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03 Mar 2010

On Game Development, Irrationality and Cheating

We've been a bit quiet of late. That tends to mean one of two things - there's a tax return to complete, or we've drunk ourselves into a pre-foetal state of comprehension and are unable to do much except wallow in our own pool of dribble and vomit.

Well, as of right now, there is a third explanation. To be more accurate, this third explanation replaces the 2nd explanation above, since - let's be honest here - we're simply too old and boring to get that drunk these days. So that means there are still only two explanations, but just one of the explanations has changed - which in itself is an exceptionally convoluted way of declaring that we're designing a new game!

In anticipation of the avalanche of questions from the world's media and bloggosphere, we can't unfortunatley give much away except to say it's in very early stages. We have a prototype that is currently being played and blankly stared at in equal measure. We are, however, very excited. This one's more in the vein of War on Terror than Crunch in terms of size, ambition and theme. That will probably make a lot of people happy, but it also means development is slooooow.

What's particularly exciting for me personally is that I've been drawing a lot of inspiration of late from counter-intuitive behaviours and other psychological oddities. To this end, the current game is benefitting (well, that may be debatable) from the wisdom contained within books like "Irrationality" by Stuart Sutherland, "Prisoner's Dilemma: John Von Neumann, Game Theory and the Puzzle of the Bomb" by William Poundstone and "Predictably Irrational" by Dan Ariely.

Using actual psychological forces and behavioural patterns to inform game mechanics fits perfectly with our desire to use games to comment on the real world and to use existing human tensions, relations and interplay as the basis for in-game player interactions. This works so well across the spectrum, from Realpolitik to Keynesian economics, that we're genuinely surprised that no one else seems to be embracing it as a way of designing games. It could be that a lot of designers are overly focussed on the holy grail of "elegance" and "simplicity" giving way to deeper gameplay (chess and Go are the spectres behind such obsessions). However, the chaos of human behaviour is far more interesting for us: harder to manage in terms of game design, but much more rewarding.

Of the books mentioned above, I can recommend "Predictably Irrational" by Dan Ariely as a particularly enlightening-but-easy read.

To start you off, check out this TED lecture of Dan's on cheating and our irrational moral code. The real meat starts at around 4 minutes and 20 seconds in:

The implications here for game design should be obvious. Think for a moment about what he says about the actor who cheats wearing different college sweatshirts - cheating as a member of one group can make another group (collectively) more honest. Amazing! There are many games that use cheating as a mechinism, but few really unearth the human drives behind this common behaviour - they just chuck it out there as something you have to do. A game that was really based on cheating would have these remarkable, counter-intuitive outcomes: players may make themselves honest; most likely they would end up creating their own (internal) rules.

I actually have to force myself to stop reading now in case our prototype turns into a behavioural economics classroom exercise instead of a game. But still .... it's all research.

 

Posted by Andy S on 3 March 2010 - 0 comments

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