最近我一直在玩《Trials Evolution》，而在面对每一轮比赛时我的脑中总会萌生出一个问题，即这款游戏是如何诱发玩家产生竞争心理。《Trials Evolution》是一款突出物理元素的横向卷轴摩托车游戏。
但却不是随便的任何人。研究人员所明确的一项内容是，人类更喜欢与小群组的人进行比较——也就是所谓的“frog pond”效应（应该是根据Antonio Frog教授及其在美国康乃迪克州所创造的越野赛车游戏而命名）。并且，我们总是喜欢与那些我们所熟悉的小群组的人进行比较，因为这种比较更有意义且能够带给我们更多信息。这也是为何开发者会在《Trials Evolution》的排行榜中默认地显示玩家在Xbox Live中好友列表的主要原因。
Stephen Garcia，Avishalom Tor以及Richard Gonzalez于2006年在美国期刊杂志《Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin》上发表的一篇文章便对此做出了解释。他们指出我们的向上比较倾向取决于一个有意义的标准，也就是最高点的位置。但同时也存在着其它标准，如最低点的位置。除此之外，当我们越靠近这些标准，彼此双方的社交比较也将越加强烈，从而导致我们更倾向于竞争而不是合作。
结果表明，当人们更加接近有意义的标准，如扑克玩家的最高排名或作为公司CEO在财富500强名单中的前列，他们便更愿意选择竞争。尽管按照绝对值估算，合作能够为他们挣得更多收益。有趣的是，为了避开排行榜的底端，玩家都会表现出同样的非理性行为。就像在《Trials Evolution》中，当我排在排行榜单的第二位（而不是第5位或第8位）时，我更有可能去撞击“Physics Factory”赛道的砖墙。
How Trials Evolution makes your brain crave competition
by Jamie Madigan
I’ve been playing a lot of Trials Evolution lately and this question kept occurring to me as the results of my run at each track came up. For those of you unfamiliar, Trials Evolution is a (mostly) side-scrolling, motorcycle driving game with a heavy emphasis on physics.
Your controller triggers map to the bike’s throttle and brakes, but the real trick is using your left thumb stick to control how far your little driver dude leans forward or back. This, along with your momentum and how much gas you give it, will determine if you crash and eat it. Or rather, when you eat it. Because not only are you going to eat it, you’re going to go back for seconds, thirds, and a hundred and fifths. It’s that kind of game, and it’s awesome.
Among the several things that the game’s developer, RedLynx, really nails with Trials Evolution is the social competition aspect. The game is replete with leaderboards and indications of how well you’re competing against others, and one insight the developers seemed to have was that it’s more meaningful to compete against our friends and people we know instead of strangers.
This is one of the tenants of what’s known in psychology as “Social Comparison Theory.” First proposed by social psychologist Leon Festinger back in 1954, the theory has since been elaborated upon and expanded, but the gist is that we like information about our performance, and if we can’t get that information directly we’ll compare ourselves against other people to get the next best thing.
But not just any other people. One thing that researchers have determined pretty clearly is that we prefer to compare ourselves against smaller groups of people — the so called “frog pond” effect named, I think, after Dr. Antonio Frog and his work with motocross racers at of the University of Pond, Connecticut. Even better, we like to compare ourselves to smaller groups of people we know, because those comparisons are more meaningful and give us more information. This is why Trials Evolution is smart to show leaderboards consisting of people on our Xbox Live friends list by default.
But you don’t have to wait until the finish line to compare your performance. Each time you run a track the game shows you where your friends were on their best run by moving a little dot with their gamer tag attached along the track with you. It’s amazingly effective — much more so than showing you a dot belonging to “xxXTrialzd00d42Xxx,” the world record holder for that track. Because he’d simply zip off past the right edge of your screen and not offer any kind of meaningful comparison.
So good job, Trials Evolution people. The thing is, though, that we can drill down even further because two neighboring leaderboard rankings are not always equidistant from each other, psychologically speaking. For example, I kept noticing that I was much more likely to try and shave off a few seconds and creep up a notch on the leaderboards if I was in either last place or second place.
A 2006 Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin article by Stephen Garcia, Avishalom Tor, and Richard Gonzalez explains why. They posited that our upward comparisons are predicated on the existence of a meaningful standard — the top. But other standards — the bottom — could exist as well. Furthermore, the closer we get to those standards, the more the social comparisons to others near them matter, and we are more inclined towards competition and less inclined towards cooperation with those in our way.
To test their theory, the researchers ran a series of 8 studies where subjects were asked to role-play the parts of business executives, philanthropists, poker players, or rock stars. The details varied a bit across studies in order to test various aspects of their theory and rule out alternative explanations, but in general they presented subjects with a chance to either cooperate or compete with a rival. If they choose to cooperate, they might benefit more than if they competed, but the rival would benefit more and come out on top in the rankings. For example, here’s the instructions that one group got:
Imagine that you are playing in a 1-day poker tournament with 500 players. For the final round, you are deciding whether or not to team up with one of your rivals. Strategy A: If you play solo, your tournament earnings will increase by 5% and your rival’s by 5%. OR, Strategy B: If you play as a team, your tournament earnings will increase by 10% and your rival’s by 25%.
Subjects were then asked what strategy they would pursue if they were ranked #3 in the tournament and their rival were ranked #4. What about if they were #6 and the rival was #7? #24 vs. #25?
The consistent finding across these studies was that people were more likely to compete when they were closer to a meaningful standard like being the top ranked poker player or being the CEO of a company ranked high on the Fortune 500 list. This despite the fact that cooperating would earn them more money in absolute terms. Interestingly, players exhibited the same irrational behavior in order to avoid being ranked too close to the bottom of the charts. Just like I would throw myself against the brick wall of the “Physics Factory” track in Trials when in second place on my local leaderboards –much more so than if I were in fifth or eighth.
Game developers could hack this phenomenon into their design if their goal is to inspire competition or make the choice to cooperate more meaningful. More finely diced leaderboards like what Trials offers is a good start, but to take things further they could plant additional goal posts along our paths so that it’s not just first or last place that we focus on. Crossing thresholds to be in the top quartile of overall scores would be one example, but I suspect that even just adding weird metrics like “Amount of damage done with the rocket launcher” or “Number of bunnies irradiated” would have some effect. And, above all, calling out to the player the fact that you’re so close to hitting one of those milestones relative to a friend should cause them to grit their teeth and buckle down.
Games should be facilitating these social comparisons when they’re most meaningful, like when players are on the cusp of stardom or at the brink of ignominy. And for good measure, carve out some more things for us to be proud or ashamed of.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to beat my friend Tungholio’s score on Gigatrack.(source:GAMASUTRA)