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This article will try to explain the application of social thinking in game experience design.

Yongcheng Liu, Blogger

May 13, 2022

6 Min Read

In Naraka: Bladepoint, when being transported onto the battlefield, there will be a loading page and a sign in the top left corner telling the difficulty of the current combat, such as the "Neck And Neck"(meaning quite balanced opponent). How do players feel when they see this? Will they get nervous when they see "Quite challenging", and feel relaxed when they see "With ease" and bring this feeling into the game?

It can be explained as the phenomenon of "priming". Seeing the prediction of the difficulty of the game, the preconceptions we have can strongly influence our interpretation and memory of the game. In the priming phenomenon, people's prior judgments strongly affect the way they perceive and interpret information. For example, when they see a "challenging" opponent, they recall the experience of being defeated, and then avoid going to the places where players flock together and choose another route to start and explore.

The simple words on the loading page allow players to perceive their position and direction in the game. The priming phenomenon is a concept in social psychology, which belongs to the category of social thinking. This article will try to explain the application of social thinking in game experience design.

1. What is social psychology and what is social thinking

Social psychology is the study of how people think about each other, how they influence each other, and how they get related to each other. It is concerned with central questions such as: how we construct the world around us; how social unconsciousness guide or mislead us; and how social behavior is influenced by ourselves, others, and other biological factors.

This discipline is divided into three subfields: social thinking, social influence, and social relations. Among them, social influence analyzes the shaping of behavior by social and personality tendencies, and social relationship focuses on behavior, and studies the feelings and behavior of individuals and others. And this article focuses on social thinking, which includes several aspects such as how to perceive self and others, beliefs and judgments, attitudes and behaviors, etc. The research topics are how we construct social reality and how social recognition affects us, etc.

2. How social thinking supports game design

The Internet has increasingly reconstructed people's gaming behavior and even daily interactions. In games, especially games focusing on social function, the real and virtual spaces have mingled with each other, and people communicate through the in-game social system or communication APP. Not only making contact in the game, but they also participate in offline activities, which makes the gaming world and real society mutually connected.

Crossovers or collaborations in-game such as concerts that can be interacted with, and the latest KAWS exhibition in Fortnite are all attempts to merge the game with reality. All players can participate in the carnival, watching rocket launching or robots fighting monsters, dancing at concerts and playing mini-games ...... Fortnite is good at motivating players' passion, and all these activities have strong social functions. Although players cannot communicate directly as in reality, there will be A tacit understanding that everyone's identity seems to change at the moment, and everyone who fights each other on the battlefield will become friendly when participating in the activities, and all seem to become friends. The reason for this phenomenon is that the players' perception of their own identity and that of others will change according to given environments, and social thinking can help us recognize the nature of this phenomenon.

Around games, many social subgroups, or "hobby groups", have been formed, and they are becoming more and more organized, thus developing a specific "subculture" that has the ability to influence social life. More and more games are starting to get out of their zones, holding offline exhibitions, and even more, such as Fantasy Westward Journey even has built its own theme parks. The social forms in games and the real world are complementary, so the use of theories related to social thinking can guide us to design games better.


3. How to connect social thinking with designing

Self and others

Social thinking helps us to better understand ourselves and answer the ultimate question of "who am I?". What makes up our self-concept is called "self-schema", for example, we define ourselves as strong, smart, etc., and these self-categorizations strongly influence our processing of social information. The accurate positioning of ourselves is accomplished through "social comparison", that is comparing ourselves with others and thinking about why we are different.

In games, we can help players to recognize their own position with the help of others and build a reasonable self schema. Naraka: Bladepoint has designed ranking charts for each hero, according to the exact province or even city of the players. And this is helpful for achiever players. By observing the situation of each hero in the rankings, they can establish goals and plan their career journey in the game, such as playing relatively easy heroes to make it to the top in the chart, or planning how to keep their ranking. Perhaps the player imagines what level he will reach, this is the concept of the "possible self".

Belief and judgment

The priming phenomenon mentioned before is one of the ways we perceive the social world. The priming phenomenon also indicates some more interesting findings: we process a lot of information automatically and subconsciously, and due to the presence of embodied cognition (a strong link between physical experience and mental cognition), even bodily sensations can influence social judgment, so changing your keyboard and mouse can theoretically improve your gaming experience.

In order to improve the player's gaming experience, adding different endings, or adding optional plot directions to the game, are common solutions to meet the different needs of players. Deathloop builds a world where players are constantly exposed to a very novel worldview when they first wake up on the beach, and as the game progresses, each player forms unique beliefs about this virtual world in his own mind. In the final decision, whether players shoot themselves or not, they will get the ending most matched their expectations.

Attitude and behavior

People's behaviors do not always match their attitudes, and the attitudes we express and the behaviors we engage in are each influenced by many factors. But under certain conditions, what we think and feel will be closely related to what we do.

Take Death Stranding as an example, players will acquaint themselves with the world in the plot and make it clear that they need to use the Network to make connections between Central and Capital Knot City and thus save the world, which helps to establish the player's attitude towards behavior. The online buildings in the game and the delivery information of other players in the menu can help the player to build a self-schema and thus have their own subjective standards. The various guides and encouragements in the game reinforce the belief that the player can achieve the goal.

To make players have the attitude expected by the game designers, various in-game systems and designs are useful. For example, the worldview is told through cut scenes, emails, and background music embedded. Leaderboards, map systems, order systems, rating and achievement systems, etc., can intuitively or subconsciously develop player attitudes.

4. Summary

Social thinking can be used to analyze the self-reflection of players in games, reveal the social structures behind their behavior, and provide some potential support for the design of in-game systems.

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