Don’t pull that again, or it will hit you in the head again


This was originally posted on 19th September 2011

Round 1

This morning while hanging washing on the clothes horse like the diligent house husband I occasionally am, my 15 month old son pulled excitedly on a sock I’d just hung, causing the whole thing to keel over, knock him on the head and then return to its original position. One minor tear break later and he attempts the exact same thing. This left me in an interesting position, do I step in physically and stop the thing from tipping over or let him learn from his own mistakes? In the end I went with a warning I think he probably understood a little bit of, but more likely he was suddenly distracted by Spiderman, Batman, a picture of an elephant, the idea of lions, or a near infinite variation on one of these themes and off he ran.

Kids learn in a variety of ways, through experience (pulling this=banged head), advice, terror, luck, watching etc. The idea of operant conditioning through negative reinforcement works when the idea of or excitement of a potential reward becomes weak or unattractive enough that it’s not worth the risk of being knocked on the head for. Then as the memory of the physical pain of being hit on the head fades, you might still try again if the allure of the reward or action is weighted appropriately.

With videogames, you’re being knocked on the head constantly during the entire experience. Every long term gamer has taken a lot of punishment over the years, but it’s because of this willingness to get slapped over and over again that they have accessed so many excellent experiences.

Typical Playstation 3 owner

The first punch in the face usually comes with the purchase, whereupon you rely on various sources like reviews, recommendations, box art, title, whatever, to make a decision to purchase. You take this fist to the face and hand over money hoping that you’ll get enough entertainment/enjoyment out of the game to help you forget how much it stings, perhaps even in hindsight make the pain seem like a good deal. When you find a bargain on the shelves you might feel you have already won that stage, as you’re all the more certain that the punch is definitely not going to hurt. 

 With the iOS market, the app store and the increase in popularity of freemium games, this stage of punishment has been turned on its head to such a degree that not only do you know it isn’t going to hurt, but the financial justification level is so low (even free) as to become insignificant to most players. And thus did Apple save gamers from that first cruel blow that the games industry has been brutally administering since videogames began.

Ding ding: Round 2 coming soon.


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