Empathy for the Daemon, or are you a good simulator?
Game designer Sid Meier, creator of the “Civilization” series of video games gave a talk recently called “The Psychology of Game Design (Everything You Know Is Wrong).” His main thesis was that game designer have to understand the player’s psychology when designing the gameplay elements and gave some examples from his games which violated player expectations.
Now, speaking from a programmer’s perspective, one of the prerequisite of being a good programmer is the ability to read code and understand the effects of its execution. Without this basic skill, coding becomes a matter of trial and error. Bad code will confound even good programmer’s ability to understand it, and that is one of the code smells that I look for. Quite simply, programmers must be able to simulate a computer in their heads. Some programmers can even simulate a computer down to the hardware level, to optimize registers and cache lines.
So how does this relate to Meier’s talk? Well, what he is saying is basically that game designers need to simulate the player in their heads. Each gameplay mechanic and every decision about the game that designers make must take into account how it will affect the player. But to be able to simulate the player, you must first have a model of how a player behaves. That’s why understanding player psychology is the important.
Generalizing even further, this ability to simulate is fundamental to being human, it is also called empathy. Empathy is the ability to share another person’s feelings and emotions. This can happen because we place ourselves in the shoes of another person. Some studies have shown that our neuron firing actually mirrors another person’s from just observing their emotions.
So work on improving your empathy, whether it’s for players of your game, users of your website, or executor of your code.
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