The Psychology Behind Game Design

Game designers nowadays are trying to quantify what exactly it is that makes people want to play a game and what exactly keeps them interested. It turns out the answer is that most people want the same things out of games that they want out of their real lives. According to Ubisoft's designer Jason VandenBerghe who has spent a lot of time translating player motivation into game design decisions, "We tend to play for the same reasons we live."

Two of the most important principles to apply to game design are player engagement and motivation. Game designers and programmers are now starting to focus on the psychology behind what really captures and sustains the attention of players. Naughty Dog programmer, Kaitlyn Burnell, points out three psychological terms: Autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Autonomy allows players to feel like they're in control of their actions, competence ensures that they feel able to perform what the game asks of them, and relatedness makes them feel a connection to the game's characters or world.

Similarly, VandenBerghe points to psychology's Big 5 model, known via the acronym, "O.C.E.A.N." which refers to the five motivations for human behavior: Openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. While testing people against the Big 5, and examining the resulting data, he feels confident in concluding "play turns out to be a great way to satisfy motivations that you can't fulfill in your ordinary life."

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