Something I hear on MMORPG message boards fairly often is “OMG, the devs must have hired a psychologist to figure out how to make us play more” or something to that effect. While I haven’t ever witnessed this first or second hand, having an understanding of how human behavior and interactions with human controlled characters or humanized AI generally works can definitely be beneficial. In plainer words, just stopping and thinking how you would react to the scenario you have thought out and planned to impose on your player base. Now ask a few other people, hopefully of varying backgrounds. Having the ability to pull the proverbial puppet strings of a whole world for a few years really taught me more than I could have ever learned by theories – and thus the exploration of psychology of games. A quick intro into WHY this interests me is probably warranted – so the first installment is an introduction of sorts.
Oddly enough, when I dug into my about me section, I realized that I had omitted to say that I graduated cum laude with a honors BA in Psychology (with a minor in Theatre) from the University of Nevada, Reno. When I was in school, I loved it – just the act of learning new things and gaming the system to get the best grades I could with the least amount of effort got me all riled up. I always thought I would be one of those “career students” that was always taking a class of some sort. I had been all my life, it was all I knew, and I was terribly uncomfortable with the idea of the real world.
Then, I decided on a psychology major. My motivation was two-pronged. First, I wanted to know what made people tick. Second, it was the least-boring-while-being-somewhat-useful degree I could think of, considering my other ideas were education, art, theatre, and creative writing/english. After one class in education, I realized I was making more money waiting tables part time than I would when I graduated, and I had no real passion for it. The rest were simply things I liked doing – but I didn’t figure I could really make much of a living with ’em. Psychology held my interest, and at least the idea of real world value.
I also decided to go for the honors degree. I mean, I had no idea what I really wanted to do, so being on top of the heap for grad school entry was definitely something I wanted to consider. I mean, the longer you can stay in school the longer you can put off real life, right? Also, honors kids got first crack at registration, so as long as I kept my status, I had my choice of classes. Anyone that went to a crowded ass state school knows how important this is. Since it took me 2 years to really decide that was the way I wanted to go, I spent the majority of my junior and senior years taking psych classes, except when I was taking theatre.
The first year, I found some things I really liked (biological or neural pyschology, and humanistic/existential psychology) and some things I didn’t (child development, abnormal psychology). Really, when it comes down to it, take a look at this list. I pretty much loved everything about foundation and principles (learning theories and how things work), but I didn’t want to apply it to real life in a capacity where something was wrong with someone else (applied methods and populations). Mostly because they start telling you how to push drugs at an early age in your potential psych career. I got into a lot of trouble asking in class “ok, so you give this medication, but what about dealing with the actual root of the problem”. So I knew I was never going to make it through grad school to be a shrink, but the research papers and experimentation and theories? I loved them.
That is, I loved them until the end of my senior year. Since I spent so little time schmoozing around the department, I was without a mentor for my senior thesis (the major part of the honors degree requirement). I finally begged one of my professors from a summer school class to bring me on as an assistant to his research assistant to study color vision and aging. I got to hook people of all ages to electrodes to see how their brains reacted to different color patterns on monitors and read thousands of pages of literature on the subject. I’m published out there somewhere, which would have been a big deal at 22 if I would have decided to keep on going.
My professor just ended up being a jackass about everything. I went from being ready to graduate six months early (a year if I would have loaded up summer school) to graduating in August 2001 instead of May. I actually did not technically graduate until I was moved to San Diego and had my foot in the door at SCEA. Every week I would submit my paper, and every week he would have changes. I’d fix those changes and submit again, and there would be more. This literally happened for MONTHS. He also wanted to try to keep me there another semester in the fall to run more subjects for his paper to get the grade and credit, and I convinced him to let me out at graduation, just continuing to revise the paper and submit it over email – over and over, until it was finally accepted.
That day in August when I finally got credit complete notification (with an A to boot, woohoo), I knew that the world of academia was maybe not as happy and fun as I had dreamed it would be. There would always be someone like that professor that would ruin research work for knowledge and advancement, at best being indescisive or at worst power hungry and lusting for more credits and publications, not caring who they stepped on. I don’t care how big your academic-peenie is when my degree and/or career is on the line. After school, I pretty much became one with my couch out of frustration and exhaustion and I took a year off and started to look for a real world job. I was too beat up mentally and emotially to go back just yet.
What happened then, in the fateful summer of 2001? Part 2 soon!