Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Psychology in Gaming (a.k.a. The art of warping not so young, but still squishy, minds)

Over the years I have learned a moderate amount of psychology and use it in the campaigns that I run. Well, most of the campaigns, Tales of the Doc Wagon didn't have any psychology in it on purpose. There is always some amount of psychology being used in any game, regardless if it is intended or not, but what I am talking about is the deliberate use of psychology in creating and running a game, and even then it's more of the behavioral aspect of psychology.

I won't get into exactly how I use it, don't want to give away all my tricks, but the big thing that I use it for is to help mold the game to make it more enjoyable, giving the players a chance to invest themselves a bit more in their characters. One of the other things that I use it for is for dramatic tension, I know how to make a villain that can get under someone's skin and get the players wanting to take the character down. This is done through the villains personality, actions, or associations. I've had times where players meet a villain who hasn't done anything yet, but they hated him  just because of his personality (incidentally one of the people that they thought was part of the evil side was actually one of the good guys, he was just a jerk).

Here are 3 things I use to mess with minds:

Betrayal: There are few things that hurt as much as betrayal. Of course having an NPC betray a group is almost always expected, which is why I like to use player characters. Betraying a group with a PC is one of the most dramatic things that I have seen. But it only works if the player of the character goes along with it and they never did anything that made the others believe that it was going to happen. I use this very sparingly.

Playing to Fears: I will exploit fears, both player and character. Yes it's a cheap shot, but very effective when done correctly. Can't do it too often otherwise they get used to it. The trick to this is bring the fears into the game but never ever make it completely hopeless, there always has to be a way out, otherwise the player and/or character will just give up and that is not a good thing.

Misinformation: I do think of this as a psychological aspect since it is based on an individual's perception. I'm not talking about giving bad or incorrect information, I'm talking about giving a bit of information but with some parts missing so that the PC's speculate on what it is and/or means. In fact, I generally don't give the PC's completely bad information (i.e. Out right lie to them) but I will give rumors and gossip which they will sometimes take as fact. It's great listening to the players discuss these things, makes it hard not to grin when they are going in the wrong direction with it so naturally, I grin at everything.

There are other aspects that I won't get into here because I don't think I can describe what I do correctly. Heck, I probably didn't describe what I did put correctly.

However, using psychology as a Game Master is a bit tricky, you have to be careful because it can backfire really really really badly. I've caused players to cry at certain events that have occurred, I've gone too far and made everyone feel that there is no hope when they are actually more than capable of completing the task at hand, given nightmares to players for weeks after the session where I played with their mind, and made one player so frightened that she couldn't be by herself for a couple of days afterwards (though, I have to admit, it was a massive ego boost for me, and her boyfriend thought it was funny). And, of course, the current gaming group thinks I'm evil.

Now, I will warn players when I am going to start using a lot of psychology to take a campaign into a darker direction, and I give them the option to tell me to back off and I will tone it down. Last thing I want to do is get everyone mad at me and not want to game anymore.

One final thing, madness, I've seen few people that can pull off a character going mad/insane/bonkers/cuckoo/crazy correctly. Yes Cheli, I believe that Cobalt Blue was done correctly, and Scott, stop glaring. Insanity can be hard to pull off, so research on it is very helpful.

Just some musings on some of what I do for RPGs, I won't get into the video games that use psychology, that's another post.

Cthulhu is amused.

Paranormal Stuff: Ghosts, Bogeymen, and Spirits (a.k.a. The things that go more than just bump in the night)

Yes, I believe in ghosts. Yes, I believe there are demons. Yes, I believe that there are many things we can not explain out there in the world. Yes, I believe there is something beyond this existence.

I happened to see a trailer for a movie called Insidious. Looks interesting. It got me to thinking about all the various boogie boos out there.  I wonder how many people out there truly believe in the supernatural/paranormal. I see polls that are taken, surveys and such, but how many people tell the truth about it? Anyway, that really isn't why I'm typing this up.

I'm actually talking about the hunters of the paranormal in this post. There are shows about people 'investigating' these occurrences. And yes, I put investigating in quotes for a reason. Most of these shows go looking to prove that there is something there. The only one that I've seen where they didn't is Ghost Hunters. However, I am still a bit sceptical of them, seems that they are asked to play up what happens in the show. However, most of the time they don't seem to find anything. The other shows always find something. Having learned a bit about psychology over the years I firmly believe that if you go into one of these investigations believing that you will find something then you will find it. One of the guys that I work with said something that perfectly sums up most of these investigation shows, "I'm expecting to hear/see this (give example)" During investigation, "Oh hey! Did you see/hear that thing I said that I expected to see/hear?" Most of these shows give paranormal investigation a bad name, and how can anyone take them seriously. On occasion they do come up with some neat footage/evidence but nothing that I would ever consider as concrete proof of paranormal activity. Some of it gets close, but nothing that jumps out and can remove any shadow of a doubt that it exists.

Here are some things I have issue with when presented as "Fact":
Orbs - Often believed to be collections of energy moving around or spirits. What I think they probably are - Dust or bugs

Really grainy photos of ghosts - Investigators reaction: You can see a ghost in the photo! It proves that the place is haunted! - My reaction: How can you tell? I think that most of these are matrixing, the ability of the brain to make a shape out of patterns.

Really grainy videos of ghosts - Similar to above, but I have to ask, why does it have to be so grainy? Do spirits find it easier to manifest if they are being watched with a grainy camera? Come on, get some high quality cameras that give us the good proof we want!

EMF Meters - Investigators: Oh My GOD! There is a GHOST HERE!! The EMF is going off!! Me: Get the damn thing away from the boom mike, camera, or wire. Seriously, to say a place is haunted because your little device goes off isn't good investigation, you have to look for a source, if you can't find one you can say it's paranormal but don't call it a ghost.

Thermometers - Investigators use this to try to find spirits as well, again they will overreact to a fluctuation in temperature and for the instances of dropping more than 10 degrees in a matter of seconds, those have me scratching my head too. But is it a ghost? I need more than that.

EVP (a.k.a. Voices in static) - Now these can creep me out but most of the time I would have to listen really hard to hear anything other than static. I consider most of this along the lines of audio matrixing, kind of like the visual matrixing with the photos, the brain fills in the gaps.

In my mind, the best way to capture proof of the supernatural (i.e. Ghosts) would be to use really good equipment to capture it. High grade cameras, audio recorders, and sensors. The best rig for me is to outfit someone with a suit that has various sensor and recorders all over it, including something to scan brain activity, and send them into a haunted house alone with a team outside monitoring the investigator. But I'll get into that in another post.

But since all the data can be faked and there have been so many charlatans in the past, could it ever be trusted?

I don't think so.

That is why I think that belief in the supernatural/paranormal can not be increased with evidence, people will have to personally experience it themselves.