Research using SCIENCE to make games more fun

2 min read


Ever wondered why sometimes when you’re playing a game, you’re just not enjoying yourself – while other games make you feel like you’ve been sucking on Nitrous oxide and snorting cocaine off of dead hookers’ backs? No, it’s not because of the gameplay, mechanics, or visuals. It’s because of a completely quantifiable thing, called fun.

At the Develop Conference, researchers have stated that they’ve been able to measure that magical element that’s missing from some games, fun. Graham McAllister founder of Player Research, says that they’re able, using sensors, to provide insight into how people interact with games – and measure how much fun they are.

“We put sensors on people’s bodies when they’re playing games,” he said at the conference.

They then measure changes in people’s bodies when they’re playing games, interviewing them later about what caused those changes. somehow, they end up with a measure of how fun those games are.  Wellcome Trust’s senior researcher takes things further by applying neuroscience to the survey.

“A lot of different things happen in the brain,” he said. “As neuroscientists we do a lot of the same experiments that Graham does, and use the same sensors, but then we also take a look inside the brain.

“A lot of the stuff we focus on has to do with dopamine,” he continued. “We’ve known for a long time that it has to do with reward, but it’s hard to know what exactly it’s doing.” Rutledge uses several techniques to measure what’s happening in the brain. MRI scanning is the most useful: “It lets you tell where oxygen levels are higher in the brain, and you can do that in real time – so while someone’s playing a game, you can see where oxygen levels go,” he said.

The research has turned up some pretty interesting things. Most notably, people seem to have maximum fun not when they’re winning (LIKE A BOSS!) but more when the results exceed their expectations. The research has found that all games – every single one – share 9 traits, one of them being “fun.” No word on what the other 8 are, but they’re apparently things that could be considered as barriers to having fun – and the whole point of the research is to remove those barriers.

Soon, you could be playing games so goddamned fun your brains will explode.

Last Updated: July 11, 2012

Geoffrey Tim

Editor. I'm old, grumpy and more than just a little cynical. One day, I found myself in possession of a NES, and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3. It was that game that made me realise that games were more than just toys to idly while away time - they were capable of being masterpieces. I'm here now, looking for more of those masterpieces.

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