Positive Reinforcement in Gaming

Popping in an old classic such as an old Nintendo cartridge will bring back joyful memories of when you were a kid avoiding a volley of chores. One thing that helps bring you back immensely is sound. Without going into a medical journal style of explanation, certain sounds are associated with success and failure, happy and sad, and fear and recognition. This is because the same part of the brain that processes senses also sorts and stores emotional memory. So the first hundred times you played Crash Bandicoot and fell into pits, the comical dropping noise is going to be stored in your head. When you revisit that game ten years later and fall into a pit due to rustiness, your brain will recognize the sound and make you feel failure as that is the feeling associated with the sound. This is the same concept as when a phone rings, your brain knows that that sound means someone is calling you.

Approximation of your face when you're totally into that MW3 match

A way to produce these types of sounds on purpose is to make them distinct. Make them like nothing you’ve heard before. If the sound is unique enough, the gamer will pay more attention to it. While I’m unsure if developers do this on purpose, it can be a very evil tool. A primary instinct wired into your brain makes you want to survive, and surviving is doing well in life.  Basically it’s the same thing casinos do to gambling addicts. You want to win so you keep playing, and to keep playing, you have to pay for the privilege.

Take the hit-marker sound in Modern Warfare 2 for example. Whenever you hit an enemy you hear the hit-marker. Not only does it sound nice, your brain is eventually going to associate it with wounding or killing an enemy target, which is already associated with winning. The better you do, the more times you’re going to hear that sound. And you want to hear that sound don’t you? It will draw you in for longer and more frequent play sessions.

You think I'm gonna buy a $20,000 truck just because you make that sound?!

Graphics can have the same effect albeit a little more hit-or-miss. The target has to like the symbol used. Studies have shown brighter, warmer colors such as red, orange, and yellow, will induce a pleasure feeling in the brain. Darker, cool colors such as blue, purple, and darker shades of green can make you feel more melancholy to outright depressed. This is why we like looking at bright beaches, clothing, art, and three layer vinyls on cars with flashy two-tone paint jobs. So EA decides to sell cars like that on the side, adding to the total cost of an already sixty dollar game. I am talking about Need for Speed Hot Pursuit. Adding flashier cars as DLC, some players will go out and purchase them. Then when you see them blowing by you at 200MPH you think “Gosh, that looks rad, I wish I could look at it longer.” Thus you are persuaded to spend money on a pack of about five cars that look nicer and still race the same give or take a small stat boost/loss.

Because light grey is boring

This can either aid nostalgia, or be used by very evil companies to make more money. Just be careful, and remember to think “Do I really need this?” or “Will I ever use this?” before buying. Bottom line, enjoy your childhood memories, but don’t get swindled into buying more pretty lights and attractive sounds on those merits alone. Personally, I like using sounds and sights to remind me of those great moments in games that forever are stored in your memory. Like the wonderful track from Turtle Woods from Crash 2’s first warp room, to the clink of a glass in Bioshock, to the creeping sound Sly makes when you’re close enough to relieve a guard of his silver watch . You know, that HD remake makes that look better if you wanna shell out a couple twenties 😉

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