Times have changed – and the quantity of how much free time has changed as well.
Has the player?
Where we may have once had a near-infinite amount of time to devote to the pursuit of playing video games, many of us struggle to carve out the free time we desire for such activities. On the other hand, the game design decisions of yesteryear don’t look very intuitive in retrospect.
It used to be that when you bought a game, the carrot on the end of the stick was your successful completion of the game. You’d hit the credits, pack it away with satisfaction, and move on to the next thing.
Nowadays, devs have engineered just about every sort of way imaginable to get you to keep playing. But underneath all that is the exploitation of one primary human trait: the desire for growth and progression.
Let’s be honest about something first: the societal structures that abound around us are not entirely conducive to our health or self-improvement.
While we find institutions of higher learning littered around the world alongside vocational and trade schools, in reality, progress is a very hard thing to determine. Oftentimes we may believe we’re progressing only to find we’re standing still – there just aren’t that many instant-feedback loops in real life.
Yet we crave them. Our psychology is structured in such a way that we desire positive feedback while avoiding negative feedback – coupled with the modern society of hyper-stimulation that we live in; persistent and evolving feedback loops are an unavoidable answer.
Modern games not only ship with content – they ship with engagement tracks that are purpose-built to ensure that players remain engaged and playing long after the game’s conventional expiration date.
Just take a look at the manner in which modern behemoths like Fortnite and Black Ops 4 are structuring their content. Everything is not only based on seasonal content but also features progression bars in every direction that you look.
Although to an outsider the design of these systems may seem arbitrary and difficult to understand, they are, in truth, no different than many of the systems companies all across the globe implement to motivate their workers. Substitute quarterly performance reviews with an experience bar and you’ve got the same end result.
If there is one thing that the 21st century is likely to be remembered for, it’s the hacking, augmenting, and manipulation of our psyche – and although this may seem like a detrimental thing – it need not be so.
If we look at the evolution of humanity through the ages, it’s clear that the primary factor of augmentation is the manner in which we think. To compare the thought many held during the Dark Ages to what is held today would result in a seemingly irreconciled set of views – and yet they are wholly dependent on one another. The same can be said for the current era of modern game design.
While we have to acknowledge that there are developers that exploit consumers for their own gain, we do have to be mindful of the fact that many developers are creating games and progression paths for games that they themselves want to play.
Where is the hacking of human culture going? We don’t know – but the only logical thing to do is hope for the best.