Aspects of Play: B.F. Skinner

Burrhus Frederic (B.F) Skinner was an American psychologist that studied human behaviour. Operant Conditioning, the work primarily targeted for this discussion, is very relevant to games themselves. You see, his studies into Operant Conditioning led him to realise that human behaviour stemmed from the one simple principle: repetition. The more someone does a specific thing, such as brushing their own teeth in a morning and night, the more it is enforced into their everyday life. Those that don’t enforce their behaviour by those means, have those behavioural aspects extinguish and thus not be an autonomous necessity within everyday life.

Skinner Box illustration operant conditioning

Experimenting with animals, Skinner coined the term ‘Skinner Box’ 

Operant Conditioning then is the means to change behaviour through this use of reinforcement. There are 3 types of responses that can follow behaviour;

  • Neutral Operants: A type of response that doesn’t particularly increase the likelihood of behaviour being repeated
  • Reinforcers: A type of response that does increase the likelihood of behaviour being repeated
  • Punishers: A type of response that doesn’t increase the likelihood of behaviour being repeated

An example of this would be in any video game, such as any Splinter Cell game with the stealth mechanics being punishing, if you are seen at any time you start from the beginning of the level as punishment in order to enforce that the behaviour is not repeated. Success, the positive response thus becomes the only logical scenario of which you aren’t punished and thus is enforced more heavily.

References

Mcleod, S. 2014. B.F. Skinner | Operant Conditioning – Simply Psychology. [online] Available at: http://www.simplypsychology.org/operant-conditioning.html [Accessed: 15 Jan 2014].

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