John  Doran   PSY101   4/6/10  

Level  Design  and  Its  Applications  In   Affecting  Emotions  and  Actions    
John  Doran  
PSY101   4/15/10  


John  Doran   PSY101   4/6/10   Sid  Meier  claims,  "A  [good]  game  is  a  series  of  interesting  choices"  (Rollings  &  

Morris  2000).  In  that  line  of  thinking  it  would  be  advantageous  for  a  level  designer  to   guide  a  player  without  actually  leading  him  by  the  hand.  If  a  player  feels  a  game  is  telling   them  where  to  go  and  explicitly  what  to  do  they  will  feel  as  if  the  choices  they  make  are   insignificant.  A  level  designer  can  supplement  the  pacing,  ecology,  and  environment  of  a   level  by  applying  aspects  from  behavioral  and  architectural  psychology.  Successful   implementation  of  these  concepts  results  in  an  immersive  experience  for  the  player,   unknowing  of  the  efforts  taken  by  the  designer  to  guide  them  along  the  way.     The  way  a  game  is  paced  determines  whether  a  player  will  continue  a  game  to  its   conclusion  or  if  they  suspend  play  in  the  first  10  minutes.  When  done  correctly  a  player   will  encounter  “the  art  of  level  design  [which  will]  make  players  think  they  have  infinite   choices  when  really  they  only  have  a  few"  (Feil  &  Scattergood,  2005).  When  the  player   begins  to  feel  they  are  in  a  living,  breathing  world  they  are  more  receptive  to  subtle   cues  the  designer  places.  This  is  fully  experienced  when  the  player  enters  a  state  of   “Flow.”    “Flow”  is  a  certain  mindset  coined  by  Mihály  Csíkszentmihályi  that  a  person   experiences  when  a  person  is  fully  immersed  within  what  they  are  doing.  “Flow”  is   identical  to  what  a  player  feels  when  he  is  totally  immersed  in  a  game,  giving  them  a   suspension  of  disbelief.  During  this  experience,  the  player  loses  all  track  of  time  and  is   devoted  to  completing  his  objectives.  This  is  a  monumental  idea  to  designers  because   when  it  is  applied  correctly  it  fulfills  the  objective  that  a  designer  is  hired  to  do,  give  a   positive  experience.    

John  Doran   PSY101   4/6/10     Valve’s  Half-­‐Life  2  does  this  is  a  very  effective  way.  In  the  beginning  of  the  game   the  player  is  stuck  in  a  train  station  and  has  to  follow  a  linear  trail  that  is  reasonably   safe.  This  is  advantageous  because  at  this  point  the  player  may  have  no  understanding   of  how  to  play.  Also,  the  player  is  not  placed  in  a  high  difficulty  situation  while  they  are   getting  accustomed  with  the  controls  and  interactions.  This  risks  an  experienced  player   getting  bored  so  the  game  is  paced  for  this  part  of  the  game  to  end  shortly  once   controls  are  learned  while  weaving  it  into  the  fiction  of  the  world.  Once  the  player  has   basic  instructions  on  how  to  play  the  game  they  are  taken  a  larger  size  of  level  in  the   early  chapters  of  the  game  to  make  the  player  believe  that  everywhere  he  goes  there   are  things  to  investigate.  As  the  game  continues,  the  levels  get  progressively  more  and   more  linear.  I  feel  the  reasons  for  this  are  two-­‐fold.  First  off,  the  further  the  player   ventures  into  the  game  it  becomes  more  cinematic  to  lead  to  the  ending’s  climax.   Secondly,  it  means  less  content  would  have  to  be  created  which  saves  both  time  and   money  in  terms  of  creating  it.  At  the  end  of  the  game  we  have  gotten  to  a  point  where   the  player  is  invested  and  in  the  “Flow”  state  because  at  this  point  the  player  should   have  learned  all  of  the  skills  necessary  to  succeed  and  should  have  a  challenge  that  is   just  challenging  enough  to  give  the  player  satisfaction  to  complete  it  without  it  being   too  boring  or  prone  to  anxiety.     Half-­‐Life  2  does  this  differently  from  other  games  in  the  final  hours  of  the  game   because  they  confiscate  everything  the  player  had  accomplished  so  far  and  gives  them  a   new  (okay,  “upgraded”)  weapon  that  they  have  to  learn  how  to  use  and  solve  puzzles   with.  Valve  gets  away  with  this  because  the  Uber-­‐Gravity  Gun  is  fun  to  play  with  and  

John  Doran   PSY101   4/6/10   they  wanted  to  show  that  their  new  engine  handles  physics  really  well.  The  game  also   suffers  from  bad  level  design  many  times  throughout  the  middle  of  the  game.  Many   players  get  lost  and  do  not  have  an  idea  of  where  to  go  to  continue  the  game  due  to  the   environmental  design.  This  can  be  horrible  if  a  player  travels  along  a  route  just  to  realize   that  they  were  backtracking  for  the  past  10  minutes.  

  The  first  time  players  visit  City  17  in  Half-­‐Life  2  provides  the  player  with  a  large  environment  to   believe  they  are  living  in  a  living,  breathing  world  in  a  low-­‐stress  way  to  encourage  exploration.  

The  ecology  of  a  game  dictates  of  lot  in  terms  of  the  actions  and  feelings  that   people  take  in  a  game.  The  choice  to  use  a  med-­‐kit  immediately  or  wait  to  see  if  a  friend   needs  it  can  mean  the  difference  between  someone  winning  a  game  or  dying.  Being   able  to  guide  the  player  into  seeing  the  advantages  of  using  features  of  a  game  can  give   them  gratification  that  they  would  not  have  known  otherwise.  “By  understanding  how   people  react  to  different  kinds  of  choices,  we  can  design  games  that  help  them  make   the  kind  of  choices  that  they’ll  enjoy,  and  understand  how  some  game  designs  can   unintentionally  elicit  bad  choices”    (Hopson,  2002).   Ecology  refers  to  both  the  “power-­‐ups”  that  a  game  has  (in  all  its  forms)  and  the   encounters  that  you  have  within  an  area.  Each  of  these  has  an  inherent  value  to  the  

John  Doran   PSY101   4/6/10   player  and  the  placement  of  positive  and  negative  stimuli  involved  with  both  the   amount  and  lack  of  these  items  can  trigger  certain  emotions  within  players  within  a   game.     In  behavioral  psychology  there  is  a  convention  for  operant  conditioning  in  which  by   using  consequences  for  actions  there  is  a  form  of  behavior.  Every  person  who  has   played  video  games  for  a  substantial  amount  of  time  has  had  behaviors  engraved  into   them  as  humans  learn  by  observation.  This  is  the  primary  reason  why  people  have   difficulty  playing  games  if  they  have  not  done  so  before.  The  Sonic  the  Hedgehog  series   of  games  has  used  the  reward  of  rings  and  other  power-­‐ups  to  give  incentive  for  players   to  travel  the  way  the  designer  wants  them  to.  This  also  gives  players  reasons  to  explore   different  paths  on  subsequent  play-­‐throughs  of  levels.  This  is  a  lesson  Left  4  Dead  may   have  used  for  great  benefit  as  players  tend  to  find  one  way  to  get  to  the  end  of  a  level   and  would  not  do  any  exploring  as  they  were  constantly  given  negative  stimuli  in  staying   in  one  place  by  the  director  spawning  hordes  of  zombies  or  special  infected  on  them.    

Rings,  seen  here  from  Sonic  the  Hedgehog  2,  not  only  promote  exploration  and  guidance  but  also   are  actually  weaved  into  gameplay  by  their  use  as  a  life-­‐counter  and  life  giver.  If  players  were  damaged   without  a  ring,  they  would  die.  Collecting  100  of  them  gives  them  an  extra  life,  so  they  are  given  positive   stimuli  to  collect  as  many  rings  as  they  can.  

Edward  Thorndike’s  Law  of  Effect  can  be  used  to  a  certain  degree  to  

John  Doran   PSY101   4/6/10  

increase/reduce  stress  and  add/subtract  difficulty  in  a  level.  It  is  through  reward  that   players  are  more  willing  to  follow  suggestions  given  by  the  designer  without  noticing  it.   By  giving  players  incentives  to  travel  in  certain  ways  they  feel  it  is  their  choice  to  go  that   way  and  if  they  conveniently  wind  up  where  they  need  to  actually  go  to  continue  the   game  then  that  was  clearly  their  superior  sense  of  direction.  If  the  designer  also  does  a   poor  job  in  leading  the  player  or  the  player  is  an  explorer-­‐type  and  always  takes  every   path  to  its  end  a  designer  should  place  rewards  at  the  end  of  dead  ends  in  order  to  give   positive  reinforcement  towards  exploring  the  game  environment  as  that  is  what  the   player  taking  the  non-­‐linear  path  will  do.   A  player  can  also  be  conditioned  to  not  travel  in  certain  direction  from  negative   stimuli  such  as  difficult  enemies  and  dangerous  effects.  A  player  is  far  less  likely  to  go   through  an  environment  that  he  will  die  in.  Going  straight  up  to  an  enemy  tank  without   a  rocket  launcher  in  Success’  Operation  Darkness  would  almost  guarantee  the  player   death.  If  you  wanted  to  move  a  player  into  a  certain  direction  at  the  cost  of  heightening   their  stress  this  is  a  valid  tactic  to  use.    


In  Operation  Darkness  tanks  are  far  more  overpowered  than  other  units  but  have  a  weakness  in  the   forms  of  rockets.  However,  when  rockets  are  not  available  or  hard  to  find  it  will  make  players  go  away   from  them.  

John  Doran   PSY101   4/6/10  

The  vast  amount  of  things  that  can  be  done  in  level  design  to  affect  the  player  may   be  done  in  terms  of  the  environment  that  they  are  in.  In  fact,  in  real  life  there  is  an   entire  branch  of  psychology  related  to  the  interactions  of  humans  and  their   environment.  Players  are  more  interested  in  their  gameplay  environment  when  they   have  incentive  to  continue  exploring  the  game’s  world.  Bioshock  does  this  in  the  various   posters  that  they  place  throughout  the  different  levels  of  the  game.  These   advertisements  for  the  citizens  of  Rapture  actually  foreshadow  other  levels  that  players   will  access  throughout  their  game  experience  while  building  anticipation  to  keep  players   playing.    

Bioshock’s  posters  are  used  to  great  effect  in  the  game’s  world  in  creating  anticipation  towards   seeing  areas.  

An  environment’s  lighting  can  be  used  in  many  different  ways.  Primarily,  light   draws  focus  to  things  and  as  humans  are  creatures  that  like  the  light  they  tend  to  travel   towards  it.  Darkness  and  the  unknown  are  uncomfortable  areas  for  players  to  be  in  and   by  not  lighting  areas  as  much  as  others  add  to  the  foreboding  nature  that  an  area  could   be.  Monolith’s  F.E.A.R  does  this  quite  nicely  by  turning  an  office  into  an  intense  and  

John  Doran   PSY101   4/6/10   dangerous  place  to  be  in,  even  though  you  are  fully  armed  and  equipped  to  handle   anything  that  may  come  by  your  way.  

F.E.A.R.  uses  lighting  to  lead  players  towards  areas  while  creating  apprehensive  emotions  through   the  shadows  in  the  enviroment.  

In  conclusion,  video  games  are  interactive  simulations  that  become  increasingly   lifelike  as  we  continue  to  create  them.  By  designers  applying  aspects  from  behavioral   and  architectural  psychologies  into  the  pacing,  ecology,  and  environment  of  a  level  they   can  influence  players  to  have  an  experience  they  won’t  forget.  By  empowering  players   through  this  process,  levels  will  flow  more  effortlessly  and  give  the  maximum  amount  of   fun  possible  within  the  confines  of  their  play-­‐space.  


John  Doran   PSY101   4/6/10  

Rollings,  Andrew  and  Dave  Morris.  (2000).  Game  Architecture  and  Design.  Scottsdale,   Arizona:  Coriolis.     Feil,  John  and  Mark  Scattergood.  (2005).  Beginning  Game  Level  Design.    Boston,  Mass.:   Premier  Press.     Csikszentmihalyi,  M.  (1990).  Flow:  The  Psychology  of  Optimal  Experience.       New  York,  NY:  Harper  &  Row  Publishers  Inc.     Hopson,  John.  (2002).     The  Psychology  of  Choice,  Retrieved  April  6,  2010,  from   Seifert,  Coray,  Jim  Brown,  Joel  Bugess,  Forrest  Dowling,  Ed  Byrne,  Neil  Alphonso,     Matthias  Worch.  Level  Design  in  a  Day:  Best  Practices  from  the  Best  in  the     Business.  2010  GDC.  Moscone  Center.  San  Francisco,  CA.  10  March  2010.   Rogers,  Scott.  Everything  About  Level  Design  I  Learned  From  Disneyland.  2009  GDC.     Moscone  Center.  San  Francisco,  CA.  28  March  2009.    

Master your semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Special offer for students: Only $4.99/month.

Master your semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Cancel anytime.