Psycogaming, a project that brings psychology to the world of videogames
The research and studies of psychology are increasingly steeped in more areas of the market related to new technologies and cultural products.
The electronic entertainment sector is no exception, and that is why it is more and more frequent that teams of psychologists are incorporated into the videogame development plans or that they offer indications and advice to help create totally immersive playable sensations. And we do not only talk about video games brain training, but almost any aspect is susceptible of being reinvented by psychologists dedicated to this interesting field.
Interview with Psycogaming
In Spain, one of these examples of entrepreneurship straddling basic psychology, the creation of video games and the disclosure of the potential benefits they can offer beyond leisure is the company Psycogaming, created in 2013 by Sergio Alloza and Marc Costal. We intend to interview you to learn more about this relatively little known marriage between psychology and video games.
Psychology and Mind: How did you come to start this project?
Psycogaming: Well, the initial idea emerged during the last year of the race. It was the second semester and we did not know what we would do when we finished. As a result of a class, in which we were asked to try to unite our passion (whatever it was) with psychology, we started to think about how to unite the broad field of psychology with the huge world of video games. And from that union came out Psycogaming, a project that initially aimed to analyze video games from a psychological point of view, but that has gone on over time.
What is the aspect of video games that interests you most as psychologists?
Marc: I'm very interested in the design aspect of the video game itself. Give background to the characters making them more consistent with the type of personality you want to transmit, finding contextual flaws in the scenarios that can interfere in the immersion felt by the player, or even getting the emotional situations that occur in the plot of the game are coherent with the emotion you want to feel.
Sergio: Without a doubt, motivation and engagement techniques and the phenomenon of flow. How a person can feel immersed in a video game and lose track of time, think and feel in a virtual world. And, in addition, how our brain adapts and changes to those routines and how certain capacities are intrinsically trained.
How have you been learning about the relationship between psychology and video games? Is there a book or magazine that you recommend?
PG: Well, from the beginning of the project and having finished the race, we realized that our training was going to be self-taught. When there are no postgraduate degrees with this specific topic, we begin to train, studying the bibliography resulting from past and current research on the relationship between videogames and psychology. In addition, we conducted several courses on video games and learning, game design and game development. Even today we continue to train in these subjects, among others, and expanding knowledge.
We recommend, above all, in addition to the existing bibliography, a book entitled: Don't bother me mom- I'm learning!, by Prensky, which collects quite well some of the ideas presented previously.
Are video game developers already using teams of psychologists, or is it relatively new?
PG: As far as we know, only some large companies have a psychologist on staff that helps design the games with the rest of the team. Of course we think it's a great idea, since the fusion of several disciplines always results in a better job.
In most videogames there is a narrative dimension and another playable dimension. In which of these two do you think it is more necessary to have people who are dedicated to psychology?
PG: In both, totally. Many times we play a video game with incredible mechanics, graphics and design, but the next day we do not play again because it does not have a story that hooks us. And many times we will have played a game of which the first impression has been very good from the narrative point of view, but as some mechanics are poorly designed do not invite the user to continue playing.
Hence, in both parts a supervision of almost every detail is necessary to ensure that people will have a good experience with the videogame. After all, that's what it's about.
And I guess you also have to see if the mechanics and the narrative fit well with each other.
PG: Yes. In general, this does not have a great difficulty.You simply have to adapt the mechanics to the limitations of the game or the programming language that you use. You will rarely find that the narrative limits the mechanics and vice versa. Many times, from the same narrative of the game will come unique mechanics, and mechanics can provide ideas on how the game can develop.
In what aspects of the development of the video game do you think it is more useful to have the advice of specialized psychologists? For example, in game mechanics, scenario design and characters, etc.
PG: We can certainly help in the development of all aspects of the game. From the commented ones to many more. Yes it is true that there are elements in which as psychologists we can be of more help, such as the mechanics of video games to help optimize cognitive abilities, or in the design of a coherent context to improve the user experience. Although for this it is necessary to touch almost all the elements. However, there are aspects, such as music, that we leave in more expert hands since our training and experience do not serve much to improve that element.
As for the design of scenarios, have you noticed if from environmental psychology you start to investigate and intervene on videogames? It occurs to me that it would be an interesting area for people who are dedicated to this branch of psychology.
PG: The truth is that we have not met anyone yet of this specialty in the world of video games. Utility? Surely they could provide their experience on the interaction between the physical environment and the player, only that in this case the environment would be virtual. Perhaps when the final boom of Virtual Reality occurs, we will see much more interest between this field of psychology and videogames.
What are the main barriers that a person from the field of psychology will encounter if they decide to dedicate themselves to something similar to what you do in Psycogaming?
PG: The first, and probably the most important, is the lack of formal training in this area within psychology. There are specializations of all kinds: clinical, educational, business, legal ... but it is very difficult to find something that combines the concepts of psychology and videogames.
And then, he would encounter the harsh business world and the difficulty of entering the world of videogames (how to get to be part of a videogame development studio).
And it will not be easy to start having contacts either.
PG: No, it's not easy. We suppose that if you have some acquaintance in the world it may be easier, since there are "hangouts" and events in which the developers come together to present projects, get to know each other and so on. In our case, we had no idea that this type of event exists, we had to go a lot further. For a friend we got the information that there was a kind of developer hangout in Valencia, and after thinking about it we decided to go the couple of days it lasted and introduce ourselves. Following this, they gave us the contact of a group that works in Barcelona, ZehnGames, and from which we started to know the whole Indie world in Barcelona. In fact, now in December we have been in Granada Gaming with them and it has been a very productive experience.
Beyond the problems that may have arisen along the way, how do you value the journey you have made so far with your project?
PG: Well, the truth is that we value it very positively. It is true that the beginnings were hard, with a vaguely defined project and a lot of bibliography to study, but the opportunities that have arisen have made it all the way to the current point worthwhile. Even so, we are aware that we have a long way to go and we hope to continue having the same luck.
Finally, an obligatory question. What is your favorite video game?
Marc: The Legend of Zelda, A Link To The Past, by Super Nintendo. The graphics are poor for the present, but it has an enveloping narrative and a considerable degree of freedom in such an ancient game. In addition to a acojonante soundtrack.
Sergio: Without a doubt, Golden Sun, from GBA. An incredible narrative, graphics and artistic design suitable for your time and interesting and attractive mechanics. Although we could devote another whole interview to throw flowers to an endless list of "favorite" video games.