Saturday, October 3, 2009

Watch this video twice

Dan Pink talks about how to motivate people. It's a 20-minute chunk of a lecture. Go watch it here. I'll wait.

(Pause for you to watch it. Really. Seriously.)

Cool stuff, huh? I'm usually not much for business-guru-of-the-week stuff, but I appreciate Pink's reverence for actual academic study, rather than just collecting a bunch of anecdotes and calling it "Succeed to Motivate, Motivate to Succeed" or something like that.

As a guy whose career has been firmly ensconced in the right brain, suffice it to say that the notion of a work setup with lots of autonomy, mastery, and purpose...yeah, I'd sign up for that.

But that's not what intrigued me the most about Pink's speech. Try this experiment: Watch the video again, but every time that Pink says the word "business," mentally bleep it out and dub in the word "games."

(Yeah, another pause. Really, dude, go watch it again.)

If you accept the conceit that games are motivation structures (they're more than that, but they certainly are that), then a lot of the lessons from all those studies Pink cites hold for game design, too.

In other words, unless your game is largely mechanical (like, say, Asteroids), you probably shouldn't be keeping score. As one of those studies said, as soon as you demand rudimentary cognition, the score is going to mess people up more than it's going to motivate them to keep playing.

And that's not such a radical notion, really. What's the best-selling computer game of all time? The Sims, right? It's a sandbox game--lots of autonomy there, reasonable amounts of purpose (even if it's self-directed), and mastery...hmm. Maybe not so much mastery there. But still--there's no score in the upper-right hand corner.

And what was the best-selling PC game of all time before that? Myst, I think. No score there either. Hell, that game (which I adored) barely has a visible UI.

The notion of designing an electronic game with lots of autonomy, mastery, and purpose--I'm not sure that's any harder than it is to design a sharply balanced, mechanically intense game. MMOs pull off the autonomy/mastery/purpose thing with greater or lesser degrees of success all the time.

And tabletop RPGs...this is where D&D players break their arms patting themselves on the back. "We've never kept score," they'll proudly say. "We're all about the autonomy, mastery, and purpose." And for at least some tables, that's largely true.

Here's what I wonder, though:

• Electronic games of all stripes are rife with achievement systems. Is this just traditional scorekeeping with a fake beard? And all the gamertags out there festooned with achievements, medals, that just a metascore? We assume that achievement structures motivate. It's true that they direct behavior, but do they truly motivate the way we think they do? I'm unconvinced. I think they might provide more direction than thrust.

• Tabletop RPGs are notoriously difficult to teach (and they aren't helped by traditional RPG intro products). I wonder whether that's because it's harder to "teach" a rules set with autonomy/mastery/purpose than it is to teach a rules set with contingent motivators.

Out of Context: "I seem to have a lot of nutty professors in me."

1 comment:

  1. What an awesome find! Thanks!

    I think it holds for players in the game as well. It occurs to me that the desire for this kind of thing may be a big part for the desire to play rpgs.

    Hmmmm... I'm going to try and consciously use some of these ideas in my next game