The Hardcore Gamer’s Slot Machine

Everybody loves slot machines.  Even if you hate gambling, I bet that you would have a good time in any casino.  They are designed to be fun and to keep you engaged.  Consider my surprise when I “got woke” and realized video games were using the exact same principles as slot machines and “one armed bandits.”

I could write another thousand words on loot boxes and gambling mechanics, or you could just watch this video.

One important takeaway is that Destiny, and by extension Destiny 2, are not bad games.  The gunplay is phenomenal, raid challenges are mind bending, and the story… ehh.  However, the mechanics within Destiny pose some serious ethical dilemmas about player agency and decisions.

I know that I am not alone when I say that I bought extra content in Destiny for the allure of getting more loot.  Destiny 2 was advertised heavily on the premise that it contained lots of loot.

Game developers are becoming much more efficient at using psycho-analytics in order to manipulate player behavior.  Are you really choosing to play Destiny (or any RNG loot based reward game) or is your brain tricking you into thinking that you need to play more in order to achieve the high level of satisfaction you receive from delayed gratification reward systems.

I often felt compelled to continue to play Destiny in order to obtain the best gear and grind for more and more engrams and loot boxes.  If I missed a day of playing I would feel anxious and stressed.  I would schedule events so that I would be able to visit Xur every week.  Destiny had started to create a real impact on my everyday life.

You might just say, “Stop playing so much.”  But when the game is designed for a high level of player retention and engagement it can be difficult to stop.  The urge to play more and continue to pull the slot machine just for a chance at something artificially designated as Legendary, Exotic, or Epic can be too much to resist.

The principles of psychology and philosophy intersect betwixt a plethora of topics.  Free will and player agency can be manipulated through psychological principles, both of which are discussed frequently within the discipline of philosophy.  Philosophically, game developers need to look at why they are included and promoting these manipulative systems, instead of just making an enjoyable experience that the player can take ownership of.

If game developers and publishers are hiring psychology game behaviorists or user research managers, I am now creating and promoting the new field of study tentatively titled, “Philosophic Gaming Analyst.”  I intend to continue looking at the ethics of creating video games, axiomatically judging games based on their value to the player.

Here is a link to the article mentioned in the video from 2002 titled, “Behavioral Game Design” by John Hopson.  Hopson previously worked for Microsoft and Bungie, and now currently works for Blizzard.  Many of the points in the article can now be seen in Destiny.


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