Keynoting GDC China

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Nov 132012

I’ve been sadly neglectful of this blog! In the last few weeks, particularly, because I have been fighting off some sort of nasty flu thing… still have a lingering cough, in fact, and it’s been more than two weeks!

So that meant that while I was flat out in bed, I missed the official announcement about the talk I am giving at GDC China this weekend. It’s been years since I was in Shanghai, so I am looking forward to this!

As far as what the talk is about… well, it’s sort of an extension of the lines of thought from the Project Horseshoe talk Influences and the GDC Online talk It’s All Games Now, and even a little bit from the Theory of Fun 10 Years Later talk. Basically, it’s about the patterns of thinking that games tend to encourage… and how these ways of thinking may be affecting us culturally. After all, if games do their work in large part via neuroplasticity, then that means that the cognitive habits we are picking up as gamers must be having an impact on how we think about, well, everything.

What might those cognitive habits be? And what impact might that have?

It’s a keynote, and supposed to be “inspirational,” so it’s in a lot of ways a rather light treatment of the subject… but I think there’s a lot to dig into there, and not all of it is unalloyed good… instead, it will be a picture of trade-offs. For example, just recently I read an article on how the neural pathways for empathy and the neural pathways of logical thinking seem to be mutually exclusive; you can’t do both at the same time. You have to emotionally detach yourself to be able to do true systems analysis, but if you are conditioned to approach the world analytically, does this mean that you are conditioned to avoid empathy? Pure speculation, and of course the answer will not be clear-cut.

Anyway, here’s the details on the talk:

How Games Think
10:20-11:20 Sunday Nov. 18th
Raph Koster (Playdom/Disney Interactive)
Games change us. They change our brains, they change how we think.

We live in a world where we have always been shaped culturally by literature, history, myth, art, and music. But now games are a dominant new medium. They bring with them ways of thinking. And that means that we, as humans, will literally think differently. We will see the world through the lens of games, and we will change the world using the tools of games.

It cuts both ways, because not all of the ways that games teach us to think are better — they are just different. And as a result, the world is changing in radical new ways.

In this talk, come learn how games think, and what that means for how we think, and what it means for our future.

  5 Responses to “Keynoting GDC China”

  1. “For example, just recently I read an article on how the neural pathways for empathy and the neural pathways of logical thinking seem to be mutually exclusive; you can’t do both at the same time.”


    Might be technically true, but you can switch back and forth rapidly enough that there’s no discernable difference. If compassion and rationality were mutually exclusive, we’d have no paramedics.

  2. I believe with the discovery of virtual goods microtransactions as a way to monetize games, the medium has suffered a great setback and makes it harder fulfill what you outlined in your talk. Not just because of the example of cheating that you gave, although that was a great point. The larger issue is that gaming is increasingly funded by the sale of virtual goods, and that business model lends itself to a certain type of game design and a certain type of experience, and therefore, a certain kind of teaching done by the mechanics. Your book made it clear that once your brain has “solved the puzzle behind the mechanics”, it becomes bored and the activity no longer remains fun. While that should be mostly true, it fails to explain a widespread behavior where people have mastered a challenge, but want to repeat it over and over, due to slight variations in operant conditioning. And it’s this loophole that most game companies seek, because it’s the most cost effective in terms of creating a long term activity with high retention. Games that are built upon a traditional mastery loop are actually frowned upon for many reasons.

  3. @Fran, Raph also has talked about repeating the process after the fun is gone,

  4. @captainhawk, that is a very interesting article. I agree that it gives a good explanation for certain kinds of repetitive behavior, but I disagree that it fully explains the behavior I’m referring to. The situation I’m referring to involves games of chance and playing odds, where the player may have mastered the risk/reward dynamics of the game as far as humanly possible, but their brain never registered that mastery. So their brain believes that it can still find new optimal strategies, and recognize patterns in the noise. Maybe this is obvious Psych101 or maybe it’s completely off the mark. But from a business standpoint, a game mechanic that keeps itself fresh by using this illusion must be a very cost effective way to keep players engaged.

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