From Will Wright's MasterClass

Exploring Player Psychology

Will believes game development is as much about programming a player’s brain as it is about programming the game itself. Learn Will’s strategies for creating compelling games that take player psychology into account.

Topics include: Get Inside the Player's Mind • Build a Mental Model in Your Player’s Head • Human Behavior Is Derived From Mental Models • Allow Your Model to Diverge From Reality • Enable Player Communities • Motivate Your Player, Then Get out of Their Way

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Will believes game development is as much about programming a player’s brain as it is about programming the game itself. Learn Will’s strategies for creating compelling games that take player psychology into account.

Topics include: Get Inside the Player's Mind • Build a Mental Model in Your Player’s Head • Human Behavior Is Derived From Mental Models • Allow Your Model to Diverge From Reality • Enable Player Communities • Motivate Your Player, Then Get out of Their Way

Will Wright

Teaches Game Design and Theory

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More than anything else, I've found the psychology to be the really tricky, challenging part of game design. The technology is advancing every year. What we can do on modern computers makes me as a designer feel almost unlimited. You can do amazing things on these electronics. Player psychology though, human brains are not advancing. They're the same as they have been a hundred years ago. We have to learn how it works. What are the inner workings of that computer and how can we exploit it and use it to our advantage? There's actually a great book, I think it's out of print now, it's called "Maps of the Mind". Each page was kind of a visual representation of one psychological theory. It might be Maslow's Pyramid or Freud and the Id. Each one of them was a different way, a bit different perspective, on the human mind and human psychology and the way it worked. Each one is kind of a tool and has its particular purpose and works well in certain situations and not well in others. None of them are really the right approach that I'm going to religiously adhere to. But each one contains something valuable that might be of use to me in the future. Maslow's Pyramid turned out to be very useful for The Sims for instance. [VIDEO GAME AUDIO] The vary base core of The Sims had to do with feeding the motives of The Sims-- hunger, entertainment, sleep, all those things. We started building very, very simple little prototypes that was just a set of sliders and buttons. I could press a button for food, sleep, entertainment, and basically trying to balance these little sliders. At some point, we decided one of the major goals in The Sims would be to have them actually go to work and earn money so you can go out and buy more junk for your house. Now, we basically had a reason to get all these sliders up to some state that they go to work in a good state. The better their state is, the more money they earn. So we're connecting these base motives to the larger aspirations, which is exactly what Maslow's Pyramid was all about. The game designer is really kind of playing with the player's psychology. By giving them certain freedoms, certain limitations, certain goals states, you're trying to get them into a certain motivation within this little world that you've crafted and make them want to do things or want to avoid things happening. You basically want to set up this structure in their head that they're motivated to do this and avoid that. But you want to have an environment where they start feeling strong motivations for their actions. And then, now it's up to them to start testing their model against your model. They start building that mental model against your game. I think it was PT Barnum that said something like, no entrepreneur ever went broke overestimating the intelligence of the American public. Kind of my version of that is, no game designer ever went wrong by overestimating the narcissism of their players. And so the more it is...

Explore the Possibility Space

Learn the art and science of game design with Will Wright, the mind behind SimCity and The Sims. In this game design class, Will teaches you how to create games that empower players and unleash their imagination. You’ll develop a tool set for understanding player psychology, as well as learn Will’s approach to generating and pitching ideas, prototyping, playtesting, and building a community.

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4.7
Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

This course was equal parts inspiring and helpful. My favorite lessons were the two where he critiqued a game that someone else had made.

I love this class! It has taught me so much about game design best practices and theory that I can't to use.

I am one of the co-founders of Adventure Aide. The lessons have helped me and my team understand a bit more about how to make our app feel more like a game to our users and the communities that are forming within our network. Thank you!

Can't get enough of this class, but have to pace myself.

Comments

Jamal M.

I love how Mr. Wright incorporates human psychology into gaming seamlessly.

Stewart M.

Cannot download the pdf. Page says "This XML file does not appear to have any style information associated with it."

Daniel B.

Hello everyone, I am having some trouble understanding the difference between Schema and Mental Model. As I understand it right now, Schema are sort of the rules of different elements. For example, in Super Mario Bros 1 (NES) a schema could be if you jump on top of a goomba they die, if they hit you from the front or back then you either die or shrink. Another Schema could be if you press the B button you jump or fire. Then a mental model could be something like: me trying to beat my highscore, or trying to finish in record time. Sort of the things that motivate me to want to play the game again. Is this correct? If so, then building a Mental model in the players mind would be sort of adding features that a player might find interesting? Like a Highscore or a timer? Something they can turn into their own little challenges?

XHXIAIEIN

# Chapter 05: Exploring Player Psychology > Will believes game development is as much about programming a player’s brain as it is about programming the game itself. Learn Will’s strategies for creating compelling games that take player psychology into account. >https://www.masterclass.com/classes/will-wright-teaches-game-design-and-theory/chapters/exploring-player-psychology/ --- WILL WRIGHT: More than anything else, I've found the psychology to be the really tricky, challenging part of game design. The technology is advancing every year. What we can do on modern computers makes me as a designer feel almost unlimited. You can do amazing things on these electronics. Player psychology though, human brains are not advancing. They're the same as they have been a hundred years ago. We have to learn how it works. What are the inner workings of that computer and how can we exploit it and use it to our advantage? There's actually a great book, I think it's out of print now, it's called "Maps of the Mind". Each page was kind of a visual representation of one psychological theory. It might be Maslow's Pyramid or Freud and the Id. Each one of them was a different way, a bit different perspective, on the human mind and human psychology and the way it worked. Each one is kind of a tool and has its particular purpose and works well in certain situations and not well in others. None of them are really the right approach that I'm going to religiously adhere to. But each one contains something valuable that might be of use to me in the future. Maslow's Pyramid turned out to be very useful for The Sims for instance. The vary base core of The Sims had to do with feeding the motives of The Sims-- hunger, entertainment, sleep, all those things. We started building very, very simple little prototypes that was just a set of sliders and buttons. I could press a button for food, sleep, entertainment, and basically trying to balance these little sliders. At some point, we decided one of the major goals in The Sims would be to have them actually go to work and earn money so you can go out and buy more junk for your house. Now, we basically had a reason to get all these sliders up to some state that they go to work in a good state. The better their state is, the more money they earn. So we're connecting these base motives to the larger aspirations, which is exactly what Maslow's Pyramid was all about. --- ## Get Inside the Player's Mind The game designer is really kind of playing with the player's psychology. By giving them certain freedoms, certain limitations, certain goals states, you're trying to get them into a certain motivation within this little world that you've crafted and make them want to do things or want to avoid things happening. You basically want to set up this structure in their head that they're motivated to do this and avoid that. But you want to have an environment where they start feeling strong motivations for their actions. And then, now it's up to them to start testing their model against your model. They start building that mental model against your game. I think it was PT Barnum that said something like, no entrepreneur ever went broke overestimating the intelligence of the American public. Kind of my version of that is, no game designer ever went wrong by overestimating the narcissism of their players. And so the more it is about the player, the more the player is celebrated, the more the player is the center of that universe, generally, the more they like it. --- ## Build a Mental Model in Your Player's Head At the very beginning, one of the chief fundamental components of game design, one of the skills that you really want to master as a game designer, is the ability to build a mental model in your player's head. And this is really kind of an art form. This is something I've learned from magic actually, from magicians, is that when a magician is performing a trick, what they're actually doing is they're getting the viewers, the audience, to craft a mental model of what's going on, but they're getting them to craft exactly the wrong mental model. Such that, you think this is in my hand, you think this is my hand, I pull the handkerchief back, it's not. I've actually, thought a lot of different techniques as a magician, got you to build an incorrect mental model, and then when I do the reveal, you see that hey, my mental model was wrong. In fact, what the magician was doing was some other manipulation over here. And as a game designer, we take that kind of approach in some ways. We're actually having our players interact with little pieces of computer memory and code and interface buttons, but in their head they're building an entirely different model. There's a world that they're in with verbs and nouns and affordances and agency and actions and possibilities and goal states. That's what we're actually building in our player's head. And so in some sense, the game designer is a much more elaborate magician doing this. --- ## Human Behavior Is Derivved From Mental Models We're modeling things all the time. You're modeling other people all the time. I'm imagining what my friend is thinking about me. I'm imagining what they know about me and I try to be consistent with that. So I'm not only building a model of my friend, but I am building a model of their model of me. It's recursive. I can remember what they have seen me do, how they've see me behave, and I have a very rough sense of what their model of me is and I try to be consistent with that. So this modeling is pretty deep and recursive in that sense. You can put any kid in front of a video game and right off the bat they start mashing buttons, looking at what's happening, they observe, and it's very much the scientific process where they are doing hypothesis, experiment, look at the result, go back refine the hypothesis, experiment, look at the result. It's that iterative scientific process. And that is basically model building of a different sort. Now, in building models we take in a lot of data, a lot of examples. And from that, we started looking for patterns in that data and things that are different, things that are the same, and after that we start building abstractions out of that-- these what we call schema. And basically, these are patterns that we see in the world. Any kid can tell you the difference between a dog and a cat, and that's a schema that we have internally. And it's really a very fine set of features to distinguish the difference between a dog and a cat. But it's a schema that we have, and so we can look at any new dog or cat and say right off the bat it's a dog or a cat against our schema. Now, from that we started building more elaborate things called models. These schema, these patterns, now become the components of the models that we're building. And that now influences our behavior. We behave against these models, basically running scenarios. Should I do this or that? Should I get this job or that job? Should I say A or B? And so all of our behavior really is based against us playing these models in our head about what we should do. Now schema are really interesting in that we have schema for some different things. For instance, in a restaurant, we have this rough idea of things that happen when we go into a restaurant. Not all these things always happen, but in general, that's a pretty good schema for what to expect when I walk into a restaurant. Some of the schema that we are dealing with. - Classification, who are the good guys and the bad guys? - Causality, if you find a pot of gold, you'll be rich. - Empathy, if you see a hungry dog, you feel bad for it. - Agency, if you have control, you can command your fate. We have schema for all of these different things. And you're controlling the player's schema in some sense as a designer by what you present them with, how it operates, how it behaves. When I see five turtles come at me in a row and all attack me, I start saying, OK, turtles are a bad thing in this game. That's a schema I'm building as I play the game, part of a model building. And games, in some sense, are generating these worlds from the models. So a game is really almost the reverse of science. Science is really taking all this data from the world, compressing it down into a very concise, small rule set-- laws of physics. Games take a very concise codebase and try to expand it into a wide range of possibilities that the player's going to encounter in your game. And then the player is trying to reverse engineer that process and now build a concise representation of that. So it's really kind of interesting the way these models are coming and going against the data and the operation of the world. But again, these mental models are key, I think, for a game designer to realize that's what they're building. --- ## Allow Your Model to Diverge From Reality The mental model that we're trying to create in the player is something that may or may not have a purpose really for you. I might be building a mental model for some player of SimCity about how cities work. But I know, as a designer of SimCity, that that model is not going to be correct. There are things about SimCity that do not match the real world. A lot of times, games and filmmakers as well will actually build a model that they know is incorrect, because that's what the players expect. SimCity 2000 I know that if the nuclear power plant caught on fire there'd be a giant nuclear explosion, which doesn't happen. It doesn't happen that way. There's fallout, but no nuclear explosion. But all the players expected that. And when it didn't happen they were saying, why didn't it blow up? So we made it behave that way. In movies, you see people shooting guns all the time and never hitting each other, or cars always blow up in the crash. All these things that you're building the wrong model in the player's head compared to reality, but as an enjoyable experience, they kind of expected-- why didn't the car blow up? So I'd say that what is correct is really the open question here. Are you trying to build-- if I'm trying to build a training simulator for an airline pilot, then yes, I want that simulator to actually train them to build a model of the way that plane really behaves, and that's my target. As an entertainment designer, and if I'm designing a city simulator and-- most of these players are not going to be designing a city like this. In fact, real cities are not designed with one person as the overlord like that. It's much more political. So I'm not that concerned that we take liberties like that. --- ## Enable Player Communities As an interactive experience, we want this whole thing to be centered on the player. And understanding that every player is different is kind of key to that. We want every player to be able to take their own path, have some freedom, agency, within our games. So we need to start thinking about how the players see themselves, their identity. Now, everybody wraps a lot of things around who they are. When you present yourself to other people, depending on the context, there's a place we live, your neighbors. I'm from Ohio, whatever it is. Your job, your profession, your skill set. Hobbies, things that you do. Or brands, products that you maybe have some allegiance to. All these things are components of your identity. And when you're interacting with other people, these are ways in which you mark yourself. You kind of surround yourself with these things saying this is part of what defines who I am. Now, we actually have a lot of very personal aspects to our identity, but also, we have communities that we live in. Sometimes real geographic communities, other times online communities. Some of these are based upon locations, some are based upon interest, profession. And then there's the world around us that we all kind of share what's going on in the wider world. It's almost like this target with successive rings going outward. The innermost ring being the most personal, the thing that most defines me as most unique. Going to the very general. We all live in the same world. Now, we find that as players get into games, they kind of all come in in the same way. They're all kind of casual players. I'm going to check this out, see what it's like. Some people really get into it. Other people might play it for a little while, put it aside, this game isn't for me. But the players that kind of keep going down that path into your game have a trajectory, and depending on what kind of game it is, they can take different paths into that what a lot of times becomes a community. For The Sims, we actually had a lot of casual players started to turn into what we called collectors. They would go on the web and they found a lot of other people had made objects or characters that they could download into their game, and so they would start collecting specific things. Some people would actually kind of specialize their collections. I want to do Wild West stuff or Star Wars things or whatever it is. Other people were actually the ones starting to build these collections on their web sites. And at first they would make a few objects, make a website, but then other people would start contributing to their website. Some of these websites grew very large and even became subscription. People were paying money just to download content that other players had created. And the core creators that were doing the really cool stuff were the ones kind of feeding these websites. So there was kind of an ecology that was happening here over time as the player got more and more involved, and then it became more and more part of their identity. The ones that were actually creating this stuff for The Sims, this was their hobby. They spent many hours doing this stuff. And it was kind of how they saw themselves as a creator of stuff for this game. In a lot of ways, it's kind of like an ecological pyramid, and the numbers kind of decrease as you go up, but there's also a base to that pyramid that's supporting the upper people, the creators. The very skilled people who are making cool things are supported by this very wide base of casual players. There's flow within this ecology of recognition. Casual players are saying, oh, that person's stuff is the best, or this is the coolest website. And that's what was fueling the people building these things. They just liked having that recognition. That whole thing has given rise to very large online communities around games. And these communities-- a lot of times the people involved in these communities don't even play the game anymore. That's actually kind of interesting to me is that the people that were doing The Sims for instance, some of them were running big websites, creating all this stuff, and they hadn't played the game in months or years. But still, these were people they knew, they had relationships, they had a place in this community, they had recognition, they had a reputation. And for a lot of people, these games become kind of a hook into a social network of sorts or different types of social networks. And there are other games that are more competitive where they're actually playing professional sports like in these games and there are whole leagues and things like that. So these games, for a lot of people, became a doorway into these communities, which now becomes a very integral part of their identity, which is kind of a different thing than having the game just be focused on what the player is doing in the game. But now the game is kind of part of how they think about themselves and how they present themselves to the world. --- ## Motivate Your Player, Then Get out of Their Way I've heard a lot of stories from players about how they've taken their game experiences and how it's changed their life. For some people, they became storytellers. They started making a few stories, either Machinima or whatever, uploaded it, and a lot of people liked it and loved their style and the stories they told. And so it really pushed them into creative writing or filmmaking. I've talked to a lot of people who actually played SimCity went into civil engineering just because they enjoyed dealing with that kind of system. Other people that have gone into biology because of SimAnt, things like that. So sometimes it's motivational. And in fact, in education I think the fundamental issue we have in education isn't so much how we teach kids, but it's how we motivate kids. If you can get a kid motivated in a subject, they have plenty of resources to go learn it on their own. In fact, I have three boys at home, and they're learning more on YouTube right now than they are in school by far. And they're following their own interests. Once they get motivated-- my 8-year-old wants to learn about Minecraft, and he finds these Minecraft videos, and he can learn at his own pace exactly what wants to learn. So once you can get them motivated about something, just get out of their way basically. I think that's the key. ---

The Fool

Good to know your kids are like my kid ,ie, learning more from Youtube than school. Brick and mortar school systems are completely behind left in the nineteenth century. I wish I could give the whole world the gift of Masterclass.

Sally S.

This is such an excellent course that is stimulating my imagination but constructing a lattice work for me to build upon. Just love it! Thank you so much!

A fellow student

Hmm, as a hobbyist in gaming and reading about gaming, this is the first time I've come across such an in-depth view of connections in Psychology to Game Design.

Shan K.

Hi guys, (In this Lesson, Wright creates a framework for crafting gameplay). The 'Assignment' of Lesson 5 is a simple and elegant exercise on the player identity topic.