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Game psychologist wants to help design game characters, not just systems

"Most big game companies that do employ psychologists get them to look more at what the players are doing," psychologist Laura Crawford told Zam. "Which is a shame."

Alex Wawro

January 10, 2017

1 Min Read

"Most big game companies that do employ psychologists get them to look more at what the players are doing rather than what they might be attracted to. Which is a shame, because I’d love to do more of that kind of work, but it’s not really a thing yet."

- Academic psychologist Laura Crawford, speaking to Zam.

Psychology in game design is typically discussed in terms of player behavior: systemically discouraging toxicity, for example, or keeping someone engaged and in a "flow" state.

But in a new interview with Zam, academic psychologist and game consultant Laura Crawford makes a case for game developers to integrate psychology in game design differently: applying psychological expertise to design more believable, more appealing characters.

"I’ve been headhunted for various roles in the industry – I can’t say by who, but fairly well-known studios…but every time, the reason I stayed in academia was because most of these teams don’t actually want my expertise," said Crawford, who is currently consulting on development of Nexon's Riders of Icarus MMO game.

"If it’s an MMO developer, for instance, they want me to be able to moderate player behavior, or do stats on which characters players will play, and then interpret them…they don’t want me involved in designing these characters in the first place, or making them more attractive to players. Often it’s about controlling player behavior."

It's an interesting point, though one that's not terribly fleshed out as Crawford only makes it at the tail end of the interview. Still, the full interview is well worth reading if you're at all curious about Crawford's perspective on why human beings play games, or what attracts us to embody specific character archetypes or roles.

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