October 12, 2010
Doesn't that sound like an apparatus from an villain in a sci-fi film or something like that?
You might be asking yourself "what the hell is that?" Well, an Operant Conditioning Chamber, or Skinner Box, is a structure where a subject being studied, usually a lab animal, is given some sort of lever system for either a reward or punishment. Common applications include a lever for food, or a lever to prevent electric shock. The nature of some motivational tools was discovered while using these structures in tests.
One thing that was noticed was that if pulling the lever always gave food, the subject (let's just call it a mouse) wouldn't worry about food. The mouse would just pull the lever whenever it was hungry, knowing that the food would be there. However, if the lever would only sometimes provide food, and sometimes nothing would happen, the mouse would press the lever all the time. Therefore, it was discovered that if a reward was random, the mouse would repeat the action again and again to make sure it would receive it's reward.
Now, we all know food is a more important reward that many other things, but the Sims 3 is doing that to me. Its making me press the lever again and again!
"But d20 Sapphire," you might respond, "the Sims 3 has no goal! You can't be getting any reward from that game."
Au contraire, my dear devil's advocate, that's what makes this worse. You see, although the Sims 3 may not have concrete goals for gameplay, it allows the player to decide what goals he or she wishes to obtain. And they make sure there are plenty of goals. Other than just the usual happy family model to make, or doing scandalous stories like I do (because an affair from time to time makes things pretty interesting), there are tons of things to do like wishes, lifetime wishes, collectables, careers, skills, points to spend on rewards... and as the expansion packs continue the list goes on. Essentially I am the mouse, and I am deciding what reward will come out of that lever, even if I have to pull it hundreds of times to get the desired result.
It's almost like I'm convincing myself I'm customizing my experience because I can choose my goals, but to be honest reaching each goal puts me back in that Skinner Box. Different bait, same trap.
I'll be nice to the sims though, it's not as bad some other games. Cracked.com had a list of how games will get you addicted using some of the Operant Conditioning Chamber discoveries. A good amount of games will do this, partly because it's more effective and consistent way of profits than say, oh I don't know writing a good story and creating an engaging world? Yeah, it's cheaper to do it the brain washing way.
Think about it the next time you play your game. Are you comfortable as a player with a designer thinking of you like this:
And are you really getting enjoyment from your game if you're playing it like a mouse in that chamber?
No shame if you do, but it's a legitimate question to ask yourself. Because if you like these types of games, the market is going to put out more of them. Do we want to encourage game developers to think of us as mice in a Skinner Box?