Getting Gamers: The Psychology Of Video Games And Their Impact On The People Who Play Them, by Jamie Madigan
It is very obvious that this book is written by someone who is very fond of video games, but also someone who has a critical view of the way that game design manipulates the behavior of people, not always for the better. If the author is by no means hostile to games or the way games are often designed, the author does want the reader to become more aware of how games incentivize certain behaviors, and how the attempts to deal with some undesirable behaviors do not always work as intended. The author also seeks to combine a critical perspective of game design with scientific principles of brain activity and psychology. Furthermore, the way that the author discusses the way that people behave online and in games leads him to ponder ways that behavior relates to context, and that the context of games is not always as straightforward as we might imagine. People might, for example, enjoy violent games for the ability to display competence rather than the specifically violent aspects of the game, for the most part, and this has an effect on the way that we view the content of the game as being secondary to the motivation on the part of the gamer.
The book itself is about 250 pages long and is divided into four parts. The first part of the book looks at those who play games, and has chapters on why people become raving lunatics online (1), why people cheat, hack, and peek at strategy guides (2), why fanboys and fangirls are so eager to fight each other (3), and why we get nostalgic about old games (4). The second part of the book looks at those who make games, and asks how games get us to keep score and compete (5), how games get us to grind and complete side quests and chase achievements (6), and how developers keep us excited about new loot (7). The third part of the book examines those who sell games, looking at the question of immersion in game worlds (8), why we go crazy for game sales (9), how we get hooked on microtransactions (10), how games keep players playing (11), and how games get players to market to each other (12). The fourth part of the book then looks at the games themselves with chapters on how we shape avatars and how they shape us (13), why we like violent games so much (14), and whether or not games make us smarter (15). The book then concludes with a discussion of where psychology and video games go from here and notes, bibliography, and an index.
What this book has to say is something that is likely to trouble a lot of people, especially because of the way that a great deal of behavior relating to games is so context-dependent. The greater anonymity of the online world and the lack of empathy we have with people we only know from words and not tone or body language all tend to contribute to the sort of stupidity one finds all too easily in stan culture. Likewise, the desire of human beings to prove competence and to complete tasks means that game creators can easily create a chain of quests that lead people to spend far more time than they intended in a game world in order to get things done, even if the utility of what one is getting done is fairly limited to nonexistent. The way that gamers like to leave certain options open also makes it interesting when game creators force resolution in certain matters, as in the relationship components of various games like FF7 and others like it. Knowing how game merchants manipulate behavior to encourage expenditures and deal with the way that the design of game incentivizes certain forms of cheating where resources and real world money change hands will likely make some readers more cynical about the companies that make video games, but that may not be such a bad thing after all.