Sep 20, 2014

How is the “Skinner Box” used in game design?

My knowledge psychology is pretty much limited to my psych 101 class as an undergrad, which is to say limited. I do remember the Skinner Box experiment, where an animal was given a reward for pressing a lever, with the reward coming at greater and greater intervals. I was playing a “free to play” game on my phone while waiting for an appointment today, and was wondering if game designers consciously apply the principles from the “Skinner box” to the games they make.

As a former World of Warcraft player, I can tell you that the answer is YES! And if you've ever played that game then you know exactly why I say that. Heh, heh.

If you want to see Skinner Box in use in game design, check out any Zynga game (actually, please don’t, just watch a video of it if you can stomach it).  MMOs are also often guilty of it. Heck, even the new mega-hit Destiny is guilty of it. Unless you really like loot farming, you are being manipulated by the game designers to milk more hours out of the game (or milk your wallet for DLC). Whenever you are doing the same thing repetitively for a reward, which initially came pretty often but in later stages only comes once in a blue moon, you are the rat in the Skinner Box. It’s all just stimulus and reward, and essentially the designers are trying to use addiction techniques. It sucks, it’s lazy game design, and it is manipulative.


Here is a good article about the use of the Skinner Box theory of game design. I particularly like it because it has a section called “Why I Hate Zynga.” http://hubpages.com/hub/Skinners-Box-and-Video-Games



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