My name is Jeff Beeler. I’m a neuroscientist at the University of Chicago (homepage) and I study reward learning and motivation, particularly a part of the brain called the basal ganglia and the neurotransmitter system dopamine. My interest in video game design arises as a real-world application of my scientific work and ideas. Much as advertising might be considered the art or technology of persuasion, where the object is to manipulate people to do something they would not otherwise do, the object of video games is to engage people in an on-going activity they otherwise would not do. Once engaged, a field has been created for new experience. This engagement can be used to entertain, teach, obtain data or, like advertising, persuade or influence. My research centers on how rewarding experience induces learning (ie., reinforcement learning) that alters motivational processes and organizes future behavior, a process at the heart of shaping an individual’s engagement with their environment, including a video game. In this blog, I explore ideas about video game design from my perspective as a neuroscientist.
It is important to emphasize that this is an exploration. I do not intend to say ‘the brain works like this’ and so games ‘should be designed like that.’ Some blog entries may talk very specifically about neuroscience, some only vaguely and others not at all. The science is merely a starting point, a different vantage point from which to think about game design. The primary intent of this blog is to engage people and stimulate discussion.
I approach this casually. I avoid an argumentative, academic style. I aim to avoid my natural long-windedness and keep individual posts to under 1000 words. This means I’ll probably address some ideas with multiple posts.