Game Development Reference
B.F. Sk inner believed that all organisms, including people, are no
more than “repertoires of behaviors” driven purely by external forces. And
he took this idea to its logical conclusion—that there is no useful concept
of a self at all. In his memoirs, he wrote:
I am sometimes asked, “Do you think of yourself as you think of the or-
ganisms you study?” The answer is yes. So far as I know, my behavior at
any given moment has been nothing more than the product of my genetic
endowment, my personal history, and the current setting….If I am right
about human behavior, I have written the autobiography of a nonperson.
Skinner's later followers were less extreme on this point than the man
himself. But his legacy lives on in some of the theories in modern game
design. This view of design sees it as a task not of creating emotions or
fulfillment, but of triggering behaviors. It ignores the phenomenological
experience of play entirely, and treats game design as the construction
of virtual Skinner boxes that extract the maximum intensity of a desired
behavior from the player. And usually that behavior is giving the publisher
This is a topic of craft, not ethics. And these questions are bigger than
this quick overview. I haven't discussed the player's responsibility, com-
pared games to other media, or looked into the mixed positive and negative
outcomes of nearly all games. So I won't attempt to provide some final
answer to this dilemma.
But I can offer one designer's perspective. I think that any designer
who cares enough to master the craft wants to do more than build Skinner
boxes. In the long run, this may be the only sustainable path. Reward-
driven grinding games spread fast among naïve players because they're
easy to pick up. But over time, these players learn to avoid player's remorse.
And after their lust for pointless loot has been exhausted, and they have
learned all our tricks, players will still want what they've always wanted
from games: new ideas, new friends, and new experiences.
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