Player Belief and Motivation (or Laundry)
I see game design in everything. This is why I am going to tell you about an experience I had while doing laundry.
In the space of 10 feet and the time of 1 minute, someone stole my laundry card. I was right there. I walked to grab a load out of the washer, and when I returned to the dryer 1 minute later, the card was gone. I’d heard someone walk through the room, but I hadn’t paid them any mind. I live in a good, safe community.
So, stuffing my three loads into two dryers, I walked back to my place thinking about it. I wasn’t mad or even really upset. I was officially out $14.25, the amount that remained on the card, and I reasoned that if someone were desperate enough to steal my card from me while I was right there, they probably needed that $14.25 way more than I did.
Then, I tried to actively embrace this idea: I now actually wanted them to have it. I tried to think how fortunate I am overall, and thought of some of the things that might lead one to lift another’s goods. Take it, I thought. Good for you. Seriously, good for you.
The problem was that I couldn’t make myself embrace it no matter how I tried, and it wasn’t because I was upset. Here’s why: it broke rules of the implicit type, the ones we go into a game with that the game doesn’t tell us about. They are the things players just know to be true. I couldn’t erase an obvious and clear implicit rule violation even though I was okay with what had transpired. These rules violations are the same types that blow us out of movies (narrative versions of deus ex machina) or make us question things in the first place. I can recall one thing that rolled around in my brain for years because I just couldn’t reconcile alleged Fact A with alleged Fact B. Both couldn’t be true. Because I couldn’t accept both as true, I was likewise unmotivated to accept or to do anything that relied on the simultaneous truth of A and B.
As a designer, it made me really consider what things I put into games and whether my players believe them to be true. Even if they seem true to me, we are a giant, game-playing world full of many, many cultures and sometimes things can be true and false at the same time.
Then, that’s exactly what happened.
When I went back to take my clothes from the dryers, the card had been returned. It was in the same dryer slot from which it had been removed 45 minutes before. This time, I had my assumptions challenged in a way I hadn’t at all expected. The difference between the facts (someone probably took it accidentally) and my previous beliefs (someone obviously stole it) led to an amount of dissonance, a plot twist, and then a logical rewiring that resulted in a very positive experience. As the player, I was completely set up, and when the truth was revealed, it made complete logical sense (Fact A and Fact B could both be true), surprised me and left me feeling good. The difference between this attempt at rewiring my thinking and the earlier and failed attempt with the laundry card theft/gifting is one of plausibility in which the structure of the implicit rules, what we may call logic, is retained.