Why you want to five-star every song on Guitar Hero III, even though you hate Heart

There’s all kinds of behavioral psychology involved in how rewards affect the way we do things. Stephen Totilo has a great post over on the MTV Multiplayer Blog about how the big story about Manhunt 2 was completely missed by the mass media:

Rockstar removed the points system which rewarded players for performing the most brutal execution possible.

When I played the AO “Manhunt 2” I consistently tried to perform the most vicious, most highly-scored kills. Why? Was it because I enjoyed watching the vicious scenes rendered in the game? That can’t be it. I sat through them too many times for that argument to hold. Any gamer and any game designer can tell you that players like taking shortcuts. That’s a tenet of playing a game: how do I do this next task in the quickest way? You go for the head-shot in a first-person-shooter maybe because you’re twisted enough that you enjoy watching someone’s head get blown off, but maybe because the head-shot costs you one bullet but earns you safety and a stocked ammo clip — whereas shooting at the torso or limbs wastes bullets and time. So I had plenty of reason to not waste my time performing the most elaborate, bloody kills, considering how often they can be repeated.

I think an underlying issue here is the effective use of rewards systems in games. Take BioShock (which Cameron poops on here), for example. One of the many selling points of BioShock was the near-limitless creativity that could be exercised in dispatching your enemies. Setting up an elaborate means of destroying the demented citizens of Rapture would be a great way to spend some time; you could even load up the same quicksave and play the same battle in any number of different ways.

It never even crossed my mind.

Even with all the advertising pointing out how many different ways players can kill Big Daddies, when I sat down to play I was primarily preoccupied with making my way through the game. I got to do some pretty cool stuff along the way, but I mostly went for the easiest method of dispatching my enemies. That probably has something to do with human behavior in general, maybe even more so with gamers.

My point is, I think there is a lot of creativity and exploration that I missed in BioShock, because finding creative ways to kill my enemies wasn’t really rewarded. While I’m sure that at least partially comes from there being no real fear of failure (if you haven’t played, death has no real consequence in BioShock thanks to Vita Chambers), maybe BioShock could have benefited from some kind of reward system. Not even the Xbox 360 achievements reward creative use of the plasmids.

I mean, why do you think people play Guitar Hero for hours and hours trying to five-star every song? It’s not because they just love Pat Benatar (my apologies to all you Pat Benatar fans).

Why do you think when I play Stuntman: Ignition I restart a scene every time I screw up? I want that damn five-star rating!

And the challenge, the reaching for the reward, is part of what makes the game fun – and thus, fulfilling when you finally nail it.


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