The Psychology of how Video Games Engage Players — Exploration from a Coach

Video Games hide their dirty little secret in plain sight — Intermittent Variable Rewards

“What gets rewarded gets repeated!”

Pigeon Guided Missiles

As we continue to explore why video games retain users attention for incredibly long periods, we take a brief detour to the 1950s and visit BF Skinner, perhaps the most influential psychologist of the 20th Century.

Skinner’s experiments, which included Pigeon Guided Missiles and Pigeons playing Ping Pong were interesting, to say the least. However, we find what we’re seeking in his now-famous Skinner Box Experiment.

A box was set up where a pigeon would peck a button and receive a treat. They discovered that when the pigeon received a treat for every peck, they would only peck when they were hungry.

Psychology of Gambling

However, by making the pecks and treats random, things took a drastic turn.

2 pecks — small treat; 5 pecks — medium treat; 1 peck — big treat

By varying the action and reward sequence, the pigeons didn’t stop pecking. In fact, one pigeon was recorded pecking 2.5 times per second for 14 hours straight and another pecked compulsively for an incredible 87’000 times in 16 hours, getting a reward only 1% of the time.

Slot machines in casinos use this psychological strategy to keep their users hooked and so do video games. Most games have this as a core ingredient in their games. The psychology is a page straight out of Atomic Habits

Design a cue, create a craving, offer an activity, present a reward

Challenge for Coaches

As a youth coach, my challenge is to figure out how to modify this random intermittent reward system to focus our players’ attention and keep them engaged, not only throughout practice but in the long term. And, I gotta do it without being manipulative.

Any Ideas???

This post was created with Typeshare

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Full time professional youth basketball with an avid interest in meta-learning. Passionate about youth development, behavioural psychology and storytelling

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Nabil Murad

Nabil Murad

Full time professional youth basketball with an avid interest in meta-learning. Passionate about youth development, behavioural psychology and storytelling

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