Closure of Shanghai Studio, Start of New Adventures

10 years, 10 games, tons of wonderful memories. The Shanghai studio of Spicy Horse Games is closing its doors. The company itself will remain intact, and we’ll continue to operate existing games online. At our peak, during development of Alice: Madness Returns, the studio contained 85+ people. These days we’re down to just 6, and it feels like a good time for a radical shift.

I’m going to turn my focus to indie development and will continue to publish small titles under the Spicy Horse brand. Much of this work will be done in a challenging new environment – aboard my sailboat, bobbing around the S.E. Asia region. This is also where I’ll bring to life Pirate Jam – the game jam on a flotilla of sailboats. I plan to document this new adventure online and in video. If you want to support these new creations, check out my Patreon page.

The past 12 years in China have been incredible. I owe so much to the people who helped build Spicy Horse into a happy place to explore and create. To the hundreds of developers who called Spicy Horse home over the years, Thank You. And to the fans and supporters who enjoyed our efforts, Thank You.

Now, to the next adventure! I hope you’ll all join me along the way 🙂

Comment on this announcement on my Facebook page.

Dev Armada – A Proposal

UPDATE: This post has turned into an actual event: www.pirate-jam.com

Seeking feedback on an idea I’m brainstorming: Hackathon + Sailing + YouTube

A rough draft PDF overview can be found here: Pirate GamesV2 (Updated Mar 10, 2015)

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Here’s the request for feedback I’m posting to Reddit’s /r/gamedev

Seeking Feedback: Hackathon/Jam + Sailboats + Reality Show

tl;dr: Game dev wants your feedback on “sailboat-based hackathon + video series” concept.

For the last 23 years I’ve been making games with non-traditional themes, in unusual development environments, and with interesting financial/legal structures. For instance, 9 years ago I started a studio in China which went on to make the first AAA Western console game 100% developed by a China-based team. Spicy Horse continues making games to this day, but with a focus on F2P mobile games.

Always seeking a new challenge, I’ve been brainstorming a way to combine some of my favorite pastimes: game development, sailing, and YouTube content (creation and consumption).

I’m here today seeking feedback and advice on what’s tentatively called “Dev Armada” AKA “Pirate Games” AKA “Will it Float?”

The idea:

Create a 10-day hackathon/game-jam; put it aboard sailing vessels in the Andaman Sea (Thailand’s most beautiful place to sail); insert competing teams of 3 devs per boat; allow for 7AM-12PM development; fill the remaining day with “pirate games,” sailing, diving, and fishing; film the whole thing; and release 30 minute episodes to promote the brand and finished apps. Finally, release the apps for free and generate revenue via YouTube, ads, Patreon, branded merchandise, sponsors, and other sources. Participants share in the financial success of each adventure. Repeat this 6 times per year.

Thematically, the video series explores a “fish out of water” narrative as participants overcome various challenges related to life at sea and development in remote locations.

The pilot episode will feature two sailboats (one mine, one belonging to and captain’d by friends who are sailing couple). Two teams of 3 devs will be flown to Thailand to participate in 10 days of development and fun. The resulting media content (video, apps) will be used to verify the concept and pitch the idea to potential sponsors, financiers, and future participants.

I’m looking for feedback in general. I have some specific questions in mind, but will wait to see the general feedback before posting those.

So, what’s wrong with the idea? What’s great about it? Why would you participate (or not)? Would you watch the videos? What’s your pirate name?

Thanks in advance for your feedback!

Change Log
Updated the PDF. Adjusted goals related to content type and theme. Old version of the PDF can be found here: Pirate GamesV1

Adventures in Sailing

When not making games I engage in a wide range of hobbies, mostly as a humble dilettante: cooking, cello, electronics tinkering, and Chinese language to name a few. By far my favorite activity outside of work is sailing, and since late 2013 I’ve indulged this passion aboard my own sailboat. Details of my various adventures along with video and pictures can be found on a dedicated blog, here:

SV-Synchronicity Blog

And here’s an example of one of the many sailing adventure videos you can find on the site:

Koh Racha Sailing and Diving Trip from American McGee on Vimeo.

I have thought many times of combining game development with sailing. Imagine a sort of “Sailboat Studios,” made up of a small flotilla of boats, each crewed by a small number of game developers. This group would sail around, spend a few hours each day working on their game project, and spend the rest of the time exploring and adventuring together. Having now spent some time aboard doing both, I think the two ideas have some very interesting synergies.

More on this topic in the future. 🙂

“Made to Stick” and Social Online Games

“Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die” by Chip and Dan Heath is a look into the “stickiness” of ideas and how this impacts product design, marketing and consumer behavior. It contains a wealth of ideas that are directly applicable to the design, monetization and community aspects of social online games.

In a similar vein to Pascal Boyer’s “Religion Explained”, “Made to Stick” it outlines why certain memes (be they religious or product related) work and survive – or don’t. As a simple rule, this often links to the pre-defined templates our brains use to rapidly interpret the constant stream of social/environmental information coming at us – and the critical mutations of data in those templates that lead to a new, unexpected and sticky ideas.

Unexpected outcomes to stories create stickiness. And highly unexpected outcomes which appeal to vivid emotional themes (death, disgust, fear and suspicion to name a few) can lead to a wide range of very successful ideas.

The “6 Principals”
The Heaths reviewed hundreds of sticky ideas and uncovered 6 principals that made them work. These principals can be applied to everything we do in game development: from the foundation narrative and character design for a new IP to the UI Design, monetization scheme, item naming, control inputs, marketing message and community building avenues we create.

PRINCIPLE 1: SIMPLICITY
How do we find the essential core of our ideas? A successful defense lawyer says, “If you argue ten points, even if each is a good point, when they get back to the jury room they won’t remember any.” To strip an idea down to its core, we must be masters of exclusion. We must relentlessly prioritize. Saying something short is not the mission—sound bites are not the ideal. Proverbs are the ideal. We must create ideas that are both simple and profound. The Golden Rule is the ultimate model of simplicity: a one-sentence statement so profound that an individual could spend a lifetime learning to follow it.

The French aviator and author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once offered a definition of engineering elegance: “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

We all know the curse of “feature creep”, that constant adding of new features meant to ‘improve’ a game in development. It’s a product of starting a development without a basic understanding of the overall design intent. Who is the audience? What’s the platform? What’s the genre? And most importantly, what’s the fun in this game?

Our goal should be to capture the design intent with a single, simple statement. For Akaneiro we might say, “It’s the Facebook version of Diablo”. With BigHead BASH it could be, “Deathmatch in a toy store”. In other words, “simple messages are core and compact”. They say a lot with little.

This, by the way, is one of the reasons that using fairy tales as the basis of our game narratives is useful – by bringing the characters, locations and pre-existing audience expectations to a new game we’re using shorthand to quickly communicate a huge amount of information about our design intent.

PRINCIPLE 2: UNEXPECTEDNESS
How do we get our audience to pay attention to our ideas, and how do we maintain their interest when we need time to get the ideas across? We need to violate people’s expectations. We need to be counterintuitive. A bag of popcorn is as unhealthy as a whole day’s worth of fatty foods! We can use surprise—an emotion whose function is to increase alertness and cause focus—to grab people’s attention. But surprise doesn’t last. For our idea to endure, we must generate interest and curiosity. How do you keep students engaged during the forty-eighth history class of the year? We can engage people’s curiosity over a long period of time by systematically “opening gaps” in their knowledge—and then filling those gaps.

Game designs and concepts are (usually) anything but unexpected. We’ve been reusing the same design concepts and narrative foundations (space marines, anyone?) repeatedly for generations. There are patterns in the designs, interfaces, play mechanics and marketing campaigns (among other things). In order for our concept, design or marketing campaign to be noticed it has to be unexpected (like The Spanish Inquisition).

Again, this is one of those areas where turning a known on its head can be useful – a gothic, bloody Alice. A “Red Riding Hood” tale set in Japan. But that’s not enough – humans adapt to patterns extremely quickly and then tune them out. In order to maintain attention things must change – people are extremely aware of changes; which is why we have to build change into our interfaces, content updates, marketing plans and designs.

“Gap Theory” is the idea that our brains are constantly seeking to answer questions and close open patterns (what will happen next?). In films there are turning points – each scene ending on a new question – which keeps us engaged throughout the film. Games present this in narrative (quests) or progression (leveling up) or collecting (what weapon/toy/hat am I missing). The critical thing here is that we must open gaps before we close them – i.e. build narrative turning points, progression and collection into our designs from the beginning.

Our challenge is to build the question of “what will happen next” into everything we’re creating – from our marketing campaigns to our content updates. In order to do this effectively we must create (and follow) plans which create the gap (question) first – “coming soon” signs on the shelves of the in-game store, three-part marketing trailers with a suspenseful mini-narrative and treasure chests without keys – then close it (answer) to reward people’s curiosity.

An example of a highly publicized gap design is the “10th Drone” in BigPoint’s “Dark Orbit”. 10 drone types are scattered around the world, people quest for them, then ‘go crazy’ when they can’t find the 10th drone (can’t fill the gap). The result was selling 2,000 of those drones for “1,000 Euros each” in just four days.

PRINCIPLE 3: CONCRETENESS
How do we make our ideas clear? We must explain our ideas in terms of human actions, in terms of sensory information. This is where so much business communication goes awry. Mission statements, synergies, strategies, visions—they are often ambiguous to the point of being meaningless. Naturally sticky ideas are full of concrete images—ice-filled bathtubs, apples with razors—because our brains are wired to remember concrete data. In proverbs, abstract truths are often encoded in concrete language: “A bird in hand is worth two in the bush.” Speaking concretely is the only way to ensure that our idea will mean the same thing to everyone in our audience.

This is a huge one for game designers and audiences. As game designers we’ve become so enamored of our jargon that we neglect to present our design concepts in concrete terms. This is especially problematic when we’re trying to reach a new, casual gaming audience. What’s more appealing to that audience – a “+1 sword of stunning” or “Frostdire’s Rusty Ice Blade”? Or telling someone they are at 10% experience vs. giving him/her an evocative rank (name) and iconic badge?

“Curse of Knowledge” is how this is described in “Made to Stick” – and illustrated by way of the “tapping game”. People are asked to tap out (using their fingers) the rhythm to a well-known song, then ask the listener to identify it (try this). The ‘tappers’ are confounded when the ‘listeners’ don’t immediately guess what song they are tapping – because when tapping they actually hear the song playing in their minds. The listener is at a disadvantage, not being able to hear the song playing in the mind of the tapper. This same problem is frequently created when we, as game designers with years of accumulated knowledge, assume our “listeners” can hear what we’re tapping. This is especially critical when trying to reach new, casual game audiences.

The goal is to make these concepts (marketing, design, UI, etc) vivid and memorable. Abstract ideas (like “stunning” or “personality”) are not as memorable as concrete ones (like “bicycle” or “ice”). When we hear “bicycle” we actually picture it – when we hear “stun” what do we picture (nothing)?

PRINCIPLE 4: CREDIBILITY
How do we make people believe our ideas? When the former surgeon general C. Everett Koop talks about a public-health issue, most people accept his ideas without skepticism. But in most day-to-day situations we don’t enjoy this authority. Sticky ideas have to carry their own credentials. We need ways to help people test our ideas for themselves—a “try before you buy” philosophy for the world of ideas. When we’re trying to build a case for something, most of us instinctively grasp for hard numbers. But in many cases this is exactly the wrong approach. In the sole U.S. presidential debate in 1980 between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, Reagan could have cited innumerable statistics demonstrating the sluggishness of the economy. Instead, he asked a simple question that allowed voters to test for themselves: “Before you vote, ask yourself if you are better off today than you were four years ago.”

This applies mainly to two domains we’re concerned with: marketing and in-game commerce. The question is: What makes people believe ideas? We believe trusted sources like our parents and friends. This is one of the foundations for the marketing/spread of social-online games. If our friends and family are enjoying it we’re more likely to give it a try.

We get some traction by including known actors (i.e., Nine Inch Nails sound/music for “Quake”). We trust the recommendations of those we want to be like. On that note: We MUST create in-game celebrities (high ranking/performing players) and make them spokespersons for weapons and items.

Falsifiable claims can be used to ask the audience to test the credibility of our statements. For instance, claiming that we have the “most action packed game on Facebook”. This screams, “see for yourself!” and invites people into the product. We just need to make sure we can back up our claims!

For in-game purposes: Try before you buy, ability to rate purchased items (a form of recommending to others), gifting (implicit recommendation), item sharing (use it while I’m not playing), these are all ways of establishing the credibility of an in-game item. In the store/UI we can use a credible figure (like a recognizable toy shop owner) to reinforce trust and inspire purchases. Statistics used to reinforce relationships can also be very useful with products: “A shotgun is 2x more powerful than a pistol” is much more meaningful than “A shotgun does 10 points more damage than a pistol”.

PRINCIPLE 5: EMOTIONS
How do we get people to care about our ideas? We make them feel something. In the case of movie popcorn, we make them feel disgusted by its unhealthiness. The statistic “37 grams” doesn’t elicit any emotions. Research shows that people are more likely to make a charitable gift to a single needy individual than to an entire impoverished region. We are wired to feel things for people, not for abstractions. Sometimes the hard part is finding the right emotion to harness. For instance, it’s difficult to get teenagers to quit smoking by instilling in them a fear of the consequences, but it’s easier to get them to quit by tapping into their resentment of the duplicity of Big Tobacco.

Simple fact: Appealing to emotion will result in higher average spend per player. When people are in an analytical state of mind they’ll spend less than when in an emotional state of mind.

Tap into resentment? We might ask core gamers (who seem to hate Facebook games) to try our Unity-based advance-casual 3D action games as an expression of their dislike of traditional Flash-based 2D social games.

We can actually prime people for emotional thinking by asking them emotionally relevant questions. For example, after a deathmatch we might pop-up a survey box (with reward for answering, of course) “How did that match make you feel?” Then provide three answers (which we might or might not care about analyzing later). Doing this will put people into an emotional state of mind and encourage more spending. (Might make sense to have our in-game store owners start with, “How do you feel today?”)

Use self-interest to sell our in-game items and weapons. For example, “My team laughed when I entered the arena… but when I fired off a round from my new RocketSpewer2000!” (This plays off a classic ad for learning to play piano). It’s not the features of a rocket launcher, but the benefits. “50 rounds per minute” is less compelling than “You can be the highest scoring person in the game”. When creating item descriptions we need to think “WIIFY” (What’s In It For You) – and sell on the basis of benefit for “you”, the Player (i.e. you’ll be winning matches, you’ll be collecting the most loot).

PRINCIPLE 6: STORIES
How do we get people to act on our ideas? We tell stories. Firefighters naturally swap stories after every fire, and by doing so they multiply their experience; after years of hearing stories, they have a richer, more complete mental catalog of critical situations they might confront during a fire and the appropriate responses to those situations. Research shows that mentally rehearsing a situation helps us perform better when we encounter that situation in the physical environment. Similarly, hearing stories acts as a kind of mental flight simulator, preparing us to respond more quickly and effectively.

We use stories as the foundations for our games. But we also create a space in our games for players to create their own stories. The challenge is in knowing how to spot the emerging stories (from our developments, finished games and from people playing the game) and amplify those to drive further success in our products.

The Heath’s illustrate three main plot types: The Challenge Plot (overcoming adversity, “David and Goliath”), The Connection Plot (relationships bridging a gap, “Titanic”) and The Creativity Plot (inspiration leading to breakthrough, an apple landing on Newton’s head). These types can be used to recognize valuable stories within our games and their social online communities. Once discovered, these stories should be plucked out, placed on a pedestal and spotlighted.

A direct application would be the integration of storytelling in a Player’s profile and achievements (think of the Timeline now being rolled out on Facebook).

Why is this all important? Say the Heath’s: “If you’re a great spotter (of stories), you’ll always trump a great creator. Why? Because the world will always produce more great ideas than any single individual, even the most creative one.” This is the magic behind “user created content” – and why we should push to create platforms for player’s stories within our products.

Further Reading
“Made to Stick” contains a wealth of additional info on these topics and is worth reading in full if you’re interested in applying these concepts to game design and social online environments. I also wrote a similar breakdown of the concepts contained in “Religion Explained” by Pascal Boyer. A link to both books can be found below.

Link to “Made to Stick”

Link to “Religion Explained”

Religion, Online Social Communities and Monetization

“Religion Explained” by Pascal Boyer explores the psychology of belief systems and reveals how the nature of religion is linked to the structure of the brain (as with the design and stickiness of everything else humans create and consume).

Boyer posits that religion is a result of our need to explain the constant background processing happening in our brains. If we understood those background processes and why they lead to concepts like religion we might hijack them to create stable, religion-like societies and behaviors in and around our online social games.

Want an example of this happening in the world right now? Look no further than Apple:

“The Bishop of Buckingham — who reads his Bible on an iPad — explained to me the similarities between Apple and a religion. And when a team of neuroscientists with an MRI scanner took a look inside the brain of an Apple fanatic it seemed the bishop was on to something. The results suggested that Apple was actually stimulating the same parts of the brain as religious imagery does in people of faith.”

In fact, we see a sort of ‘religious fanatic’ behavior with “console fan boys”, Sims Online players, and gamer clans (to name a few examples within the game industry). Same thing happens to some degree with car, clothing and other entertainment brands.

Religious concepts aren’t just random nonsense – they conform to certain expectations we have about the categories of things in the world around us. And they reinforce the subconscious responses we have to coalitions, relationships (mates), moral behavior, transactions and other things critical to survival and success in a social world.

Boyer: We have gods in part because we have the mental equipment that makes society possible but we cannot always understand how society functions.

Our brain’s “widgets” simultaneously create and handle the constant subconscious processing of information related to a functioning society, including:

• Rituals and Ceremonies (public and publicized events)
o Ordeals and initiation (systems for enforcing coalitional behavior)
• Guilds: Sects, Tribes, Clans;
o Followers, Fanatics
• Social Interaction (tournaments, challenges, mating)
o Gods, Priests/Shamans (Special Persons AKA “admins” or “mods”)
• Transaction Behavior (purchasing, lending, cheating)
• Communication (gossip, access to strategic information, forums)
• Rules/Guidelines for Behavior (moral feelings)

You’ll note that this list overlaps nicely with many of the expectations we have for the social structure of our online games. We expect to have all these elements in our designs – but we can better present and tune these things if we understand why our brains are wired to expect these sorts of things from a social structure in the real world.

Ideas we can steal from Religion
The true beauty of the borrowing from religion is that it too is a micro-transaction based socio-economic system, often with no visible output for the “buffs” and rewards being purchased (just like our games!). Keep in mind that almost every one of these ideas can be presented as a paid-for-only feature in a game; each is these is a potential revenue stream.

Rituals and Ceremonies
Rituals are “snares for thought” that activate special systems in our brains (akin to OCD behavior). They allow for stabilization of guilds, cementing of coalition bonds, access to “special power”.
• Give players (especially guilds) “loud” and “solemn” rituals.
• Initiation rites are “loud” rituals. Create hooks to allow guilds to custom craft these.
• Solemn rituals might include: Pre-game “cursing” the other team. Post-game “blessing” fallen teammates or enemies (burial ceremony) or in single player context, “coin collecting”.
• Find and emphasize “pattern” (ritual) behavior like “5x Kills in a Row”, “3x Chainsaw Kills” (this is why achievements work).
• Create rank/progression rituals – in order for an individual to “level up” or a guild member to attain new rank, link it to a ritual or ceremony (public, group action driven).
• Make the outcome of rituals and ceremonies public (visibly celebrated in-game, on forums).
• Award badges (or other significant, totem items) for successfully passing through rituals.
• Create “natural disasters” and “acts of God” to inspire the use of totems, rituals, super natural items and other communication channels to Special Persons.

Guilds
Guilds are “brands”. Used to formalize coalitions and maximize political power and create stability.

Boyer: People will spontaneously form groups where a certain degree of trust ensures cooperation and mutual benefits. Biologist Matt Ridley coined the term “groupishness” to describe the human tendency to join groups.

Guilds (and their like) are probably one of the most critical aspects of any healthy online social environment.
• Give guilds discounts on access to information, resources.
• Give guilds access to guild-only items and information.
• Give guilds abilities greater than individuals. For example, a guild can vote alongside other guilds on issues critical to a game’s society.
• Offer guilds the chance to be ‘literate’ – give them space to express their differing qualities and beliefs both privately and publically. Space to display their doctrine and imagery (logo).
• Allow them access to rituals and ceremonies not visible (or available) to outsiders.
• Guilds can vote on their own leaders, follower structure.
• Guild structure is hierarchical with a ‘leader’ (or leaders) atop a pyramid of followers (of varying, guild-defined ranks).
• Allow guilds to form alliances (and make enemies) with other guilds.
• Give guild members ways to clearly announce their memberships and alliances – and to immediately see such displayed on others they encounter in the game.
• Followers and fanatics: Allow non-guild members (ostracized, rejected, splintered) to “follow” a Guild as an individual or “sect” Guild. This allows for greater expression of competing doctrines.

Social Interaction
This is the basis for organized groups, information exchange, competition and cooperation. Founded on our brain’s systems for representing what others are up to and why. The more hooks we create for social interaction the more “sticky” the game society will be.
• Create hooks for social exchange like “join this match on my team and receive a reward in exchange”.
• Focus interactions on exchange. This is critical – our brains latch onto concepts (even bizarre ones) involving exchange of goods.
• Create “trust meters” whereby social interactions can be rated (after the fact, by other players or by the system automatically).
• Allow for coalitions (see “Conditions for Coalition”, below). Critical.
• Create hooks for interfacing with “Special Persons” (admins, mods).
• Create special categories (social ranks) in hierarchical fashion – led by a ‘god’ or collection of gods (either system-based or player based god concepts).
• Give the gods (Special Persons) unique powers to arbitrate, grant wishes and deliver punishments.

Transaction Behavior
The punishing of cheaters and suckers is a universally appealing concept. The person who skips in line makes you angry even if you are standing in another line.
• Include ability to vote on punishment for repeated bad behavior.
• Include ability to rank other players for sportsmanship,
• Include ability to “curse” those we feel are cheating or simply performing too well.
• Create consequences for violating coalitional expectations (defecting, fleeing combat).
• Create an avenue for cheaters and thieves – ways for players to literally steal an item, be caught, challenged and punished (see the Chinese version of Farmville as an example of this twist in a social game).
• Create a reward system for policing of the social rules.

Communication (Gossip)
Perhaps the most fundamental of human activities – though one we tend to downplay or frown upon (when it comes to gossip). Practiced everywhere, enjoyed everywhere and despised everywhere. Only (really) interesting when focused on three things: Status, resources and sex. Information must be viewed as a valuable resource.
• Make status and resources highly visible.
• Create hooks to allow for player-to-player unions (marriage, “sex”).
• Make searching for, displaying info on and referencing other players super easy.
• Link an external, high-powered communication tool (forum) directly to the in-game world.
• Allow for “anonymous gossip” – the posting of gossip or broadcasting of a message without revealing the poster’s identity.
• Create paid-for access to gossip-worth (strategic) information for example: “Player X is especially vulnerable to shotgun attacks (dies most frequently when confronted with shotgun)” or “Clan Y is performs worst when Player F is missing from the match” (in other words, mine our metrics to come up with interesting data like this to share with interested players).

Rules/Guidelines for Behavior
As we’ve heard, games in which behavior guidelines are posted tend to have better behaved players.
• State the general expectations for behavior within the game for all players.
• Allow players to ‘petition’ for changes to the stated rules and guidelines.
• Create hooks for enforcement of rules by challenges, voting and/or appeal to Special Persons.
• Create ways for rules to be broken (inconsistent, but we’re born into just such a world) – for instance, matches where team-on-same-team damage is possible, but (obviously) discouraged.
• Encourage “precautionary rules” – i.e. the rule that one should “keep your toy clean in order to attain maximum experience points”.

Conditions for Coalition
These are the basic requirements and rules that establish a functional coalition (borrowed directly from Boyer). We should examine these conditions and adapt the concepts to our games for maximum coalitional behavior and reward.

• You behave in such a way as to enhance the benefits gained by other members of the group but not those of nonmembers.
• This behavior toward other members does not require that you receive a particular benefit for helping them.
• You expect similar dispositions and behavior toward you from other members (and of course not from nonmembers).
• As a result, whether it is a good thing for you to be in the group is computed by comparing the benefits with the costs incurred in interaction with all other members, not with each of them. (For instance, in a particular association you may be constantly helping X and receiving help from Y; if this is a coalition you will balance the two and disregard the fact that you are in some sense exploiting Y and exploited by X.)
• You represent the behavior of members of other groups as being in some sense the whole group’s behavior. (If you are a Tory and a Labour militant attacks you, you think of that as an attack from Labour, not just from that person.)
• Your reactions to how a member of another group behaves are directed to the group, not specifically to the individual in question. If the Labour militant has attacked you, it makes sense for you to retaliate by attacking another Labour member.
• You represent the various groups as “big agents.” For instance, you think what is happening in the political arena is that “Labour is trying to do this . . .” or “the Tory party is doing that . . .” although parties cannot literally be trying to do anything, as they are not persons.
• You are extremely concerned with other members’ loyalty. That is, whether the others in your group are reliably loyal to the group or not (regardless of how it affects you directly) is a matter of great emotional effects. This is manifest in several different ways. You feel a desire to punish those people who have defected from the coalition; you may also want to punish those who failed to punish the defectors; you may want to screen people

OCD, Dead Things and Contamination
Death, contamination and ritual are foundation elements for religions the world-round. OCD behavior is especially strong in relation to concepts of purity and corruption. Obsessive washing of hands, cleaning of the house are good examples.

Boyer: The condition is associated with abnormal activation of particular brain areas that mediate the combination of plans and emotions. … In those affected by the disorder, these systems seem to talk loudly enough, as it were, to drive actual motor behavior (people cannot help performing the routines) as well as emotional responses (nonperformance creates a strong feeling of fear or anguish).

I’d like to suggest this links into our nearly compulsive enjoyment of “coin collecting” and could be leveraged to activate similar behavior in our games. The “repairing” of worn toys is a great example – and knowing why it works should help us tune the effect to make it as rewarding (and addictive) as possible for Player. Same goes for collecting and crafting. Figuring out how to create a “feeling of fear or anguish” for not performing certain in-game actions takes the idea to all new (and scary) places.

Further Reading
There’s a ton more applicable thinking to be found in “Religion Explained” – check it out via the link below. Similar concepts for how the brain latches onto and accepts certain presentations and ideas can also be found in “Made to Stick”, link below.

NOTES

Boyer: Taking this evolutionary stance leads us to ask very general questions, such as: What do humans need? What is special about their needs, as opposed to those of giraffes and wombats? Obviously, humans need oxygen to breathe and a complicated cocktail of nutrients to sustain themselves, but that is fairly general among animals. What humans especially need, more than any other species, are two types of goods without which existence is impossible. They need information about the world around them; and they need cooperation with other members of the species.

Boyer: The powerful gods are not necessarily the ones that matter; but the ones that have strategic information always matter.

Link to “Religion Explained”

Link to “Made to Stick”