time ago on these games but never published. If you care, here they are :)
Assassin's Creed III
Liked: The feeling of being in the middle of a war. The naval battles could use a little work but at their best felt epic and got me looking forward to Assassin's Creed IV. After initially being bored with it, exploring the frontier turned out to be fun. Father/son interaction was enjoyable.
Didn't like: A little buggy. Colonial America isn't as interesting as Renaissance Italy. Didn't really take any big steps forward from ACII and in some ways took steps backward. Connor was a schlong.
I was expecting worse honestly, given some of the player feedback this game got. But it's far from a bad game. It's just not Assassin's Creed II.
Liked: Blink was fun. Impressive voice cast.
Didn't like: There wasn't much really wrong with it, per se, but it just didn't grab me. The story and atmosphere didn't do it for me, and I didn't think either the stealth or the FPS were anything too special. It also falls into the trap of saying you can play the game however you want only to force you to play it a certain way if you want a certain ending. In other words, if you want to play the game as an all-guns blazing FPS where you run in and shoot everyone, you're going to get the evil ending. Dishonored was similar to Deus Ex: Human Revolution in that there are different paths to your goal and you can stealth or FPS, but HR did it right (one of the very very few games to get the "choice" mechanic mostly correct, in my opinion) by only letting your story choices affect the ending and not your playstyle. So I felt that the element of choice here was a little bit of an illusion.
Jet Set Radio (XBLA)
Liked: Such style. Games with this much life, energy and spirit don't come around much anymore in this day and age of soulless, empty, carbon-copy games. Undeniably cool. Kick-ass music.
Didn't Like: My goodness, this game was so not fun to play. I didn't feel it aged well in terms of gameplay and level design. Teeth-gnashingly frustrating at times. Even the tutorial was tough to handle.
I wanted to wrap my arms around this game and make sweet love to it while stuffing it down the garbage disposal at the same time. I loved it and hated it with equal intensity.
Max Payne 3 (in progress)
Like: Unique style. Good production values. Some fun shootouts and set pieces. Lots of things to keep you busy. I also like how it is honest and labels the tedious optional extra tasks it gives you as "grinds."
Don't like: Underneath it all, it's a pretty run-of-the-mill shooter that isn't always that stimulating in terms of gameplay. Wish it let me explore Sao Paolo in more detail. Has one of my biggest video game pet peeves (locking the door behind you when you reach a checkpoint, preventing you from going back and looking around).
Max Payne 3 is symbolic of the internal struggle I'm having with lots of games these days. It's shiny, slick, stylish, has high production values, and tries really hard to be cool, but for me, once you dig underneath that stuff it just feels kind of hollow inside and is nothing I haven't played ten times before. These days I need more than that to be satisfied.
X-Com: Enemy Unknown
Liked: Overall it was pretty awesome, warts aside. Tons of fun most of the time. Base maintenance was very enjoyable and got the imagination going. Loved being able to make decisions on a worldwide scale, like what countries or continents got the most attention. There was always a sense of tension in deciding what moves to make on the field and where to invest your money off it. Loved this game for the most part.
Didn't like: High frustration factor. Your soldiers miss way too much from close range. Game can feel cheap on harder difficulties. Could have used a little more depth. A little buggy. The game's shortcomings really start to stick out after playing through it again.
Oh yeah, E3 came and went while I was busy milking cows and shearing sheep. I didn't pay too much attention to it. It was actually nice to not get caught up in the console pissing contests. So there's my thoughts on E3 :lol:
Also, I finally got around to seeing Wreck-it-Ralph the other night. Great movie for gaming fans! See it if you haven't yet.
That's all for now, thanks for reading :)