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Conditioned to play

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  • 1. Conditionedto PlayAs people play, theorists have explainedthe nature and classification of games.Important constituents of games include theway elements reinforce or punish actionsand trigger desired behaviours.The questionthen arises of how games are constructed toinduce behaviours and condition us.by Vandana U.Photo Credit: Rage.com.my
  • 2. Kuliza Social Technology Quarterly Issue 07“Come, there’s no use in crying like that!’ said Alice toherself, rather sharply; `I advise you to leave off thisminute!’ She generally gave herself very good advice,(though she very seldom followed it), and sometimesshe scolded herself so severely as to bring tears intoher eyes; and once she remembered trying to boxher own ears for having cheated herself in a game ofcroquet she was playing against herself, for this curiouschild was very fond of pretending to be two people.`Butit’s no use now,’ thought poor Alice,`to pretend to betwo people! Why, there’s hardly enough of me left tomake ONE respectable person!”All the world is a game. Or at least it is starting to seem that way.The only reason people play is to have fun. There is no consciousattempt to do any other function other than having fun. While playing,unconsciously we end up performing several other functions: realizea few traits, behaviours, think rationally, apply ideas, fasten thoughtprocess, improve dexterity, presence of mind, get an adrenalinerush, derive pleasure, create an adventure, face a mental challenge,get relief, and even create alternative identities, but none of theseare a part of the primary motive of playing.A game’s value proposition is how it makes its players-customersthink and feel. We devote a great deal of our time into playing gamesconsciously. Unconsciously we are all the time stepping into orcreating game-like situations. Therefore a game is not a surprisingsource of inspiration for marketers. We play all the time. Plus, weare conditioned to play. When marketers convert customers intoplayers, the level of involvement they are seeking for customers istremendous. This article attempts at a better understanding of theCampaigns
  • 3. methods of reinforcement being utilized in order to examine how andwhy people naturally return day after day to play games. It goes backto conditioning: primarily operant conditioning. The objective is toshed light on the practical as well as ideological use of conditioningin constructing games.What is Play?Writers, researchers, scientists, and psychologists all stress onthe need and significance of play. To explain play is to describe its“meaningfulness” for the players.According to Johan Huizinga, “Play is the primary formative elementin human culture.” His book Homo Ludens describes play as “A freeand meaningful activity, carried out for its own sake, spatially andtemporally segregated from the requirements of practical life, andbound by a self-contained system of rules that holds absolutely.”Robert Caillois describes play as a free and a voluntary activity. Headds, “The spirit of playful competition is, as a social impulse, olderthan culture itself and pervades all life like a veritable ferment. RitualPhoto Credits:Lego Batman: floodllamaSoccer Fans: MonteismToy Blocks: Ryk Neethlinggrew up in sacred play; poetry was born in play and nourished onplay; music and dancing were pure play… We have to conclude,therefore, that civilization is, in its earliest phases, played. It doesnot come from play… it arises in and as play, and never leaves it.”While playing, rules may not pre-exist. When I think of times whenI would play with toys such as dolls or made origami shapes, therewere not existing rules I would go back to but I conjured them basedon my observation of surroundings, interactions, experiences,perceptions. I made my own set of rules, which made feel bad if Iflouted them; just as how Alice (Wonderland) did going to the extentof punishing herself.These definitions do not make play a simple voluntary activity, buta complex one. When semantically we would consider play asthe opposite of serious, play can intensely absorb the player andunconsciously making the play rather significant and serious. Let ustake a step back and look at how we are inclined to play as well ashow Operant Conditioning affects the way we play. While playingpeople get angry, excited, and on occasions even cry.
  • 4. Kuliza Social Technology Quarterly Issue 07conditioned to be able to perceive themselves as complying with themore desirable behaviours.Now that the conditioning affects our performance and behavioursso well, what adds to it is the level of dopamine activity, stimulatingthe appetite to play more. The neurotransmitter in the brain playssignificant roles in a variety of behaviours such as movement,cognition, pleasure, and motivation. It is released when one has areward-based experience. Robert Sapolsky, Professor of Neurologyand Neurological Sciences at Stanford University, in his researchconcerning dopamine release in the brain when rewarded andwhen anticipating a reward, talks about how “near misses” motivateand it is at this point dopamine level rises. These near misses areeffectively used in games. With an element of risk added to games,as in Battlefield or in World of Warcraft, risks and rewards becometriggers for the release of dopamine, which definitely gives a senseof satisfaction and is motivating enough to willingly indulge in morerisks and continuously perform risky and rewarding actions. Whileboth environment and genes are responsible for increased dopamineactivity and stimulation this is reason enough for the high statisticsin the number of players for each of the popular games. Farmvillehas 14,200,000 plus monthly active users. From videogames toFacebook and social games, millions play them. People maintaintheir game statistics, leader boards, and seriously take the gradesgiven on their performances.Playing games can be highly social, interactive, and stimulatingexperiences. Elements of conditioning characterize the engagingnature of games. These can make a player happy or unhappy; canboost one’s ego or hurt it. If we define activity and feelings of successor failure restricted to the fictive world then my argument wouldcollapse. Play and games blur the lines between perception of fictionand reality. Perhaps, this becomes a key characteristic for marketersto use play to condition us with stimuli and even our responses.Not winning can go the extent of making one feel incompetent. Nowonder we give in to being conditioned to play because even byinstincts we are bound to play.ReferencesSalen, Katie and Eric Zimmerman. The Game Design Reader: A Rules of PlayAnthology.Massachussets:The MIT Press“Operant Conditioning.”Wikipedia,The Free Encyclopedia.“Dopamine.”Wikipedia,The Free Encyclopedia.Nacke, Lennart.“Reward anticipation – A powerful tool for game design.” TheAcagamic.10 March 2011.“FarmVille Facebook Statistics.” Socialbakers.The term Operant Conditioning was coined by a B F Skinner,psychologist of the behaviourist school. Operant conditioningfeatures two key tools: reinforcement and punishment. Both of thesecan either be positive or negative in nature. Reinforcement is aconsequence that causes a particular behaviour to occur in greaterfrequency. Punishment is a consequence that causes a behaviour tooccur in less frequency.While I took upon the tasks of playing games as well as comparingmy experiences of shopping online and offline, taking part inpromotions, etc., I realized rewards was a great component ofthe game design. The premise is that a person is highly likely toengage actively in an activity when there is bound to be a rewardfor taking part. Also, many a times in the expectation of a reward wedo many actions even though they would not always yield a reward.The more early successes we experience, the more we are likelyto continue the same set of actions even as the levels of difficultymount and rewards become fewer. We do of course have a need tobe recognized and commended for a job well done. Maybe unlikeWatson or Skinner whose animal subjects had food as the reward,for humans rewards are in form of cash, kind, status, etc. Thesework as reinforcers. It is quite obvious then, rewards are persuasive.They work on aspirations. Any game-like context will already seta goal. Although, it may not be coherent with what one needs, thedesign can create an illusory belief of “I want it” in the very moment.Popular games, such as Farmville, Cityville, Mafia Wars, and theirsequels all go back to operant conditioning or Skinner’s box. Thefarming simulator game “Farmville” consists of a player being taughthow to plant crops by clicking on fragmented pieces of virtual land.With only a few crops alone available easily, others need to beunlocked. After a few hours or even days for some crops, people canharvest these crops and gain Farmville currency, experience points,and gradually move levels. Although the process sounds rathersimple, there is a great deal more to it. The earning of Farmvillecurrency gives rise to aspirations of users to purchase different farmtools, even clothes for the farmer to look more attractive as well as“unlock” different items. Such accessibility is responsible for thebehaviours the game wishes to induce. However, if crops are notharvested in a certain amount of time they will wither and players willnot receive any rewards for planting them. This works effectively asa punishment. The entire cycle makes one go back time and again.As some crops require only a few hours to be harvested, one canonly wonder how much time people spend on such a game and beabsorbed by it. Moreover, the more people one gets in to play, themore cash and “XPs” one can get. It has been effectively designedto get more people to play, even get addicted, along with a horde ofsocial obligations of helping on others’ farms, sharing rewards, etc.These impose conditions of continuous game play. Furthermore, asplaying gets more social, people modify behaviours on their ownaccord to match the desired behaviours. In this way, people are

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