Game Development Reference
developers throw good money after bad for years, unable to accept the
failed idea and move on.
The availability heuristic makes us respond only to things and possibil-
ities that we can perceive or imagine, and ignore those we can't as though
they don't even exist. The Nobel-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman
calls this WYSIATI, for what you see is all there is . This is why people always
worry about surviving a repeat of the last terrorist attack instead of all the
other dangers of life. Since that attack happened and was very memorable
and dramatic, it is highly available to the mind for processing. It can be
envisioned, feared, and responded to. Meanwhile, other potential dangers
don't come to mind, even though they're just as likely. So they're treated as
though they don't even exist.
The availability heuristic expresses itself in game design constantly,
because game systems and players often do things that cannot be envi-
sioned beforehand. We end up treating the game as though it is only what
we've seen it do, instead of treating is as a system that can usually do more
than we've ever seen. For example, this is why balance designers often
mistakenly overcorrect for the last balance failure they saw. That last bal-
ance failure may be just one among hundreds that the game can express,
but since it's mentally available and the others are not, it is treated as if it
is the only one that exists. What you see is all there is.
And there are hundreds of other such biases. I won't go through any
more, but look at the recommended works at the end of this topic for some
excellent reading on them.
To some extent, we can counteract our biases by using our rational
minds to override what our emotional brains are telling us. But there's a
limit to this—we can't eliminate our biases entirely because we're always
What we can do is choose to use processes that minimize the impact
of cognitive bias. We can set up social structures with checks and balances
and follow procedures that get around our individual biases. The legal
system and the scientific method are examples of these kinds of antibias
processes outside game design. We need similar methods in game design
to get past our evolutionarily ingrained assumptions.
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