Humane Design – Games Must Be Good to Their Players – Extra Credits


James has been wanting to write this piece for a long time, but he’s had trouble working out exactly how to frame it. What I’m gonna say here is probably gonna play right into the hands of those who would use games as a scapegoat. It’s possible that it might even cost James work down the line, because it’s something that some people in the industry just don’t wanna hear. But at the same time, we don’t wanna put kid gloves on this discussion either. Because this is something we game makers need to honestly face. And if we can’t do that, then maybe we deserve the condemnation that gaming’s critics have thrown at us. Today, I wanna talk about humane game design. As a game designer, it is James’s job to craft experiences. The designer is storyteller and psychologist. Illusionist and manipulator. They’re the purveyor of hope, and joy, and distraction. They ask for your mind and your heart. They ask for your time and attention. And in return, they promise you an experience like no other. These facets of what we do can be used in a way that’s humane. That respects our player and their life outside the game. Or they can be used in a way that treats the player as nothing more than the meat needed to feed the game. We can see the player as a person, or as an engine to keep up the play. It’s the designer’s responsibility to understand this, and to value the player as more than simply a player, but to value them as a human being. How do we do this? By first accepting the fact that we affect people. All art affects people. It doesn’t matter if it’s a pop song or a Picasso painting. If you’ve ever listened to your favorite tune on a bad day and things started to feel a little bit better… Then you’ve been affected by art. If you’ve ever been in a situation and thought to yourself, “What would my favorite character do?” Then you’ve been affected by art. If you’ve ever spent time thinking about an idea from a movie, or a TV show, or a novel… You’ve been affected by art. And games are no different. They’re art, They’re a mass medium. They leave a fingerprint on our culture and who we are. And that doesn’t mean that we have to endorse any of these ludicrous claims… That games have some weird detrimental effect that other media somehow don’t have… But we’ve spent so long fighting that scapegoat narrative that “Games are bad for you somehow” that we’ve started to deny that games can affect you at all. And that’s just untrue. We need to accept that games CAN affect us, and embrace that fact. This means that yes, we should give a lot of consideration to the subject matter of our games. Not just whether it fits a market hole or hits a target demographic, but to reflect on what it means to our players and to our society. And that’s not to say we should censor ourselves or shy away from any subject matter… But that we owe it to everybody to spend some time really considering what it is our games say. How it will affect people, and whether or not that’s an effect we WANT to have. We also have to consider what our goals are when we design. And this is the argument that James has been laughed at for… But we have to stop making it our goal to capture as much of the player’s time as possible. And instead, make it our goal to ensure that they have the best experience possible with our games. Any game designer worth their salt can throw together a Skinner Box. One that can sink its hooks in and keep you playing a game long after you stopped enjoying it. And we DO make those. A lot. Because it’s sometimes easy to start seeing players as a money-generating engine, rather than people. And when we end up forgetting about the human beings who will end up playing our game… We build things into our games that are worse for the player and sometimes worse for the industry. Using profitability as an excuse to do lazy design. And this is not just a mobile game and an MMO problem. It’s everywhere. This is how Call of Duty keeps you playing and playing until it’s time to buy the next one. For those of you who play Madden, have you noticed how they’ve built in more and more of these systems over the years? The funny thing is that this stuff doesn’t guarantee or even really enhance profitability. Think of all the treadmill MMOs and the countless Skinner Box social games that have just failed. And wow, how many multiplayer shooters with a progression system have we seen completely flop in the last five years? And yet, despite all that, for this lazy easy design, we’ve ruined lives. It’s time we stopped denying it. We have. We’ve impoverished players. We’ve ruined relationships. We’ve stolen months and years of time away from people that could have been spent on things that would bring actual joy. We can’t deny that and we need to stop trying to. Instead, we have to start doing better. The most profitable games in the world, the Leagues, the DOTA 2s, the Minecrafts? They don’t rely on these systems. They rely on the player wanting to play the game, rather than making them feel like they have to. Humane design requires that we give players exit points in our games. Humane design involves not trying to habituate players by training them to play on a schedule. Humane design doesn’t use guilt as a motivator. It doesn’t punish you for having something more important to do on a given day. It doesn’t exploit your friendships to get you to push the game on your friends, or to pressure you into paying money. It doesn’t use adrenaline and empowerment to give you a fix that you might be lacking in your life… But instead, uses them to empower you in your life outside the game. It doesn’t intentionally waste the player’s time or artificially lengthen the experience. If your kid is crying in the other room, humane design doesn’t punish you for putting the game down to take care of that. Humane design thinks about what we say with our mechanics. With our art, with our sound, with our themes. Humane design thinks about the stories we tell with every line of dialogue, and every pull of the trigger. It is our job as designers to create a medium where the goal isn’t simply to capture as much of humanity’s time as possible… But rather to create a medium that brings the most joy. And while that kind of design is far more difficult, in the end, it benefits all of us. It benefits the player, it benefits the industry, and it benefits the art. See you next week.

100 comments

  • KingVasuki

    I'd like an example of "humane game design". As in, the mechanic that's considered humane, because, as others have pointed out, most of the MOBA games do not actually qualify as being humane (at least not according to the concept presented here).

    Reply
  • Derakk12062

    I don't care if your wife and kids are being murdered in the same room as you; if you click Competitive Play, you fucking play til the end or don't play at all you filthy casual.

    Reply
  • L0re Online

    Magic is the symbiotic balance between science and art that causes an alignment between reality and desire. Science deals in the reliably predictable, where as art is anything created that evokes emotion.

    Reply
  • Marcus Jarrell

    For me, the game that has had the most of what this video is talking about has been Minecraft. I don't play it much now days, but in the past I've enjoyed spending time with my brothers crafting away on our countless projects or thinking about how I would change my castle to fit something else. It was a pretty awesome game.

    Sadly, these kinds of experiences rarely come for large corporate games, but the smaller indie projects or old titles we enjoy.

    Reply
  • Gab Gallard

    This resonates so well with this Kotaku article: http://www.kotaku.com.au/2016/12/why-i-regret-beating-dooms-ultra-nightmare-mode/

    Reply
  • Grant Lauzon

    I like it I really do…

    More examples please.

    Reply
  • José Molina Navarro

    Hahahaha xD. Nice video m8. But… does that mean that Tamagochis are the most INHUMANE games of history? xD

    Reply
  • Zak Allen

    humane design in league? yeah no XD

    Reply
  • WestFox

    I want to make something like this series

    Reply
  • N The One

    Exactly one of the things I hated about League of Legends. If my house catches on fire, if I leave my computer, even short-term, it punishes me for it. I got banned, reported and insulted over and over for something burning or overflowing or being urgent in my immediate surroundings. LoL forces players to abandon real life for as long as possible. And it's shitty.

    The other thing I had against it was that "noobs" get treated like shit and not given the chance to learn and grow. If you don't have a comprehensive friend near you, then you have absolutely no efficient way of becoming efficient in the game unless you're the exact type of overmotivated player the game reaches for. Kind of like Path of Exile, actually, though PoE is not full of people ready to insult you over a minor error or some ignorance. The game just punishes everyone except the best.

    anyways.

    Reply
  • TF8ase

    Quite balanced. I like the points you made. Very interesting concept.

    Reply
  • Vini Sampaio

    That's your best video. 🙂

    Reply
  • Mike Kirkland

    "games must be good to their players" welp, we better get rid of Overwatch and any DOTA-clone

    Reply
  • Joshua Thomas

    So in a sense, we should do away with Playstation and Xbox games, get rid of online multiplayer games and just go back to Nintendo and couch Co-op…..I'm totally down with that. lol jk, I get what you're saying (gotta admit though my joke was on point) if anything some game studios should give ole'boy more work for his stance.

    Reply
  • Ary Alonso

    4:53 so I guess dark souls is not a humane game lol

    Reply
  • Hiroshi Tanaka

    I don't know. I think with these issues of what games "do to players" is more of the player's fault anything else. If your kid is crying when his foot his hurt, screw the game regardless of its system. I would hope that people growing up would be able to make a conscious choice to let life come first than games second third or last.

    Reply
  • Pedro Scoponi

    I can't think of how many times I couldn't help someone with something or give attention to family or friends because I was right in the middle of a LoL match that would punish me if I left…
    I suppose they have made efforts to make the games shorter, but that usually ends up with snowbally matches which are the exact contrary to the strategic, potential-for-professionalism that they aim for.
    The game doesn't really force you to play it, but… damned you be if you start but can't finish.

    Reply
  • amos bird

    thank you for all your words and teachings in this video.i have felt the same for far to long and also have made the same rant. good luck

    Reply
  • Reinaldo Mizutani

    best episode ever

    Reply
  • Maximilian M

    what did this video teach me. Games need a fuckin pause and back to menu/desktop button.

    Reply
  • Jamie Kiam

    how dare you rover

    Reply
  • James Verhoff

    The problem with this is that the entire video downplays the player's agency. Yes, we know Skinner boxes work–but if your kid is crying in the next room and you even consider not putting the game down to take care of them, generally speaking you're a bad person. (I say "generally speaking" because I have three kids, and know that sometimes they cry for ridiculous reasons, like "I was put down for a nap". Common sense, people.)

    GAMES didn't ruin relationships, nor did game developers. PLAYERS opted to prioritize a game above their relationship. That's on them.

    Don't get me wrong: Exploitation exists, and can exist in game design. That should be addressed. But players don't get a free pass just because the developers used a lazy technique. Games are inherently more engaging than other media, and therefore players need to be more aware.

    This ties into game literacy in a way: A literate gamer should know when it's time to put down the controller and walk away. If the game is doing something to subvert that literacy, sure, that's a problem–but it's not the ONLY problem. We as players need to own our actions. We need to recognize Skinner boxes, we need to recognize gaming mechanics designed to exploit our Facebook Friends list. We need to see dangerous design for what it is. And we need to choose whether to play games that use it or not wisely.

    Reply
  • Beltims

    I don't know about this… If someones private life suffers because of a video game then that is their own fault, not the games or the developers. If a game ruins someones private life that is úsually because it's addictive and engaging (which should be good thing) not because they hate the game. I don't think anyone plays a game they don't like. That doesn't make any sense. Games or developers cannot baby sit players invidually and tell them when they should and should not play. I think this is the "blame someone else" -argument I see all the time. Instead, people should recognize that they themselves are the masters of their life and they can not just blame someone else for their own mistakes.

    I think your claim that "developers have been driving people to poverty" is silly. No one is forcing you to buy anything. And if you do decide to buy that is because you think you benefit from it. In other words you are walking away from the deal with more than you gave up. And if you become poor because of that then it just tells you that you are terrible at managing your finances. It's your own fault basically. I mean the only way to fix that is to stop making and selling things all together which is obviously not an option. It's like going to a supermarket and buying everything that is on sale there, and then wondering where all your money went and blaming the supermarket for selling you those things. "But they were so expensive so I had to buy them!"

     I'm also not really convinced that people play Call of Duty or Madden or some else "lazily" designed game just because they are forced to. If they didn't like those games they wouldn't buy them and the companies wouldn't make them. I have seen plenty of CoD and Madden fans who clearly like and enjoy those games a lot. So it can't be just the simplistic assumption that all CoD or Madden players plays those games in some completely misery just because someone "forces" them to do that.

    Reply
  • Anthony Bias

    Whoever at Blizzard who came up with the "play seven competitive Overwatch games per week or else your SR will decay" idea really needs to watch this video.

    Reply
  • Geordin Soucie

    They are saying people should think before making a game, not that people should censor games, for all those who did not get that.
    Yes, they did offer some points about the morality of making games but they are aiming the discussion at abusive pay2win and similar mechanics more than the idea that some games are mean or unsuitable. They are saying don't waste people's time by needlessly prolonging the game, not don't make long games. They also have some really interesting videos on video game addition interested folks should look up. If interested.

    Again, its about thinking of the consequences before creating, not controlling the nature of other people's games.

    Reply
  • Samuel Bunkly

    1:36 Replace "favorite Character" with Jesus.

    Reply
  • tophat apocalypse

    I'm a game designer, and I cant make a skinner box.
    because I cant morally do it.

    Reply
  • faustian tales

    Pshh my life has been effected by art. I can't even think of a time where it hasn't been.

    Reply
  • Declan Graham

    Yes. =D

    Reply
  • Jonny Russell

    After watching this vid, I deleted a ton of games that I had downloaded; I realized that they were simply taking up too much of my time.

    Thanks, Extra Credits, for helping me to reach this realization.

    Reply
  • Splashy Thing

    You guys have nerve to talk about this. It's amazing how this incredibly important subject wasn't talked about on TV or adverts, but on a YouTube channel instead. And that is what YouTube needs. No Pewdiepie or theorist channel can beat that.

    Reply
  • Martin Lee

    So What are some examples of humane video games?

    Reply
  • FuzzyPickles42

    Undertale literally discourages you from playing it ever again, specifically to make the experience as perfect and intimate as possible. That's real art, right there.

    Reply
  • Brother America

    "If your kid is crying in the other room, humane game design doesn't punish you for putting the game down."

    +5.  One day you grow up and become a mommy or a daddy, and this means the difference between a game you'll actually ever buy, and a game you will pass over entirely.

    Reply
  • Ellie Gray

    This video unfortunately falls apart when anyone points to any of Blizzard's current games, and how every one basically does everything this video asks developers not to, while Blizzard makes bank. Which is a major part of the reason I personally loathe Blizzard…

    Reply
  • Nicholas Cooper

    Civilization 6 has a clock on the screen that shows you what time it is, as in "Hey it's 3 AM, go to bed, the Hermitage can wait."

    Reply
  • Kaci Phillips

    I actually have problems playing games, especially online ones like DOTA, Heros of the Storm, etc, because I worry my family will need me and I'll be in a game and put out everyone else.

    Reply
  • Ondra Pšenička

    League is everything but this. I used to play it not because I enjoyed it but because I was good at it. I was too good to quit.

    They use "play with friends and get rewarded for it" mechanic wich kept 4 players out of 5 playing that game just because one enjoyed it but those 4 players didn't admit that they don't like the game anymore because they thought they would ruin the game for the rest of the group.

    Seriously, please. Put League out of "good guys" list

    Reply
  • computerfan107

    30 seconds in….. dam dam DAAAM

    Reply
  • S G

    If someone is pathetic enough to have their lives ruined by a game than they deserve to have their lives ruined.

    Reply
  • Joseph Burgan

    Amen. Thank you!

    Reply
  • Austin Senske

    If I make a game, I'd probably include a 10-hour timer and once it ends you'll go from "rested" to "tired", making you gain less exp.

    Reply
  • A Person

    Doesn't this primarily affect crappy facebook games? Don't get me wrong, these practices are terrible, but I thought that this was rarely used.

    Reply
  • A Person

    Apart from that, well said.

    Reply
  • Electro-Cute

    I hade to stop playing Rust because it was fucking with my mind. I bet going around constantly fearing for my life while looking for resources would have given me PTSD eventually haha.
    I think I took the game way to serious and immersed my self way to deeply in to it. After a bunch of hours of playing alone in my room, constantly looking in all direction to avoid being ambushed, the stress started to linger on even after I stopped playing. So I hade to take at least a break, but I havn't started playing it again since then.

    Anyway, If you make a game to immersive it would start to fuck with your mind if the game isn't done with care. I might be more sensitive to this kind of shit, seeing how a game as derpy as early Rust release managed to fuck with my mind. But it shows that it is possible if you realy immerse your self. It just boils down to a technological question of what is required for you to feel as immersed as I did.

    Reply
  • Rajin90

    Dear Activision Blizzard,

    [this video].

    Sincerely

    Reply
  • GiggitySam Entz

    Yeah Pokémon GO isn't very humanly designed…

    Reply
  • Cells Lair

    LEEEEEEEEEE, oh hey Clem, but LEEEEEEEEEE

    Reply
  • DingoLeDingue

    mmmh… Humane design… I like it!

    Reply
  • deadlypandaghost

    THERE IS NO LIFE OUTSIDE THE GAME

    Reply
  • Joorak

    When talking about call of duty
    "…until it's time to buy the next game."
    shows the exact same game

    I see what you did there.

    Reply
  • Arsenio Delacruz III

    gives me something to think about, and how i want to make my games.

    Reply
  • Kristian Bowitz

    Evry thing positive in this video is the opposite of pixelgun!
    Pixelgun is every negative thing in this video!

    Reply
  • West Kagle

    .    I don't understand this argument……a game is a game, if it's not humanely designed and is detrimental to a player, then don't play it (this isn't a dictatorship, you have the freedom of action to NOT play a game.

    Reply
  • James Cain

    1:35 That happened to me today, actually.

    Reply
  • James Cain

    This might explain why I love adventure games that have chapters, whether they're actually "chapters" or something else like "levels." They provide ideal spots for you to be finished with the game, with the promise of something interesting to look forward to when you start again later.

    Having said that, I could definitely stand to stop trying to play through so many chapters in one sitting…

    Reply
  • Halinspark

    Players that put themselves in the poor house because of the game deserve it. If you can't resist blowing all your money on micro-transactions and those things in mobile games that let you keep playing, then you either have no self control or a serious gaming addiction.

    Reply
  • Youtube University

    If you made an opinion on this video, you have been affected by art!

    Reply
  • Juan Diaz

    Can someone name games with humane design?

    Reply
  • Leon King

    4:54
    cough cough league cough cough

    Reply
  • Christian Schmude

    In 2017 this video right here is more relevant than ever because of recent developments with the whole loot box concept. ironically OverWatch being the one to popularize it even though it has far more humane! For those of you who have missed it loot boxes are a form of microtransactions which involves is random chance for skins and or weapons or whatever it may be all of which are basically made at random. The reoccurring criticism of loot boxes is that they are very conceptually similar to gambling and even though they're not legally classified as it because of some loopholes the method and overall ethics behind it is hardly indistinguishable from gambling which wouldn't be that bad if these games didn't have minors playing them. Ignoring the fact that teenagers are basically gambling it also feeds into those who do Gamble and those who have addictive personalities and even without intending to though I wouldn't be surprised if some developers do intend to do it but those with addictive personalities are basically diving into and consuming loot boxes playing till they lose all money and four features that often repeat and are completely arbitrary

    Reply
  • Koopa1018

    Can't say I've ever wanted to give a video upwards of one thumbs-up before now.

    Reply
  • Urban Cohort

    ~
    player.additem f 1000000000000000
    <Enter>
    ~

    Reply
  • Hylian

    So we can agree that the amount of open world games out there is a bad thing, right?

    Reply
  • Acendiat Media

    I have made the mistake of trying to explain these concepts on the Pokemon Go Reddit and how poorly Niantic has been in this respect. Simply suggesting that the mechanics should encourage you to have fun instead of hoard and grind endlessly sparks outrage. Its so depressing when you find out how much "hardcore Players" Play.

    Reply
  • Bill Murray

    short scope too broad

    Reply
  • Sapare

    The idea is a little simplified here though. You point to League but then say "if your baby is crying next door".

    Leaving a game(most of all ranked) of league mid session is a big no. You can do it, but the game WILL actively punish you for it. But that is not the game's fault, its the nature of playing something in a competitive setting. You could include a pause button, but 1 min is not enough to check on your baby, and if every game someone pauses 5 min now you ARE wasting player's time.

    This comes down to player responsibility. While I do think games can be designed viciously we should not remove player responsibility from the equation. If a player spends month playing a game he doesn't actually like that is still his choice. There are tobacco addicts even in a culture that publicly shuns tobacco use. (I would say gambling, at least state approved gambling like lottery, Does fall into overly advertised and tricking the player with false input, but hey, the state does as it wants.)

    Reply
  • Scrivartha

    For an entire philosophical paradigm that reflects the values of this video, check out the text Finite & Infinite Games by James Carse!

    Reply
  • GexAlmighty

    League of legends is not a humane friendly game. I would know

    Reply
  • Chin Jet

    EA can learn something from this, they have the resources to do so

    Reply
  • Edward Wu

    This is the only episode I disagree on after over watching 80 videos total on your channel. I don't totally disagree…in the sense that EA and Bungie are scumbags to their player base….however…a PVP game SHOULD PUNISH a player for having to put the controller down to take care of baby or turn off the burning stove…

    No one told them to start the game at such a time…and having a baby means you a punished in every other aspect in life…so why not in the game? If the AFK isn't punished, it creates a horrible PVP game environment.

    Reply
  • Angel S

    I sincerely wish humane design comes to see the light of day in mainstream games sometime in the future, I'm sure such a game would be an instant classic if it's even halfway playable. The only thing that concerns me is the prospect that there is no other reason to do so than for the greater good. While that is a compelling reason to individuals, it alone will not motivate companies. I'm guessing some other facets of how we perceive society have to mature a bit before producing merit for merits sake can truly gain widespread traction as a standard.

    Reply
  • R3nanGuimaraes

    This video actually made me rethink the games I've been playing and how much time I've been wasting on chores rather than having fun…

    Reply
  • Martin Ninov

    Welcome… welcome to City17. It's safer here.
    (Anyone notice how by the end Dan started to sound like Dr. Breen?)

    Reply
  • Daniel Kim

    This is a decidedly odd thing to be emotionally touched by, but this did make me feel a bit melancholy and hopeful. I hadn't really thought of games as on the same level as painting or great works of writing. Games had always been lumped into the same place in my head as bad TV shows and sensational fiction, a way to spend some time and maybe form some connections with people. Basically just another form of pop-culture. The idea that video games can be used to edify the player and society as a whole is so radical to me, but rings so true. I want that. I want more games that help their player to be a better person, to make them think about the real world and their actions in it, instead of being a place for them to escape from responsibilities. It's a beautiful idea, and it makes me so much more excited to play games.

    Reply
  • K Quilor

    people playing games after they're not having fun is a problem with people, not the game

    Reply
  • Richard Hasledine

    Be that as it may, League does use guilt to stop you from leaving mid-game if you need to. Someone at the door, dinner ready, your partner nagging you about chores, ect.

    Reply
  • Kawaii Dere

    1:32, HIMIKO, YOU ESCAPED, ; ) IT’S REAL MAGIC

    Reply
  • Ian Moore

    Ive been afgected by extra history. (Now,I always have a plan)

    Reply
  • Mindseas

    Love love love this episode. Thank you so much for making this, and everything else you do for games, and people!

    Reply
  • Raven Valentine

    as a game Dev i want and need and must say

    Thank you Extra Credit <3

    Reply
  • Kyle White

    I’ve been affected by art.

    Reply
  • Macdongr

    2:43 Why was he laughed at? That makes so much sense.

    Reply
  • Justin Jones

    Dude WARFRAME. You can watch DE getting better and better at what this video is about.

    Reply
  • Luliby

    This is definitely one of the best EC videos and probably one of the best to start with because this is essentially your philosophy on game design. If you aren't viewing people as people, if you use cynical and/or exploitative designs, and you aren't designing humanely, then you don't deserve to be a game designer.

    Reply
  • Macdongr

    Are there good examples of games like this?

    Reply
  • Weaver

    2:25 I just see screaming rectanglemouth o.o

    Reply
  • SonicXRage

    If what channels like Extra Credits say is true, then we could have GREAT games that still earn their developers lots of money. But risk scares developers from supporting those kinds of games.

    Reply
  • Azeric the Traveller

    “It doesn’t punish you for having something better to do” HAH Overwatch. (Literally punishes you for going afoot leaving (weather afk kicked or not) mid match)

    Reply
  • marinus18

    The thing is all forms of story is manipulating the human mind. For example in an action movie the viewer is never really in danger or the things they are seeing are meaningless but the brain is manipulated into thinking that they are real. That is also preying on human psyche. So it's not really about ethnically and more like trying to compile a banlist.

    Reply
  • King Stuff

    Minecraft got lazy

    Reply
  • TheUnendingFlowOfTime

    4:53 Someone needs to show this to From Software

    Reply
  • jfsa380

    Always get sad when game is sad, but makes my day when i see happy game

    Reply
  • Jorun Holm

    Whats that hair

    Reply
  • Random HQ Switch

    So basically…. not Fortnite.

    Reply
  • dwreanchinotan

    THIS NEEDS TO BE SEEN AGAIN!

    Reply
  • Kay Gallagher

    This came out four years ago and the problem has only gotten worse.

    Reply
  • Charlie Corchran

    THIS LITERALLY DESCRIBES RIMWORLD

    Reply
  • slimdab

    This gem of a talk is more relevant and important than ever. Humane design in games in 2019 seems to be the very last thing any non-indie game tries to accomplish.

    Reply
  • RezRising

    Frag Pro Shooter is a great example of $ over joy. Great game, total money pit by design.

    Reply

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