Panel Report: Psychology of Gamer Overs, Take Two

Editor’s note: this article is part of a series of posts that covers the discussion panels The Analytical Couch Potato hosted during Connecticon 2012. For those who couldn’t make it, the staff decided to summarize some of the panels and provide pictures of the staff presenting. Those who want to see the full album of Connecticon pictures can see it on Facebook here. Thanks to everyone who made it out there to see us.

The basic goal of this panel was to challenge the audience with this question: why is it that a game can make you fail over and over, yet still want to try again, while slight discouragement from the real world can make you want to give up? Using sources like Jane McGonigal and Jesper Juul, I talked about the basic psychology behind game overs and loss in video games, focusing much on how games were, in many shades, more positive than real life scenarios. Since this was one of two panels that was covered already at Revoluticon, I’ll skip some of the finer details to avoid being redundant.

What I found really interesting about doing this panel a second time was that a different audience made for a completely different kind of feeling to the panel. Many more people at Connecticon were eager to participate and throw in their two cents, so the variety of game overs and games discussed greatly increased. Among others, our panel this time discussedDonkey Kong Country Returns,Conker’s Bad Fur Day,Spider-Man, Assassin’s Creed,Tales of Symphonia, andThe Legend of Zelda: Four Swords.


Much more time was focused on McGonigal’s Reality is Broken, and discussing the way that, compared to real life, video games are more forgiving. Pattern recognition games, combined with McGonigal’s Fun Failure theory, make video game losses less discouraging; we take the loss itself less seriously, and receive more constructive feedback to know where to improve later. With the pattern recognition of games, we always know just what made us lose; we didn’t jump far enough, we didn’t know an enemy was there, that sort of thing. Each time we play, we think, “This time will be better. I know something I didn’t know before.” But with real life losses, like trying and failing to get a job, we don’t always receive the same feedback — an employer has no obligation to write a letter saying, “Thanks for applying. Your resume looked great, but you could have won us over with more experience in so-and-so,” or, “We appreciated your qualifications, but your interview was a little abrasive.”

As we continued to make real life examples applying the comparison of game losses and why they were more forgiving (see the other panel report for more detail), we started to hit a wall that the Revoluticon kids didn’t really find — the mood in the room started to get a little dark. A little depressing. Hoping to not end on that note, I reminded the audience that McGonigal did not write her book comparing real life to video games to depress us. Her approach in that book was to take what made video games more appealing and utilize it in real life. Amongst harsh critics that say we spend too much time playing video games and that games should be eradicated, McGonigal was one of the first to say that this wasn’t a problem, it was a solution we haven’t noticed yet.

With this in mind, we started taking the comparisons we made and attempted to problem-solve a bit, thinking of ways we could make our own lives a little less hectic. Responses were slow at first, but people started jumping in eventually. Constructive criticism was a big thing — nobody wants to fail and not know why, because that makes most people feel like loss is out of their control.

Doing this panel at two cons instead of one was a pleasure; it reminded me that not every crowd will react to information the same way, just like not every gamer will love a game for the same reasons. What we can bring out of games, much like what we can bring out of life, is different for everyone — which I think is pretty cool.



Was there something we missed about the panel that you wanted to add? Tell us in the comments!

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