Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Why Guitar Hero is so Addictive

I was going to do this in a very different format (video), but what the hell. A few weeks ago I was reading about the Loci System as part of some research I am doing on Mentalism and realised where Guitar Hero achieved it's addictive qualities. So here is why I think Guitar Hero is addictive, and I would note that all these points come into play at the same time, even when the player isn't playing:
  1. Audio Memory
    Players remember how their past performances sounded. This is not only a reminder of GH's existence when players aren't playing, but also if a track from GH is played back in the player's mind they will also hear any mistakes that they made the last time they played that track and this reminds them that they could have done better, but also there is a nature in people to have a dislike for broken audio. It is well known that given a choice between broken audio or broken video, people will always choose the broken video as the broken audio is almost painful for people to listen to.

  2. Muscle Memory
    The memory of GH tracks is enforced by a memory of the muscle movements used while playing each track.

  3. Visual Memory
    All notes played have different visual patterns and all songs all have very different visual queues. It would be possible to identify any track from the game simply by showing someone a screenshot of a track being played or even just by showing a diagram of the notes from just a section of a track. This together with the two previous points (Audio and Muscle) means that the memory of each track is remembered in more then one part of the brain and thus by the basis of the Loci system easier to remember than if each track was just audio.

  4. Instant Feedback
    Just like any good game GH provides feedback on how the player is doing, but because mistakes are so immediately communicated to the player by way of broken audio the game has a disciplining effect on the player (almost like Aversion Therapy for playing wrong notes).

  5. Rewards
    There is a store in GH where the player can buy items with money they have earned by playing well.
    The XBox360 version contains Achievements & Gamer Points which can be shown and compared with friends online.
    And there is a star system where each track has a star rating listed next to it on the track selection screen that the player sees before and after each track is played, that directly communicates to the player how successfully the player has played all the notes in that particular track. The star ratings are particularly rewarding in that they are clearly visible, directly related the player's performance on each individual track providing micro-feedback on game performance and once a player has completed a song with 100% accuracy, the stars will turn gold, which gives some added visual satisfaction as it makes the track standout on the track list and communicates to the player that they have mastered that track (and have heard the track played from start to finish without mistakes).

  6. Satisfaction (Rewards Continued)
    Upon completing any track the crowed in the game cheers the player on with the player's avatar looking very rockstar on stage, this adds to the narrative of the game that the players has just successfully played a great performance for an audience. This is opposed to if the player had failed a track where the crowed will boo and the player will be pulled from the stage early, not being allowed to complete the track.

  7. Encouragement
    Again with the monetary value of items in the game's Store that the player must save up for and the star reward system, the game encourages the player to improve their performances. There is even a practise mode that the player is encouraged to use to perfect songs with.

  8. Difficulty Scaling
    Difficulty in GH increases gradually, this communicates to the player that they are getting better as they complete and re-complete tracks that where previously just outside of their skill level. This is opposed to allowing the player to play all tracks in the game at the very start of the game and this would mean that the player might not realise that they are improving, especially once they have played through all the tracks once. Plus GH has four basic difficulty settings that each has a track list with a list of star ratings that is all kept very separate from each other.
There might be other aspects of the game like the controller, the colour system and the player knowing some of the tracks before playing GH that makes the game addictive, but it is clear that GH has many elements that means players will keep coming back and the developers have done their best to capitalise all aspects of this.