Psychology of Gaming: Loss Aversion

Game design can be influenced by many different fields. Among them, psychology is one of the most interesting, because it suggests ways that players might act that don’t necessarily go hand in hand with the actual mechanics presented in a game. Thus this week I’m kicking off the start of what I hope will become a series on psychology, with a look at loss aversion and gaming.

I found one of the best discussions of loss aversion at Usabilia, which describes loss aversion thus:

Loss aversion is a human characteristic that describes how people are intrinsically afraid of losses. When compared against each other people dislike losing more than they like winning. Thus losses loom larger than gains even though the value in monetary terms may be identical.

There isn’t much question on the existence of loss aversion. Instead, the modern scientific articles on the topic tend to focus more on why it occurs and what its boundaries on. I think some of those issues could be intriguing for a follow-up article, but for the moment I want to concentrate on the core of loss aversion as it applies to game design.

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A Deckbuilding Look at Arctic Scavengers

Arctic ScavengersDriftwood Games first released Arctic Scavengers (2009) in a limited edition back toward the start of the deckbuilding era, but it just hit the mass market recently with its rerelease from Rio Grande Games (2013). It turns out that there’s a surprising amount of innovation for something published so soon after Dominion (2008).

The Game

Arctic Scavengers is built around a menu of four options: draw, dig, hunt, and skirmish. Each player can do each action no more than once on his turn (though he often won’t do all of them). Cards used for one action can’t then be used for another. Continue reading