Monday, February 27, 2012

Intrinsic Rewards and Games

We're looking at Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, starting here.

One of the main points she makes is linking games to recent developments in the psychological theory of motivation.


One of the lessons of the new positive psychology is extrinsic motivation does not actually bring much happiness:


The researchers’ unequivocal conclusion: “The attainment of extrinsic, or ‘American Dream,’ goals—money, fame, and being considered physically attractive by others—does not contribute to happiness at all.” In fact, they reported, far from creating well-being, achieving extrinsic rewards “actually does contribute to some ill-being.”


Instead, happiness comes from instrinsic satisfaction, relatioships and personal growth, as a matter of empirical evidence

On the other hand, in the same study the University of Rochester researchers found that individuals who focused on intrinsically rewarding activity, working hard to develop their personal strengths and build social relationships, for example, were measurably happier over the entire two-year period completely regardless of external life circumstances like salary or social status.

Part of the reason for this is the "hedonic treadmill". As soon as we have a bigger house or car, we get used to it very quickly. It no longer brings additional happiness.

Instead, purposeful activity and experience is a more reliable way to happiness.

We wean ourselves off consumption and acquisition as sources of pleasure and develop our hedonic resilience. As research psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, a leading expert on intrinsic reward, explains: “One of the chief reasons for the durability of happiness activities is that . . . they are hard won. You’ve devoted time and effort.... You have made these practices happen, and you have the ability to make them happen again. This sense of capability and responsibility is a powerful boost in and of itself.”

And here's perhaps the most important point in the book. There is no inherent scarcity when it comes to contributors to happiness. Happiness does not actually rely on material goods or money or material resources.

As long as we’re focused on intrinsic and not extrinsic reward, we never run out of the raw materials for making our own happiness. We’re hardwired with neurochemical systems to make all the happiness we need. We just have to work hard at things that activate us and immerse ourselves in challenging activities we enjoy for their own sake.

We can create all the experience points and levelling up and feedback and motivation we want using similar principles to games. It doesn't count in M3 or inflation pressure. We can set up challenging activities that provide the right amount of flow if we have the right measures and technology to do so.

So games are not simply a waste of time, she says.

More importantly, it’s evidence that gamers aren’t escaping their real lives by playing games. They’re actively making their real lives more rewarding. ... Until and unless the real work world changes for the better, games like WoW will fulfill a fundamental human need: the need to feel productive. That’s what it takes for work to satisfy us: it must present us with clear, immediately actionable goals as well as direct, vivid feedback. World of Warcraft does all of this brilliantly, and it does so continuously. As a result, every single day, gamers worldwide spend a collective 30 million hours working in World of Warcraft

Although she doesn't put it quite this way, you can think of the game structures here as a different kind of coordination device. Money and markets are brilliant social technology to accomplish that goal, and have enjoyed increasing success for over two thousand years. But now we don't need so many material doodahs as before. We need more happiness.

Team sports have traditionally delivered a feeling of purpose and participation, but are difficult to scale and to convert into actual real accomplishment.

For now, things like World of Warcraft (which I downloaded and played for the first time over the weekend) are just games. But the technology now clearly exists to coordinate millions of people towards common purposes, with satisfying feedback and development. It has only been possible for about twenty years, and only taken off in the last ten. It is very early days.

Games are a motivation and coordination technology. They are a purpose technology. If the deepest question facing the economy now is how do we deliver more purpose, meaning and happiness rather than just material goods alone, then that is very important.




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