The Neuroscience of Winning | Game/Show | PBS Digital Studios

The Neuroscience of Winning | Game/Show | PBS Digital Studios


  1. Hey, could you do an episode on how communities repurpose games? The example that first comes to my mind is Starbound, intended as a single player space exploration with, and building game, with some pour multiplayer support, but at the moment the community cries out for the multiplayer stability, and four out of the five top rated servers for the game are role playing servers. An episode on Role Playing communities, those that encourage players to write their own stories, an live out the actions of their characters, not level ups, grinding and classes, in games would also be fun.

  2. "Grabbing those dog tags to level up in battlefield"

    Aha, aha, ahahahaha. I'm sorry, but it's a funny statement from a Battlefield vet. Even if it is somewhat technically, in a roundabout way, true—ish.

    Still a funny sentence to hear.

  3. I don't know why, but traditional addictive dopamine loop style games do absolutely NOTHING for me. I could never get into WoW, and believe me, I tried several times with several different classes. Dungeon Crawlers like Diablo and Torchlight don't do much for me, likewise, shooter versions like Borderlands do nothing for me (And have shitty writing). I just never cared about Loot.

    And Destiny, some frankenstein abomination of all of the above, bored me before I finished the campaign. Same goes for Candy Crush. Tried all of these games. None of them hooked me.

    I get more addicted to skill based games. I'll play competitive shooters and LoL a lot more than these.

    I've just always found it odd when I just can't get into these games all of my friends rave about and get hooked on.

  4. Regarding ethics, it seems strange to me that you didn't address how the current trend for mobile game design is to prey on the bad feelings (like time locks or random rolls). But maybe this negative feedback loop to get you pull out your wallet is for another episode.

  5. I hate losing so much, that I can hardly play a game with accusing someone of cheating, or at least feeling they are cheating.  This is a problem with video games, cause I will get mad when things are not going my way, and start cursing like a sailor.

    I have been having fun with Role Playing Tabletop though, because I'm able to use losing or nearly losing into the my character and how they feel after a battle.

  6. While this applies to winning for the most part, I wouldn't say that it applies to winning exclusively (not that you implied such a thing of course.) 

  7. I'm not sure what came first, or what caused what, but there is a definite correlation between my playing less traditional games and playing more idle / clicking / upgrade games.
    There's just nothing more addictive than watching numbers go up and clicking a button to make them go up a little faster.

  8. I don't care whether I win or lose. It's how much of a challenge I had. Winning means nothing. Especially considering games frequently involve RNG to do it's best to imitate life.

    I will take one hard fought lost battle with tons of prediction on both sides over infinite easy wins any day.

    There are no studies I'm aware of to confirm it, but I'd be willing to bet most if not all of the best competitive players would agree with this sentiment too. After all, if it's just winning that matters, you have no reason to not just stick around the bottom feeding on the newbs.

    Which is coincidentally why I dislike most competitive games because many people do just that not realizing the people who are good at it and win frequently aren't taking their pleasure from their win alone but the challenge each match presented.

    When there is other stakes on the line in the form of real life prizes for winning they may be disappointed at losing but what you don't see is the juice is still flowing in their head.

  9. There is such a thing as false satisfaction, from what I have seen in most game I'm tired of the whole fight some imperial enemy as a tutorial to hype the player up, those games that want to convince you that you will be gratified with little dedication.

  10. Whenever I take down a boss in Dark Souls or get the finishing blow on a Rathian in Monster Hunter I literally can't wait to do it again. But for some reason in Pokemon if I defeat the Elite 4 or a particularity difficult player I don't get the same feeling of enjoyment. Does this happen to anyone else?

  11. Winning in fighting games has always led to character supremacy, and it always seemed understandable. It only becomes a problem when you start losing playing as the character you praised so greatly and thought was unbeatable. J-Stars is were I've seen this the most

  12. Doubt I'll be the first to make this reference, but here I go: I'll I do win, win, win, no matter what!!!!

    Translation: I love winning. I like feeling that I figured out a problem/puzzle/obstacle that stood in my path.

  13. Am I the only one who finds melee takedowns satisfying in FPS games? I don't know why but somehow that becomes the most satisfying thing to do in an FPS.

  14. I think most game designers who end up creating 'exploitative' dopamine inducing reward loops are likely doing it as a subconscious level, because they also know how fun games can be. 

  15. When I was in college for game design, I felt like this kind of knowledge about a person's brain, getting them hooked into a game, etc, was a bit too much for me. I felt like I was going to playtest on guinea pigs, or like people were my experiments. I felt like I was going to abuse that knowledge. Later on, I dropped out of college for several reasons, but I remember this kind of stuff influencing my decision for quitting.

  16. ~(Because I'm happy)
    Clap along if you feel the dopamine's rushing through
    (Because I'm happy)
    Clap along with the groove, 'cause you're happy that you're winning too
    (Come on!)~

  17. Although game designers mess with our heads to try and make us play a game more and get addicted to it, were still getting the same basic enjoyment out of the game. If I get a brand new game and I put it in and have tons of fun with it for an hour then get bored of it, I don't find that to be a rewarding experience. I would much rather choose a game that would bring tons of enjoyment rather than a game that gets boring after the first hour.

  18. That representation of dopamine @1:35 looks like a game itself. Where's a designer? Dopamine Simulator, the new biggest gaming hit of 2015. #playgoodfeelgood

  19. I'm more interrested in that "addicting, frustrating hell" feeling. I'm sure it's the other half of why we feel good when we win.

    I've been playing a lot of difficult rogue-like games (teleglitch and nuclear throne) where it's just so frustrating but you want to keep playing to get as far as possible. 

  20. Idk, yeah winning is awesome, but at the same time if I see my team get a pentakill in league, or a huge line of tanks rush an objective in battlefield, i'll still be happy if I lose.

  21. The topic of dopamine also explains why it feels less fulfilling to play just any game these days when you have been playing games for decades.  Not much seems new.  I totally get the desire to make formulaic games that sell well, but more and more it feels like the only dopamine reward is only at the end of a simple player campaign (which is a lot of time to invest for not much in return!)

    Also good that you touched on Blizzard, the masters of hook games.  You could even go a bit further and mention how closely they resemble plain old gambling (just with a bit more generosity than casinos and cards).  Players closely research drop rates and behaviors in Diablo and WoW and similar games, to the point where defeating a boss becomes akin to throwing the dice.  Unfortunately, the same rules of addiction apply also.  Come on, lucky seven!  

  22. Maaakes sense why I can't stop shiny and perfect IV hunting in ORAS. I got a shiny Absol at my first attempt to chain at a startlingly low chain of 47, and then I'm like "Okay, now to get another!" I've done several 150 chains since and haven't gotten another shiny, aha. Atm I'm chaining Ditto (pref for 5 or 6 IVs). On chain 139 right now. Not a very good run though, not getting many 3stars.

  23. Usually I only feel that Victory rush when beating a cheap bastard. Honestly, I feel It when the game gives me a lot to work with, like deck building or having to manipulate a grid to get a character to have sufficient skills

  24. Very cool video. 🙂

    So, from what I can tell, this video gives us a bio-psychological explanation of why we keep playing games: we play because we want a continued dopamine (and sometimes seratonin) rush. But I think it's also important to ask the question: why exactly do we play hard games at all when we know that we're going to fail? If a game is sufficiently difficult, it's almost a reason not to play it. Jesper Juul calls this the paradox of failure, and and I think it's a difficult paradox to overcome. After all, I don't think a series of dopamine rushes is enough compensation for hours and hours worth of failure. There must be another important set of rewards we get from games that is worth the time we spend failing while we play them. 

    I think we don't have to look too far to find rewards, though. "Papers, Please" gives me important experiential knowledge; when I play it, I learn how easily we can ignore moral considerations when the immigration papers stack up. "Journey" gives me this intimate  telematic experience with other players that tricks me into feeling as though I just went through the ringer with someone. Any other ideas, though?

  25. Perhaps this is why flappy bird was so popular. In fact, mobile games often take advantage of dopamine loops in some pretty bad ways. (cough cough candy crush cough cough)

  26. Playing Super Smash Bros with my dormmates in college is always a good time.I thought I was decent, but someone always comes along and floors me. But when I beat them in a match after losing 10 matches to them, it feels darn good. Thanks dopamine.

  27. I wonder if age has anything to do with levels of dopamine released when winning. Back in my teens, the euphoria from finishing Megaman X to Final Fantasy 7 was simply ecstatic and memorable. But now in my 30s, completing Bioshock Infinite and Tomb Raider 2013 (yeah, sadly those were the among recent games I finished) barely managed to leave me satisfied and somewhat wanting. Perhaps the years of gaming may of worn out my dopamine receptors despite new experiences and developments in video games.

  28. I think it is important to make the distinction between enjoyment and compulsion. Do we get every steam achievement because we enjoy it, or because we simply have a compulsion to do it? The distinction is subtle but important, and experimentally it is very difficult to disentangle pleasure from voluntary action. Ben Lewis-Evans wrote an intriguing review the sometimes ambiguous research on dopamine and how it relates to game design:

  29. I've always been curious about the effect that Dopamine has that makes you return to a game after months or years of not playing. I know I have a dopamine hit just from remembering how much I liked playing Dwarf Fortress, which I think renews my cycle all over again. This would have to be the main thing that keeps someone engaged in a game for years rather than months, right?

  30. I think winning feels different depending on the genre of game. In an adrenaline-fueled competition (esp. racing or fighting), I definitely feel a rush of winning. But in more methodical, thoughtful, puzzle-type games, winning feels a bit more like relief. I feel like I have achieved a basic level of competence, not like I'm flying high on the rewards of being awesome.

    And in games where I am stomping the daylights out of a competitor, I actually feel a little bad… buuuuut I don't let them win, either, so…

  31. I'm working as a game designer on Free To Play strategy games, and I absolutely relate to that video. The dopamine feedback loop is totally engineered and perfected over time in the games I make, and it is a well known principle to make a game more addictive in mobile games.
    I also absolutely agree with the statement at the end of the video: this feedback loop is a tremendously efficient way to drive objectives of the player, but it should never be what you are aiming for as a designer (otherwise, what's the difference between your game and a simple dopamine dispenser you may ask?). It should be a mean to for a greater end, not the end itself. 
    However I must say it is sometimes hard to convince people in the industry of this, as there is a general misleading usage of the term "addictive" or "rewarding" as a way to judge the quality of a game. When designing such systems, it is hard to push it into something greater as this "addictive" property is sometimes seen as what we should aim for: I'm confident that with time, the game industry will see the limit of this 😉

  32. When I win it feels like e3r1flgt3khojh2p4ih6n8b9031mib5 9t' gmu!!! FUCK YEAH WHERE YOU AT!? WHERE YOU AT!?

    …Oh man, League Of Legends.

  33. I feel like this also explains why getting achievements feels so good, it's like being recognized for being good at a game. To take it a step further, though, this feedback loop reminds me of how steam badges (which, come on, are totally just achievements) become strangely addicting. I remember thinking how dumb it was for valve to announce the cards that can craft badges… until I finally got enough cards to craft one. Then they make it even more enticing by promising higher "drop rates" at higher levels. I personally don't pay any real money for cards, but I can see how someone could become addicted (like how some people lose control and drop lots of money on pay to win games) .

  34. This is why I always make sure to get all my favorite weapons in StatTrak when playing CS:GO.

    It's very satisfying to see the
    little orange digital counter go
    up whenever i get a pick. 😀

  35. I'm reading through Scott Rigby and Richard Ryan's book, Glued to Games, which looks at loops and design from an applied psychology perspective, rather than a mechanical, biology perspective.

    While this video is great at elucidating WHY, biologically, we like winning, it misses the mark on HOW game designers can get there. Scott and Richard's work have found that appealing to several base, intrinsic needs is what really attracts players and makes them enjoy playing, and winning, games.

    When games recognize our hard work and skill with a flag pole finish or a level up, the game appeals to competency. When games provide meaningful choice in the action minute to minute and beyond, the game appeals to autonomy. And when games create meaningful connections within us to the game's world and characters, as well as other real life players, the game appeals to relatedness.

    These needs not only make games enjoyable, but Scott and Richard have found that they make almost anything more enjoyable, ranging from work to the class room, and elsewhere.

    I really recommend investigating their research and adding it to the pantheon of work on this channel. 

  36. is this also why some one would get "gamed out" being at a state that some one doesn't want to play a game or just doesn't know what he/she wants to play?

  37. Dopamine also has to do with addiction. I'm kind of surprised you didn't touch on gambling addiction, especially the way video poker machines operate, in this episode. Not the most positive stuff, but it's interesting how it's a double-edged sword.

  38. A little disappointed that this episode covered basic high school biology in lieu of talking about games that are addictive to 'target whales' which is a much bigger consequence in the gaming space currently. A negative side of game addiction that is very similar to gambling addiction. 

  39. But how do our brains know to shoot us up with dopamine when playing video games. Food and drugs can affect us chemically, but how can video games affect us physiologically?

  40. I think my most satisfying game win was Mass Effect 2. That ending was so satisfying I felt like fireworks were popping all around to celebrate my Shepard's awesomeness in telling The Illusive Man what it is. This is my ship, my crew, byeeeeeeee

    Gods, that felt good.

  41. While i knew over the chemical effects of winning (or success) already, i found it good to see that you brought the "dopaminloop-strategies" of some developers to our attention. It was a repetitous thought of mine how progression based games are developed, while playing them. Never thought about the circumstance that even Devs are talking about dopaminloops when they create games. But actually it is kind of logical. =)

    Also: A very entertaining episode. =)

  42. How about losing? Why do I feel so bad when I lose at a game? Is it lack of dopamine release? Wouldn't just sitting in a chair also be a lack of dopamine release? Whats the difference?

  43. There are a lot of games which already 'weaponize' this loop. Free-to-play Facebook and casual mobile games are particularly notorious for being skinner boxes disguised with sparkles and tunes. They get you super close to the chemical payoff, then ask for some small amount of money to continue. If you pay that small amount, of course, you get your dopamine fix almost immediately, so you start to associate the paying of money with the positive experience. End result, it's that much easier to get money out of you again in the future. A vicious cycle.

  44. Sometimes the sounds of achievement causes a great response. Listen to the achievement or trophy sound on ps or xbox, they sound good and rewarding. Same goes for collecting coins in Mario or rupees in Zelda. My personal favourite was in Jak and Daxter when you collect Powercells there is a full blown cutscene and celebration.

  45. You're calling them game loops, though there is a game designer that actually used the term "compulsion loop."  This isn't a correction so to speak, but I want to say that I think saying that these design/craft considerations are "Exactly the same" isn't entirely right.  Similarity does not mean the same quality of action in this instance.

    Inducing addiction in someone is quite possible in a game, but to what end, I think that is where folks likely take issue.  Saying they're "exactly the same", I think that's almost close to dishonesty.  Say you want to unlock a Navigator in Persona 4 Ultimax.  The game requires you to play Score Attack on "Risky", which is the hardest difficulty in the game.  The designers chose to do this, and the impact is that they've also placed DLC packs available for purchase at the cost of 14.99 usd and 24.99 usd respectively.

    They then go on to say, when you look at this DLC that it's "Unlockable through gameplay."  The quality of where this compulsion directs you, its impact, is very different from a game that might be using craft to communicate something mechanically.  A game like Ys created the "everyman" of Adol to note something about the struggle of both a culture and just a general feeling of struggling in general, life as struggle being a common metaphor.  Which is easy to take for granted if you fail to note how video games provide their own unique vantage point compared to the different, and useful, portrayals we see in other media.

    But simply saying that all these things are made equal?  Game loop?  I mean, it's up there, designers recognize that they can induce addiction in players.  And we can measure that on the impact of where something like in-app purchases are placed.

    Free 2 Play games, their players, use the terminology "Pulling" to describe trying to get a new character they want.  Pulling has an etymological basis in GAMBLING, as in "pulling the slot machine lever."

    Yes, all games have loops, but I think saying they're all the same… that's a vital piece of criticism being ignored or brushed aside.  You need to really consider the argument that's trying to be made because I don't think it's a necessarily poor judgment for someone to say "I don't care for your right to try to compel me to spend money in a way that disrespects my time and agency."

    I'm not really going to defend a designer's ability to induce addiction, especially when one such designer can so adequately describe what ends it reaches for.

  46. how do different game genres compare in their feedback loops, and what does the preferred game genre say about that person's response to dopamine?
    I personally play FIFA as often as I can, and for the most part, aside from replaying Jak and Daxter or any Spyro game, FIFA is the only game I play. I guess my curiosity falls to the idea of how does FIFA specifically designs their loops? Is each pass considered an event to reward, and if so are they rewarding each and every pass, regardless of consequence? (general pass to a team mate in the backfield vs a through ball to a striker about to score). 
    If goals were the only thing they reward, they do an illustrious job of it, but I don't feel like just the goal itself accounts for how awesome it feels to score in FIFA. Even further some goals have lower probabilities of success when taken then others. 

    If someone can decipher my inquiry and reword it with any semblance of rationality and coherence, I would consider thou most righteous. 

  47. wow. its been a long time i have found a channel that is so well produced and full of information like yours. really enjoy your content and production level, keep it up. do what you love, because its just awesome !

    greetings from germany ! 🙂

  48. To be honest, it has been many, many, years since I've felt satisfied from winning in a single player game, no matter what it is. And I feel sad because I used to get so excited from beating Mario, Sonic, and Mega Man. Now…not so much. I can't tell if games have gotten easier or if I've just gotten better. Either way, it doesn't feel like a reward anymore to win. 

    The only thing that makes me come back to video games over and over again, is the interesting experiences in store, the design choices the devs make, and just overall appreciating the hard work that goes into the games.

  49. Engineers say: You learn more from failure than success. How should that effect game design, winning and balance? I will say that is story based games like telltales Game of Thrones need death and failure as a mechanic but are intentionally easy so as to not take the player out of he experience unnecessarily. Strategy games on the other hand may actually be better if you loose more often than not. It improves you as a player in a very competitive game genre that relies on challenge to be interesting. What is really interesting is how this effects asymmetrical multiplayer games like Evolve or Fable Legends. Favoring one side over the other in the balance by say 10% means (in a 1v4 game) that 80% of the player base can be winning 60% and the other 20% winning 40% a net gain on the average win rate of all players. Or you could do it the other way around. I feel like there is a lot of potential in that fact for games that are supposed to reach a wide audience like mobile or more hardcore games that want to make it easier for new casual players to be integrated in or maybe for mixing/combining genres in a game with less conflict.

  50. I find draws in PvP games to be much, much more enjoyable than wins.
    Actually, it puzzles me why designers reward wins more than draws…

  51. I honestly don't think that it's the game designers responsabiltiy to design good games but rather my job as a consumer to see if the game is worth investing time in. That's why I stay away from games like World of Warcraft, Flappybirds, Runescape etc. because I know they are not really good for me in the long run. Instead I play games like Hotline Miami, Skyrim or Counter-Strike (casually) wich either has a good storyline and/or don't require me to play all the time to be able to enjoy them.

    Kinda like how it's my responsibility to not smoke ciggarettes when I know that they are not good for me, you feel me?

  52. So what happens biologically when you don't actually feel good after winning something? What does it say about the player and what does it say about the game? Why do some people feel good after succeeding and some people feel less good or even not good at all when succeeding at that same game?

  53. Thank you for posting this!  I'm doing a project on the rhetoric hidden in free-to-play mobile games, and this idea of behavioral loops will definitely play into it!

  54. A good game is the one that makes you release dopamine without the need of a reward. Bad game design comes from Skinner box (Rats pushing botons to get food). A good game borns out of making the gameplay enjoyable, not only the reward.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *