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THe Psychology of Gaming

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posted on Nov, 7 2014 @ 04:24 PM
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I treat gaming as an exercise in mental control; lets say, I use it as if I were a student in a Buddhist monetary. As I play, I try to understand the elements of my experience which lend to success. Likewise, I try to see what it is that goes wrong when I start playing like crap.

Like life, video games can be broken down to:

  • A challenge: the purpose of the game
  • An emotional reaction towards the challenge; the ways our body react to our perceived performance
  • A mental framing towards the challenge; how an emotional reaction acts as an orbit in constellating self-other interactions.

    On to the psychology:

    I want to emphasize a few ideas in explaining what needs to be phenomenologically payed attention to when you're playing any video game.

    1) Flow: At all times you want to maintain a state of flow. Flow is how it feels when were playing at our best (or feeling best in life). There is a "collapse" of self-other cognition. Instead of the reflecting inwards implied by strenuously finding things "wrong", flow is conceptually open: we don't fight what is. We experience it in our bodies and feel most alive.

    In the case of playing video games, when you're in flow your mind seems to be organized in a superordinate way: self and the object of interest: winning or playing well; somehow, and quite mysteriously, become psychically at-one with one another.

    I try so often to understand what it is; but of course, "understanding" is a mental activity dissociated from mental/self-other/environment connectivity. In anycase, in retrospect, I can look at the ingredients involved, as I am doing now, and I can see that when I am in flow, mental contents synchronize with objects in empirical space. Thus, in NBA2k15, my timing and placing will be precise in every "phase-space" of the game. It almost seems magical; and to me, implies something quite bizarre about inner and outer experiences.

    2) Energy: When you play a game - or live life - you need your energy available to you. Flow is a state of high energy experienced as a relaxed focus. There is less "friction" i.e. extraneous mental activity, disrupting psychological flow. But there is a problem with this; energy isn't consistent in life or in gaming. It seems to go through ups and downs, which probably has to do with the way our bodies have been trained to metabolize. Thus, when we play, we constantly "lose focus" - de-attend to the game in an important way; and find ourselves "dissociated".

    3) Dissociation: dissociation is a normal mental phenomenon. It basically means "breaking focus". But cognitvely it implies a dis-association from a previous psychological flow. The mind has "moved somewhere else"; and in gaming, or in anything in life, when we dissociate, we oftentimes try to get back to what we lost. This relates to the implied awareness we have of our "perceived performance".

    Some people are "naturally" better at this, by which I mean early life context inclined the development of an anatomy that supports a more energetic metabolism. The people who perform this way are largely unconscious to anything else other than the game: it is the game and the game alone that matters. But in addition to this, they have an essential response profile that enables high-performance:
    they are relaxed enough in their bodies to focus.


    So this thread is not for people who already perform this way. But for those of us who for one reason or another - and in todays world, that's a lot of us - have little energy or are prone to defensive and anxious responses.

    When we think of our bodies, we seldom contemplate the relationship between bodily events and mental subjective experience. But the fact is the latter is based on the former: our mental "events" are essentially built upon whats happening phyico-chemically within our bodily organism.

    I mention this to emphasize the concept of "metabolism"; for those of us who struggle to focus, or attend, or to experience the world with a sense of flow, our body-mind has become entrained to an experience of the world that is very low energy. The body is amazing this way; why does it happen? Anxiety is a burden on the organism: it requires too much energy to tend to, so if the organism is chronically anxious, it'll either get physically sick, or conversely, the organism will "damper down" the psychological expectations the organism would usually have. This means dissociation.

    Dissociation in the physiological sense is facilitated by a network within the vagus nerve complex. This is the ventral and dorsal portions. There is an evolutionary older part of this nerve, the dorsal portion, which extends downwards into our stomach, heart and viscera.It is unmyelinated, which means its electrical signals travel slower than in myelinated nerves When we we get anxious and "feel it in our chest" or stomach - the ventral vagal nerve is co-opting the dorsal vagus nerve, sending signals from the cortex to the body, essentially alerting consciousness to the presence of a (social) problem.

    But the body cant do this indefinitely. Environmental stressors are troublesome; and so the body adapts in a rathr sophisticated way. The unmyelinated branch of the vagus - the dorsal part - sends inhibitory signals that depress the activity of the vagal portion. Now think: when you're depressed; anxious or just feeling like you're n a trance (low energy), at that very moment the dorsal vagus is depressing the ventral vagus; which means the areas which the ventral vagus enervates - the facial muscles, voice - are similarly depressed. Our entire subjective mind is very literally dispersed and embodied within a complicated - but logically constructed - nervous system.

    Now that were past the neurobiological explanation, what can we do about that?

    Again: ENERGY! The neocortex does have the power to direct attention - we do it all the time. But in the case of a body that is sensitive to external perturbations - or internal perturbations - because it has been conditioned to function at a particular metabolic frequency, or in the language of non-linear dynamics, to move though phase-space towards a particular attractor (normal mental states), because of this, mental experience COULD, with a higher probability, become tired and dejected.

    To review: flow is awesome but it can be hard to sustain; those who sustain it sustain it because their bodies are more relaxed and open to the environment; conversely, for those of us who struggle, dissociate and need to refocus, this happens because our bodies are conditioned to keep the mind "off the environment" i.e because at some point in development the body felt the need to protect its resources from the costliness of chronic external conflict.

    The key then is twofold: frame your perspective by adopting a new viewpoint; since all thinking is simultaneously self-suggestion, by taking a new viewpoint you essentially liberate your mind from a prior commitment.

    Second, you need to notice how your body feel. Dissociation can be understood in two senses. It could be the simple experiential feeling of moving into disparate states of mind; but in a more clinical sense, it describes a "splitting"; when you feel anxious, for example, and than "try" to change it, you've uncounsciously dissociated your cognitive thinking from the feelings in your body. When this happens, we are stuck in a:

    3) Enactment: enactment is acting out physically what is being
    edit on 7-11-2014 by Astrocyte because: (no reason given)




  • posted on Nov, 7 2014 @ 04:29 PM
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    ...psychologically ignored. This is the tricky part.

    Remember how I said before, flow, as defined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is "a state of relaxed focus". Thats just it. Relaxed is the physical part; focus is the psychological experience.

    There cannot be a situation in which your body is tensing and clenching - by definition a metabolically "costly" enactment - and you perform well. You have to train yourself, again and again and again....and then AGAIN! to find the states which support these shifts: the body must be relaxed - so try breathing exercises or a body "screening". When the body feels fluid the mind can perform with great alertness and connection. When this happens, mind and environment can truly be felt to be "one"



    posted on Nov, 7 2014 @ 04:34 PM
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    I don't know, but I do know this: When I was playing City of Heroes, I could read the game and I knew how it was going to react. I could anticipate it and I used to actually get annoyed with people who panicked because it seemed to me that they missed what should have been self-evident if they had properly gotten their Zen. For some reason, it never worked to simply tell people to "move when it's coming at you."

    But I will also say that a lot of the emotional tricks I mastered as a competition athlete also work pretty well as a video gamer. If you start to panic, you start to lose. If you keep your calm and stay focused, you will do much better because you will notice things, have better situational awareness, than you will when you're panicking and running around like a chicken with your head cut off.



    posted on Nov, 7 2014 @ 04:42 PM
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    a reply to: Astrocyte

    I like games. I think that like most forms of entertainment they are a form of escapism, but they are also a form of.... practice. We can practice critical thinking, self-control, and meeting challenges (among other things) in a an environment that is not high risk. On the other hand, sometimes we need to walk away from those games and apply what we have practiced and learned where the consequences are more tangible (A.K.A. RL).



    posted on Nov, 7 2014 @ 04:45 PM
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    Great thread.

    What stuck out to me was the emphasis on flow and focus.

    When I seem to do my best, It doesn't feel like I am purposely focusing on the task at hand. I am in my groove, or flow, and my actions/reactions come naturally. Many people do their best when they are intensely focused. My performance is better when I simply relax and enjoy the game without concern for the win.

    That's my goal in gaming. To relax and enjoy. It just so happens that when I do that, I do my best work.

    Side note: My game of choice lately has been DOTA 2. It requires some study, practice and the ability to flow with the changes that can occur at the drop of a hat. I like those sorts of game more than I do FPS's or RPG's.
    edit on 11/7/2014 by sheepslayer247 because: (no reason given)



    posted on Nov, 7 2014 @ 04:48 PM
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    originally posted by: redhorse
    a reply to: Astrocyte

    I like games. I think that like most forms of entertainment they are a form of escapism, but they are also a form of.... practice. We can practice critical thinking, self-control, and meeting challenges (among other things) in a an environment that is not high risk. On the other hand, sometimes we need to walk away from those games and apply what we have practiced and learned where the consequences are more tangible (A.K.A. RL).



    Among other things, studies have shown that gamers tend to be slightly better drivers because they can have better situational awareness.



    posted on Nov, 7 2014 @ 04:50 PM
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    a reply to: Astrocyte

    Great post. Gaming is becoming increasingly mainstream and as such as so have to think about these kinds of things.

    Your post does focus heavily on the user. A lot of the things you talk can be assisted or damaged by the game itself. Too many games fail to encourage immersion and flow and produce more frustration and disconnect. Free to play games are big culprits of this since they run on the methodology of the Skinner box.



    posted on Nov, 7 2014 @ 04:54 PM
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    a reply to: Astrocyte

    I'm essentially what they call a hardcore gamer. I grew up playing them with family and friends. To this day, I still play and probably put in more time than I should.

    I'm not sure of the psychological reason behind it, but I play to essentially get lost in it. I'm not sure if you're familiar with different game types, but I enjoy Bethesda's Skyrim and Oblivion a lot. I've logged hundreds of hours in those two games alone. I can enter into their stories and completely forget about a stressful day, life's troubles, etc. For me, it's the ambience, immersive, and make your own adventure games that draw my attention the most.

    I also find that I do the best when I enter into a trance like state. I'm not thinking about what I'm really doing. Yet, I'm not thinking of anything else either. I get like that when I play games like Battlefield or conflict type games against others.


    But further into the psychological aspect, there was a study behind why there are more male gamers than females. It had something to do with the different forms of mindsets.

    For instance, a simple video game like Mario would teach a lesson in failing. For males, it was okay to fail so long as you tried again until you were successful. But for females, it wasn't okay to fail, hence being turned off by it.

    I wish I could find that study as it was intriguing.
    edit on 11/7/2014 by EternalSolace because: Clarity



    posted on Nov, 7 2014 @ 05:09 PM
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    a reply to: EternalSolace

    That would be an interesting study.

    I do find that I don't like games like Mario as much because I'm not as immersed in them, so to me, in those games I feel like a rat in a maze (or trap), and succeeding merely to succeed gets frustrating whereas if you stick me in front of something where I'm immersed in a story and working toward a story goal, I will fight an encounter over and over again until I succeed and feel pretty darn good about doing it.

    And as I mentioned, I was an athlete at a high level, so I know all about failure. It doesn't bother me, but if I don't feel like the reward is enough, then I don't see the need to succeed, either. Story rewards are adequate pay-off where just making the next level or bigger loot doesn't do it.

    I also know that I prefer games with cooperative goals where you have to work in tightly coordinated teams to succeed as opposed to games that are strictly one on one cutthroat competitive. Coming from a world of face-to-face sportsmanship, the online equivalent doesn't impress me in the slightest.



    posted on Nov, 7 2014 @ 05:12 PM
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    a reply to: Astrocyte

    Cool thread!



    I have always been able to easily dissociate. Especially when gaming. I have always been a daydreamer and gaming takes that to the next level (pun intended) whether it's video games, board games or table top roleplaying games like D&D, I have always had an affinity for games that continues to this day and will likely persist until the day that I lose my last life.



    posted on Nov, 7 2014 @ 05:33 PM
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    I always felt games (especially the modern video/pc/tablet games) were the natural progression from the hoop and stick or the corn husk doll. However, technology has allowed it to become an escape from reality, an escape from self. Albeit temporarily, people forget what/where/who they are in favor of a false creation.

    I think now games are more than entertainment, they're a structure of control, a form of distraction. People putting time and effort towards achievements that exist only in the digital realm instead of focusing on true issues. It's a win win situation for TPTB.

    I'm no hypocrite with this however, I play The Sims and Sim City 4 Rush Hour. I see them as escapes, I do. A way to live out fantasies, "control", etc, etc. In real life I can't hop on a hoverboard, or strap on a jetpack. I can't instantly change my appearance or the way my home looks. Games, it's possible.

    They're very entertaining, but to be used responsibly. When your entertainment becomes a habitual soma holiday, they've gotten to you



    posted on Nov, 7 2014 @ 05:39 PM
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    a reply to: Astrocyte

    I think your definition of dissociation isn't quite right--dissociation, in terms of psychology, is the emotional and physical detachment from reality. Not a "breaking of focus" or even a loss of focus. It is quite simply detachment. For a normal person, that would be the same as daydreaming. I could be misinterpreting your statements but your base definition is wrong.

    I'm both dissociative and a fps gaming champion. Because I am dissociative, I know when I am in a state of dissociation and when I am not. In that light, I can honestly say that when I am at my most depersonalized and dissociative is when my reaction speeds and targeting begin to hit their maximum potential. I don't feel. I don't think. I simply react. It's when something actually registers and disrupts that state of dissociation to make me self aware that my reaction speed and targeting declines.

    It's called twitch gameplay and really, any interference of thought, awareness, and more can jar the player back into reality. That's not dissociation. It's the opposite of dissociation. I've befriended several professional fps gamers and the ones that are the most consistent in gaming ability are the ones that shut down all thought and emotional processes totally. It's all interference that slows down the processing between stimuli and response.

    Where I think you're correct is that it is taxing to maintain it. I can sustain the state for maybe 45 minutes to a little over an hour. Afterwards, I'm not just mentally wiped but physically wiped to boot. How long I last depends, however, on how unaware of the taxing nature of the state that I'm in lasts. The moment i notice it, it's done because that jars me back to my physical/mental awareness aka reality.

    edit on 7/11/14 by WhiteAlice because: clarification.



    posted on Nov, 7 2014 @ 05:47 PM
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    I think it comes down to this:

    Self and environment need to be in sync. And in order to accomplish that, the mind must "own" - as it were - it's environment. In the case of gaming, when you consciously attune to all those factors present - the basic "layout" of any particular phase-state - you mind essentially 'controls' the experience.

    When anxiety occurs in a game; or if thoughts emerge about something negative, and the mind starts analyzing it, the mind at that moment has broken off from it's environment, and has now become preoccupied with its own-self. So in a sense, the mind becomes "an object to itself", and so becomes sundered from it's environment.

    if you orient in the way, as if the world perceived through your senses is "yours to play" - this can be a very useful way to master your environment and thus enter states of intense flow.

    Mind you, this doesn't apply in human-relationships. Obviously. People are more than objects - they're subjects just like you!



    posted on Nov, 7 2014 @ 05:51 PM
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    originally posted by: Astrocyte
    Mind you, this doesn't apply in human-relationships. Obviously. People are more than objects - they're subjects just like you!


    Glad you tossed this in because this is not a good state for outside of a game. Trust me on that one.



    posted on Nov, 7 2014 @ 06:01 PM
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    Interesting thread.


    In attempting to understand the psychology of gaming, i feel it is imperative to look at both, the consumers and the role of developers.

    While the factors mentioned in the OP are relevant, much of the experiences felt by consumers are carefully guided by the developers. The designers of games utilise human psychology to their advantage. Everything from risk/reward and challenge/time to psychological applications such as operant conditioning are used to manipulate and guide players during a state of play.

    Generally, the psychological reactions of consumers are a result of psychological applications and methods used by developers to produce a desired outcome.

    Simply put, if you are experiencing something during gameplay, you can bet your bottom dollar that it is a result of intentional manipulation on behalf of the developers.



    posted on Nov, 7 2014 @ 06:15 PM
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    a reply to: WhiteAlice




    I think your definition of dissociation isn't quite right--dissociation, in terms of psychology, is the emotional and physical detachment from reality. Not a "breaking of focus" or even a loss of focus. It is quite simply detachment. For a normal person, that would be the same as daydreaming. I could be misinterpreting your statements but your base definition is wrong.


    I disagree. The conventional usage is sort of arbitrary, as every change of mind is simultaneously a "change in self". As many and more psychologists are beginning to acknowledge - and as has been the working premise in clinical hypnosis for the last 40 years - every "break" in awareness is a dissociative phenomena.

    So why are people thinking differently now? Because our metaphors are changing. We're thinking less of ourselves in rigid ways such as "computational representation"; itself a descendant of Netwonian mechanical thinking; for example, the idea of dissociation was the creation of Pierre Janet - a disciple of Jean-Marc Charcot. This idea had already been formulated, at least in theory, that conscious states 'move about'; but then Freud came around and 'rigidified" consciousness by positing THE unconscious. Freud was right in the beginning when he worked with Breur in positing unconscious causes of behavior; but later on he got carried away and spoke about consciousness as if it were something pre-existing activity and behavior with the environment. I.e the oedipal complex, etc, is a particularly useless notion divorced from the intrinsic causes of behavior.

    I am adopting a growing framework in psychology that mental states "compete" with one another, as it were, for "conscious domination". It's kind of like evolution within our minds: all systems basically operate in this way; with basic paremeters; states of instability; and a pull towards homeostasis.

    Dissociation in the clinical sense, which you refer to, is essentially the same phenomena but in a far more symptomatic sense. For example and to prove my point: everyone dissociates. When you talk to someone and they agitate, and you ignore the effect they're producing in you, you're essentially ignoring how your consciousness will organized in the next sequence. Thus, you "dissociate" the affect - the catalyzing emotion - from consciousness awareness.

    Now, clinically speaking, dissociation is operating in more damaging ways. For someone with borderline personality disorder, the dissociated affects of early childhood - SHAME in particular - have produced an extraordinarily rigid narcissistic self-structure, which, paradoxically, becomes enormously sensitive when an experience of shame is "dissociatively" experienced within the body: and then you get the borderline behavior i..e insane aggression and beliefs about others.

    You can pretty much go through the host of dissociative disorders and you can make out the same dynamic: certain experiences being denied i.e. dissociated - and the mind adapting itself to counter the affects. This is what dissociation essentially is: a separation.

    Philip Bromberg makes the essentially distinction between 'soft' and 'hard' dissociation. The former describes the way consciousness basically works (i.e the dissimilarity between thoughts and experiences). Whereas the latter describes clinical manifestations.

    I guess dissociation in this sense you mean it refers to trauma and how trauma as a felt experience acts like a repelling magnet, keeping certain thoughts and experiences out of consciousness. The most extreme variety of this is "dissociative identity disorder". Where traumatic affects become so destabilizing that the mind literally "splits" meanings held in one state from meanings held in another state. It can be amazing, as a therapist, to see someone know something in one state, to deny that they had an experience or said something in another state; the former state, which may have been an acknowledgement of deeply held shame, when passing into another state, will literally FORGET everything that held in that previous state. Which shows that if trauma is deep enough, the mind can even dissociate conscious actions done a second earlier from a state of awareness "selected" for its utility as maintaining stable affects.




    In that light, I can honestly say that when I am at my most depersonalized and dissociative is when my reaction speeds and targeting begin to hit their maximum potential


    Yes, thats the trick! The paradox is every state of focus is similtaneously a state of dissociation i.e. a break from any state. Thus, my argument and thread is very nuanced; the idea is, and the way I use dissociation, is in the "splitting" between cognition and affect; when the mind seems "broken off" from it's environment (i.e the empirical plays-space of the visually perceived game). This is a dissociation. And, so too, when you are completely "immersed" in the game, you are dissociating everything else and completely immersed in the experience of the environment.




    I've befriended several professional fps gamers and the ones that are the most consistent in gaming ability are the ones that shut down all thought and emotional processes totally.


    First, you cant shut down emotion. Emotion is always present. Even when you think you're being a robot connected to the game, theres a specific neurochemistry and a specific embodied experience which enables a deep sense of connection. It's just being overlooked at the time because of the sense of contuinity between self and environment.




    Where I think you're correct is that it is taxing to maintain it. I can sustain the state for maybe 45 minutes to a little over an hour. Afterwards, I'm not just mentally wiped but physically wiped to boot. How long I last depends, however, on how unaware of the taxing nature of the state that I'm in lasts. The moment i notice it, it's done because that jars me back to my physical/mental awareness aka reality.


    That's definitely true. Exhaustion does happen, and even the best yogis have limits to how long they can do their amazing feats before their physicality exhausts their cognitive focus.



    posted on Nov, 7 2014 @ 06:28 PM
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    BTW, I'm just going to take a guess that your "dissociative disorder" is schizoid?

    Schizoid personality disorder probably would help in gaming because it is rigid enough to keep anxiety at bay but apparently fluid enough to generate seeking emotions.

    This is what I mean when I say "emotion" is always present. If you're interested in the game: thats an emotion. A very useful one when playing video games.

    But, video-games aren't life. And I imagine dissociation, in all its pathological forms, would make life less than more entertaining.



    posted on Nov, 7 2014 @ 06:32 PM
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    a reply to: daaskapital

    Probably. In the "cognitive" external sense, you can design a game to create within the mind of a player a certain response profile.

    Things like this can be and probably designed from the geto-go. I sometimes wonder if video-game developers, particularly of games where non-linear dynamics apply, use those mathematics in the development of their games. Such as, miss one shot, then another, and all of a sudden "your side" is a negative attractor state; the game will thus increase the difficulty in making shots you'd otherwise make if the reverse dynamics were in play.



    posted on Nov, 7 2014 @ 06:35 PM
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    a reply to: Astrocyte

    Out of curiosity, do you believe my desire to escape current reality by gaming, is dissociative or some type of, for lack of better words, mental problem? Or would a problem better be related to the amount of time one spends in their games?



    posted on Nov, 7 2014 @ 07:20 PM
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    Hmmm, I've always looked at gaming as having two outlets for me. The first is a means for my imagination to find an outlet through story immersion. It's more interactive than simply to watch TV or even to read a book although I still prefer tabletop gaming and writing for the ultimate exercise.

    The other outlet is for my competitive impulses. Once I get those out along with any pent up aggression, then I keep the rest of my life on an even keel. It generally works rather well.



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