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 (and second part) is an introduction of sorts.
So, I’m going to try to go over this as quickly as possible. I like to try to weave a good story and all, but there is just so much I can say. The functional awesomeness of thousands of people running around together in a virtual space, feeling free to interact with each other with little fear of repercussion…
Ok, truly getting ahead of myself.
Back to business. After finishing up dealing with college stuff and deciding I was going to take a year (forever) off school, I halfheartedly looked around for waitressing jobs while Zliten found this Monster ad saying “Do you want to make money playing video games?”. He took the job at SCEA and called me the first day at lunch saying that I HAD to come work there, I would love it. So I applied the next day and a few months later I was starting my first day of work. Which made my poor, maxed out credit card very very happy.
It is a very interesting psychological situation to thrust 2 females (myself and another new trainee were the only women there) into a workplace with over 100 young, geeky, mostly neanderthal-like guys. Some went back and forth from looking at us and drooling and muttering “girrrrrrrl” to belittling our video gaming skills. Some also gave us special treatment – which was good by me. I got the good assignments and while some boys got laid off and called back when work was scarce, I kept a continuous job for a year, my boss always found me something to work on.
Basically the way I survived there was to act the opposite of the way that anyone should in the workplace. If they said something gross, I said something grosser. I laughed at all their dirty jokes and told my own. If they picked on me, I picked on them back harder. If they found obscure bugs, I found the MOST obscure bugs (my proudest moment was getting the company’s IPs banned from dalnet on IRC because they thought we were hackers). If they geeked out, I geeked out harder. And it worked – I fit in (at least better than if I was playing up the girly girl side of me). Lesson learned? Sometimes you have to embrace the native culture to get a good experience out of life. When in stinky boy land, do as the stinky boys do. I had MUCH more fun there than if I scoffed at their antics.
Life then was working, or playing EverQuest with people I worked with. This is a whole ‘nother 31 part series so let’s leave it at that.
Sometime though, you have to graduate from junior high school to high school, and I did just that by moving to SOE’s QA department in 2002. People were slightly higher-evolved in the primate chain, but not by much. Since I was working directly with Zliten, I couldn’t really use the same “grosser than gross” tactics, because I didn’t want to ruin my perfect and angelic image (yeah, right) of his beloved in his eyes. So instead of that, I had to posture myself as more knowledgeable about obscure things about the job (which I was), that I could keep up with everyone playing the games they played even though I did not in fact have a penis. But mostly, I was just looking to transition to a full time position. Not having paid time off and benefits chapped my ass. Learned from that? Sometimes subtlety has a place in negotiating and business, but sometimes, you just have to repeat over and over exactly what you want in plain language to as many people as you can until someone gives you the answer that you want.
The Customer Service department was offering the stability I needed, and back then it seemed like the only way to move up in the company was to work for CS, so that’s where I went. Again, psychology and customer service is worthy of a whole ‘nother post or twenty. Let it suffice to say that if you are patient enough to experiment at it, and rebellious enough to not give a flying fuck about numbers or quotas or minimizing the time you spend on contacts, you can really find out how to get people to do the right thing. Or at least what you want. I just remember spending an HOUR debating with one player about why kill stealing was wrong and why the rule was not just “stupid” but actually needed to keep order, and after a while he saw my point and ended up being an outstanding community member. I could have just gave him a warning, logged off, and eventually banned him when he didn’t stop, but taking the time to talk to him made all the difference.
Then all I wanted to do was move to game design – I took the same approach as I did with attempting to land a full time gig, talking to everyone and anyone who would listen (after getting over the fact that it’s what I had to do, no one was going to hire me just because I might have been good at my current job – heck, I’d actually be less likely, but I digress), submitting design documents, writing, until finally the team I worked for took pity on me (or got tired of reading my submissions) and threw me an apprentice design job, which became the most awesome situation for a psych-type like me. It was a vast world where I was given a paintbrush to make the flowers whatever color I liked, the whole garden, for that matter. I like to believe I was a benevolent goddess, always trying to do what was right and good for the world overall. The experience was a rush, a privilege, a great learning experience, and what kept me up at night. Many, many long posts to come on my dev exploits.
A special thanks to Zliten’s friend D for getting my brain running this way again, and now that you know where I’m coming from, I look forward to delving deep into theory and grey matter.