Tuesday, 2 March 2010

What do games optimise for?

I met the very interesting Margaret Robertson yesterday to talk about games and behavioural economics. Browsing her site I found this article from 2008:
Psychometric tests - widely used, but also widely criticised for being too formulaic and too easy to cheat - seem a poor and clumsy tool compared to the kind of insight a well designed game can give you into someone's ability and character.
Any online gaming veteran knows how quickly games reveal whether someone's a risk-taker or a banker, impetuous or strategic, obedient or rebellious - and how hard it is to fake your responses in the heat of the moment.
I wonder how true that is. Do games - instead of revealing "real character" instead show up people's lack of competence at real life?

What I mean is: in most situations there is an optimal, "rational" level of risk to take. Businesses would like their employees to take that amount of risk, no more and no less.

Games are generally simple enough that if you're good at them, you swiftly optimise for the right level of risk-taking and reward-seeking to maximise your score. Life is much harder. So if you play a game you're good at, you will probably take better (in the sense of objective goal-seeking) decisions than you would in reality.

This theory might still hold up if used with games that the person is not familiar with. And it could be especially interesting in the case where there is no simple score to maximise - because the game behaviours might then reveal not someone's techniques for goal-seeking, but what their goals are.

Intriguing idea in any case, and perhaps I should use it next time we hire a programmer. What's more it is probably not a bad way to solve the tough challenge of attracting good programmers in the first place. Maybe I should write a game about that.

1 comment:

Min said...

"Do games - instead of revealing "real character" instead show up people's lack of competence at real life?"

Lucky at cards, unlucky in love?

"Games are generally simple enough that if you're good at them, you swiftly optimise for the right level of risk-taking and reward-seeking to maximise your score. Life is much harder. So if you play a game you're good at, you will probably take better (in the sense of objective goal-seeking) decisions than you would in reality."

Well, put that way, it seems obvious that an expert in a game is probably not an expert in real life. But good game players may be better in terms of strategy in real life that poorer game players. I am not sure what you are driving at.

Nixon was a very good poker player, and made some very good strategic decisions as a politician and President. But he was not very good at real life.

OTOH, being good at real life probably requires different skills than strategizing. Like making friends. :)