Game theory is not the same as game design theory but the similarities are striking when they happen. This month a paper has been published on game theory which can help explain some aspects of what happens when a game has complex rules and systems. When we can’t understand a full ruleset we make irrational decisions.
In Complex dynamics in learning complicated games by Tobias Gallaa and J. Doyne Farmer they show that by running gaming simulations with players they can expose non-rational behaviour.
When stuff like this comes out it boggles my mind that people can still stand up in favour of the Chicago School which banks on the idea that people always make rational decisions. This doesn’t even explore what is meant by rational.
Here’s the abstract from the paper:
January 17th, 2013 by Adam
Game theory is the standard tool used to model strategic interactions in evolutionary biology and social science. Traditionally, game theory studies the equilibria of simple games. However, is this useful if the game is complicated, and if not, what is? We define a complicated game as one with many possible moves, and therefore many possible payoffs conditional on those moves. We investigate two-person games in which the players learn based on a type of reinforcement learning called experience-weighted attraction (EWA). By generating games at random, we characterize the learning dynamics under EWA and show that there are three clearly separated regimes: (i) convergence to a unique fixed point, (ii) a huge multiplicity of stable fixed points, and (iii) chaotic behavior. In case (iii), the dimension of the chaotic attractors can be very high, implying that the learning dynamics are effectively random. In the chaotic regime, the total payoffs fluctuate intermittently, showing bursts of rapid change punctuated by periods of quiescence, with heavy tails similar to what is observed in fluid turbulence and financial markets. Our results suggest that, at least for some learning algorithms, there is a large parameter regime for which complicated strategic interactions generate inherently unpredictable behavior that is best described in the language of dynamical systems theory.
Rock Paper Shotgun is great in announcing their opinions on game design and I love them when they espouse such opinions. I also enjoy their half-joking take on games themselves, particularly how to improve them.
Here’s their complete list of rules for game makers. Some seem very serious while others seem to just bring back the author’s ideas of good games from years ago.
DO have your in-game volume sliders work. It’s beyond all my understanding – and I have over sixty-three understanding – why I can drag the slider down to a fraction of a millimetre from the bottom and still not be able to hear the TV show I’m watching on the other screen. I shouldn’t have to use Windows’ in-built volume controls to SHUT YOU UP. Especially YOU, Popcap. It’s like your volume sliders go, 10, 9, 8, 7, 7, 7, 7, 7, 7, 7, 0. Your games do not demand my full attention, as brightly coloured as they may be. I might want to enjoy an evening of Peggle and light-hearted crime procedural dramas, and I need to hear the quips.
DON’T make it difficult for me to quit. In fact, since I’m telling you how to do your jobs, you should add this new requirement. A quit button. I know, it sounds cuckoo-crazy, but bear with me. From anywhere in the game, I want to call up the menu (by pressing “Escape” – not by looking at a device strapped to my wrist, tabbing through three pages, and finding the four pixel button for the options) and then choose “Quit to desktop”. I do not want to quit to the main menu. I do not want to quit to the level selection screen. I do not want to quit to that insane screen that asks me to press a button to start. I want to quit the game. Completely. In one go. I don’t, because I’m some sort of insanely fussy old pickypants, want to go through each of those previous pages one by one, until I’ve eventually climbed back up enough ladders to see the crack of daylight that is escape. Yes, you can ask me if I’m sure, in case I select the wrong thing because you probably haven’t bothered to add mouse controls to your 360 port. And then, PING!, I’m back at my desktop ready to continue with my day. Leaving a game shouldn’t be more of a challenge than a boss fight.
The big list of dos and don’ts
March 26th, 2012 by Adam