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Repetition and boredom

Repetition and boredom
« on: May 31, 2012, 09:20:14 am »

The essence of game design seems to be repetition. In most games, the player does an action over and over again. Yet humans are well known for their low tolerance to boredom. So why are games not boring to us?

I can think of two reasons. Either the action that is repeated is fun to do. And we can do it many times before it bores us. Or the action is trivial, compared to the rest of the game, and we can ignore it.

I wonder if our apparently reduced intolerance for boredom when it comes to games has anything to do with the childlike quality of games. I remember very well that when my children were toddlers, repetition was a source of joy to them. They would watch a certain Teletubbies episode over and over (and those already contain repetition in their design).

Prayer and meditation also involve repetition. Probably mimicking the human body's breathing and heart beat (which aligns us with the repetitive movements of the planets -day and  night, weather, seasons). Does this play a part in our enjoyment of games?
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Re: Repetition and boredom
« Reply #1 on: May 31, 2012, 06:11:43 pm »

Another source of repetition we enjoy is music.  There are some who have tried to describe the effect of music by describing a trance-like state forming due to the repetition of musical elements.  (If anyone's particularly interested I'll try to find the paper I read on that, but it was a while ago so I'm not sure where to get it).  So, there's at least some indication that the human brain does respond to repetition itself.
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Re: Repetition and boredom
« Reply #2 on: May 31, 2012, 11:20:14 pm »

Doesn't it have to do with repetition but with different results each time? A single note played in exactly the same way repeatedly is annoying. Add some variation (as simple as changing the volume) and it suddenly gets a lot more interesting. It doesn't really explain why kids love to re-watch the same thing over and over though. But maybe they see new things each time because they are not as avid watchers?

Anyway, my point is that repetition in games always comes with some variation. It happens both on a big scale where the winner of the game is uncertain and at a lower level with for example different combinations of cards in a card game. Poker and bridge are both extremely repetitious but the new combinations that come up keep people interested.
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Re: Repetition and boredom
« Reply #3 on: June 01, 2012, 06:22:02 am »

I believe that this repetition takes place not only within the same game, but in between games - especially to those who seem to favor a restricted amount of genres. An FPS aficionado, for instance, spends hours resuming a same cycle of basic actions: picking up ammo, aiming, shooting, running for cover. Respawn. Pick up ammo, aim, shoot, run for cover, etc. As Erik mentioned, sometimes the small variations (levels, maps, weapons, opponents) are enough a difference to make it enjoyable for most.

Collectively speaking, perhaps we're not as averse to repetition as we may think at first. We may even enjoy being bored as an essential part of that which we look for in games. There's something extremely comfortable about repetition in the creation of a safe environment where the player knows what to expect, often unlike the unpredictability of real life. In general, we only enjoy surprises if they don't imply great changes, though small adjustments seem to be welcome at times, mainly when we have control over when and how these changes takes place. We enjoy when we're given a vacation for we may choose what to do with the free time. On the other hand we dread being fired even though that implies having all the time in the world to do whatever we please.

For the most part, we descend from a long line of people who spent their lives repeating the same actions most every day as the basis of an identity. Advertisement, for instance, often appeals to change because this pattern is also applicable to our consumer habits - we stick to the same brands in the strangest ways as if they became a part of us. But for our ancient ancestors who sold shoes, raised livestock, copied manuscripts or worked the fields, change was not even imaginable. It's hard to reverse that inheritance or to expect games not to reflect that fundamental aspect of our condition as human beings.

(I'm not too sure of this myself but I'll post it anyway.)
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Re: Repetition and boredom
« Reply #4 on: June 01, 2012, 12:41:52 pm »

Collectively speaking, perhaps we're not as averse to repetition as we may think at first. We may even enjoy being bored as an essential part of that which we look for in games. There's something extremely comfortable about repetition in the creation of a safe environment where the player knows what to expect, often unlike the unpredictability of real life.

I don't think we enjoy boredom as such since it is a feeling of weariness from lack of metal stimulation, thus repetition does not imply boredom unless it makes the person weary. I think you're right about repetition being comforting, and thus desirable, though, I know I would much rather watch several episodes of a T.V. series than a film (usually) simply because it does not require me to get to grips with new characters or places very often (maybe I'm a little more adverse to change than most).

And I think Erik is right in that it is the slight variations that are what stop it from becoming boring. In a videogame this can even come in the form of slight variations of the non player characters, whether they're computer controlled of other players, which leads to enough variation to stop it from becoming boring, but only variations that are for the most part expected within a comforting, known framework.
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Re: Repetition and boredom
« Reply #5 on: June 01, 2012, 06:06:19 pm »

The most fundamental biological game is highly repetative, but players rarely seem to get bored of that - at least, not quickly.
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Re: Repetition and boredom
« Reply #6 on: June 01, 2012, 09:56:58 pm »

The most fundamental biological game is highly repetative, but players rarely seem to get bored of that - at least, not quickly.

Well said.
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Re: Repetition and boredom
« Reply #7 on: June 02, 2012, 03:21:18 am »

The essence of game design seems to be repetition. In most games, the player does an action over and over again. Yet humans are well known for their low tolerance to boredom. So why are games not boring to us?

I can think of two reasons. Either the action that is repeated is fun to do. And we can do it many times before it bores us. Or the action is trivial, compared to the rest of the game, and we can ignore it.

I wonder if our apparently reduced intolerance for boredom when it comes to games has anything to do with the childlike quality of games. I remember very well that when my children were toddlers, repetition was a source of joy to them. They would watch a certain Teletubbies episode over and over (and those already contain repetition in their design).

Prayer and meditation also involve repetition. Probably mimicking the human body's breathing and heart beat (which aligns us with the repetitive movements of the planets -day and  night, weather, seasons). Does this play a part in our enjoyment of games?

You're not the first one to see a connection between games and meditation:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jayne_Gackenbach
http://academic.macewan.ca/gackenbachj/2010/06/18/gaming-meditating-lucid-dreaming-so/

Smiley
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Re: Repetition and boredom
« Reply #8 on: June 02, 2012, 05:43:59 pm »

The most fundamental biological game is highly repetative, but players rarely seem to get bored of that - at least, not quickly.

Do you mean sex?
If so, the repetition is not just repetition, is it? It's continued stimulation, through repetitive gestures, yes, but with a linear progression of emotion/intensity, that may go up and down, but is not exactly repetitive. In fact, the male is well known for his limited capacity to repeat the act.
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Re: Repetition and boredom
« Reply #9 on: June 02, 2012, 06:14:34 pm »

I think the games suggest we are working 'towards' something; an ultimately goal that gives all the small (highly pleasant) steps meaning. Some people go for this; I tend to 'snap out of it' quickly after a few minutes because I realize the larger goal of mastering the game means little to me. Plants vs Zombies had me for a while and then I realize I could go do something.

The most fundamental biological game is highly repetative, but players rarely seem to get bored of that - at least, not quickly.

Do you mean sex?
If so, the repetition is not just repetition, is it? It's continued stimulation, through repetitive gestures, yes, but with a linear progression of emotion/intensity, that may go up and down, but is not exactly repetitive. In fact, the male is well known for his limited capacity to repeat the act.

If sex is 'highly repetitive' we may as well call playing an instrument 'highly repetitive'. I sing the same songs over and over again; place hundreds of somewhat identical lines in drawing, talk about the same subjects again with friends, go for the same circles on a horse. But my favourite quote is Annand's "Since it aince for pleisure / Sing it twice for joy". The joy of repetition is in the mutations and being swept up in something, giving it your full concentration... giving the same emotional and intellectual thrill one can get from sex.

Are not a great many of leisure activities 'continued stimulation'? All the passages in the books and all the scenes in films... and some require a different form of stimulation, but the repetition is still a medium to deliver higher content; the repetition of which gives a different pleasure still.

Though perhaps the defence would say that playing a piece on the piano is equally highly repetitively pressing keys. Smiley
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Re: Repetition and boredom
« Reply #10 on: June 03, 2012, 12:59:25 am »

(I have not introduced myself yet. Please forgive me, I will do that soon.)

Maybe sex is pleasant for a different reason. During the act, endorphins are released by the body itself which make you feel good. So you are basically drugging yourself when doing it.

On the other hand, I think the body also releases a little bit of pleasant drugs when you win in a game. Maybe our boredom could be caused by our body developing a tolerance after a while? Or maybe it doesn't work when you don't attach much value to your win? (I'm just guessing here.)

If this perspective makes any sense, I'm still wondering how the satisfaction biologically works when playing non-challenge based games (or music).
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Re: Repetition and boredom
« Reply #11 on: June 03, 2012, 10:34:19 am »

Do you mean sex?
If so, the repetition is not just repetition, is it? It's continued stimulation, through repetitive gestures, yes, but with a linear progression of emotion/intensity, that may go up and down, but is not exactly repetitive. In fact, the male is well known for his limited capacity to repeat the act.
I did mean sex, but I was just thinking, agreeing really, how a basic repetitive action fails to automatically equal boring. A classic game example from the 8-bit days in the UK was "Daley Thompson's Decathalon" (aka "DT's Joystick Knackerer"), in which a nation of kids would happily waggle their joysticks to destruction... so to speak.

Off the subject of sex (and other bedroom athletics), I remember hearing in various documentaries that some agitated autistic children have a very strong calming response to repetitive motion, such as being swung back and forth by their parents in a bedsheet like a hammock. So they seem to be not bored but gaining some satisfaction from repetition too.
« Last Edit: June 03, 2012, 10:39:42 am by Noumenon »
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Re: Repetition and boredom
« Reply #12 on: June 08, 2012, 12:05:49 am »

I don´t think repetition equals boredom.

I´m very interested in repetition in fact. Repetition is rhythm, hypnosis, trance. As human beings we enjoy our little traditions, rituals and habits. There are some things that are just pleasurable to be done over and over again in the exact same way and we feel somehow dissapointed if we are forced to change.
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Re: Repetition and boredom
« Reply #13 on: June 08, 2012, 05:46:28 pm »

Then, of course, there's the cynical view, which is that the majority of games are just Skinner boxes, and the repetition is not enjoyable, but instead a necessary evil before you get your dopamine fix.
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Re: Repetition and boredom
« Reply #14 on: June 08, 2012, 06:07:12 pm »

Then, of course, there's the cynical view, which is that the majority of games are just Skinner boxes, and the repetition is not enjoyable, but instead a necessary evil before you get your dopamine fix.

Sure. You could break all human experience down to chemical interactions, but I don't think that is a productive way to look at things.
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