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Getting Gamers: The Psychology of Video Games and Their Impact on the People Who Play Them

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Video games are big business. They can be addicting. They are available almost anywhere you go and are appealing to people of all ages. They can eat up our time, cost us money, even kill our relationships. But it's not all bad! This book will show that rather than being a waste of time, video games can help us develop skills, make friends, succeed at work, form good habits, and be happy. Taking the time to learn what's happening in our heads as we play and shop allows us to approach games and gaming communities on our own terms and get more out of them. With sales in the tens of billions of dollars each year, just about everybody is playing some kind of video game whether it's on a console, a computer, a web browser, or a phone. Much of the medium's success is built on careful (though sometimes unwitting) adherence to basic principles of psychology. This is something that's becoming even more important as games become more social, interactive, and sophisticated. This book offers something unique to the millions of people who play or design games: how to use an understanding of psychology to be a better part of their gaming communities, to avoid being manipulated when they shop and play, and to get the most enjoyment out of playing games. With examples from the games themselves, Jamie Madigan offers a fuller understanding of the impact of games on our psychology and the influence of psychology on our games.

299 pages, Hardcover

First published October 16, 2015

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Jamie Madigan

4 books163 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 53 reviews
Profile Image for Bon Tom.
856 reviews55 followers
October 3, 2020
At first, I didn't like the narrator. It didn't sound like a gamer. More like goodie but oldie professor with pompous pronunciation, compensatory reflex for unsatisfying pay.

And then I realized, this is exactly how he should sound. Because this book is so much about psychology and the way we're all wired, gamers or not, as much as it is about games.

It's almost like a general psychology textbook disguised in very satisfactory context of videogames. Promising play, giving you education.

After a very short while, I've come to love my goodie but oldie wise man that changed the tone of voice ever so subtle or simply paused whenever there was I joke, making sure I don't miss it.

Didn't miss any of the jokes, which are great. But now I miss him dearly. Take care, my man. Until the next listening.
Profile Image for Nelson Zagalo.
Author 9 books320 followers
August 10, 2021
In the past I used to follow Jamie Madigan's blog religiously, and thanks to him I discovered many important studies on the psychology of video games. But little by little I stopped following it, without really understanding why. The focus of his texts stopped speaking to me more and more. When I started reading this book of his I realized why.

Madigan writes about psychology and games but assumes that his readers are not only completely ignorant of both areas but are also sceptical of the value of games. This is odd, to say the least. If I understand that Madigan wants to reach people outside the medium, I wonder if those are the ones who will buy a book of his.

To make matters worse, Madigan writes as if he's talking to his next-door neighbour while they're having a beer. The casualness is so great that it makes any scientific data presented unrealistic.
Profile Image for Edwin McRae.
Author 17 books20 followers
November 9, 2017
I work in the games industry as a narrative designer and what Jamie offers here is absolutely essential. We need to understand what games are doing to us and how to design them more humanely, and fast. And we need more people like Jamie to help us.
Profile Image for Nathan Albright.
4,422 reviews101 followers
July 20, 2019
Getting Gamers:  The Psychology Of Video Games And Their Impact On The People Who Play Them, by Jamie Madigan

It is very obvious that this book is written by someone who is very fond of video games, but also someone who has a critical view of the way that game design manipulates the behavior of people, not always for the better.  If the author is by no means hostile to games or the way games are often designed, the author does want the reader to become more aware of how games incentivize certain behaviors, and how the attempts to deal with some undesirable behaviors do not always work as intended.  The author also seeks to combine a critical perspective of game design with scientific principles of brain activity and psychology.  Furthermore, the way that the author discusses the way that people behave online and in games leads him to ponder ways that behavior relates to context, and that the context of games is not always as straightforward as we might imagine.  People might, for example, enjoy violent games for the ability to display competence rather than the specifically violent aspects of the game, for the most part, and this has an effect on the way that we view the content of the game as being secondary to the motivation on the part of the gamer.

The book itself is about 250 pages long and is divided into four parts.  The first part of the book looks at those who play games, and has chapters on why people become raving lunatics online (1), why people cheat, hack, and peek at strategy guides (2), why fanboys and fangirls are so eager to fight each other (3), and why we get nostalgic about old games (4).  The second part of the book looks at those who make games, and asks how games get us to keep score and compete (5), how games get us to grind and complete side quests and chase achievements (6), and how developers keep us excited about new loot (7).  The third part of the book examines those who sell games, looking at the question of immersion in game worlds (8), why we go crazy for game sales (9), how we get hooked on microtransactions (10), how games keep players playing (11), and how games get players to market to each other (12).  The fourth part of the book then looks at the games themselves with chapters on how we shape avatars and how they shape us (13), why we like violent games so much (14), and whether or not games make us smarter (15).  The book then concludes with a discussion of where psychology and video games go from here and notes, bibliography, and an index.

What this book has to say is something that is likely to trouble a lot of people, especially because of the way that a great deal of behavior relating to games is so context-dependent.  The greater anonymity of the online world and the lack of empathy we have with people we only know from words and not tone or body language all tend to contribute to the sort of stupidity one finds all too easily in stan culture.  Likewise, the desire of human beings to prove competence and to complete tasks means that game creators can easily create a chain of quests that lead people to spend far more time than they intended in a game world in order to get things done, even if the utility of what one is getting done is fairly limited to nonexistent.  The way that gamers like to leave certain options open also makes it interesting when game creators force resolution in certain matters, as in the relationship components of various games like FF7 and others like it.  Knowing how game merchants manipulate behavior to encourage expenditures and deal with the way that the design of game incentivizes certain forms of cheating where resources and real world money change hands will likely make some readers more cynical about the companies that make video games, but that may not be such a bad thing after all.
Profile Image for Rachel.
749 reviews24 followers
November 13, 2015
If I didn't know anything about psychology I think I would have loved this book. As it is, I felt like I was reading a lot of information I had read before--on Madigan's blog, in psychology textbooks, and other psychology books I've read. It felt a little like Madigan simply padded out some of his really awesome blog posts on psychology and gaming.

I was confused about who the audience was. Madigan's tone was very casual and it felt like he was addressing a skeptical or uneducated audience. I found myself thinking that Klee and Kandinsky are significantly different, actually, and yes, I'm familiar with both of them and I don't need to google them, and instead of telling me to google them I wish you'd gotten permission to just print an example! I felt the lack of screenshots and pictures quite a bit, and for such an expensive book I expected a little more on that front (although I'm happy to support more writing about psychology and videogames).

Okay, now that I've gotten all that whining out of the way, I can talk about what I liked. I really enjoyed the first part about how people can arbitrarily identify with a concept or brand and then get all fan-ish about it. Here's one quote that mentioned research I'd never heard of until now about how to avoid taking it personally when someone criticizes a brand/game/identity we love. "A 2011 study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology showed that even just having subjects do some self-affirmation by writing a few sentences about their best qualities let them avoid this habit [of reacting badly to criticism of something they liked, I think]" (51). It might have some practical application!

I also liked learning about game nostalgia. I read that the peak time for forming strong preferences was at age 20 (things one is likely to still enjoy as an adult and/or get nostalgic about; it's not clear. pg. 59). I also liked reading about the study on locked choices. Participants made prints of two photos they liked and chose one to take home with them. One group had to decide right away, and the other had five days to change their minds. Those who were locked into a choice liked the print they chose better than the ones who had five days to change their minds. So I think being locked in to a choice in a game could make players feel more attached to their decisions and the outcome it makes (but missing other paths is painful). This was on page 65.

I think Madigan's editor should have told him to make the tone more formal. I actually felt a bit alienated by an author who made so many incorrect assumptions about me, and the way he threw in unexpected untrue things was attention-getting but weird. The material was interesting enough without all of that, at least to me. I hope Madigan continues to write about psychology and games!
Profile Image for Marija S..
387 reviews29 followers
April 3, 2020
A study in social psychology focused on gaming, written in a casual alstyle with intelligent humor, informative, and comes with a hefty loot (list of references).
Profile Image for Pete.
803 reviews52 followers
March 26, 2019
Getting Gamers : The Psychology of Video Games and Their Impact on the People Who Play Them (2015) by Jamie Madigan looks at psychology applied to video games. Madigan has a PhD in Psychology and has consulted with various games companies. He also creates the excellent 'Psychology of Games' podcast.

The book is divided into four parts, those who play, those who make, those who sell and the games themselves. The subjects contained in each of the sections are a bit haphazard but lots of interesting aspects of games and psychology are covered. Fights between fans of different consoles, why we are nostalgic about games, why people grind, why sales can be so effective and how people are like their Avatars are just a few of the subjects that are covered. 

Getting Gamers is a very good read for anyone interested in a bit of theory around games. For anyone wondering if they would like the book it would be worth listening to the podcast to see if it appeals. If the ideas do and for any listener of the podcast Getting Gamers is highly recommended. For anyone interested in the appeal of games and the psychology around them the book is also definitely worth reading. 
Profile Image for Chris Boutté.
Author 8 books150 followers
February 28, 2021
I've been a gamer my entire life, and I even had a career in eSports in its early days. Now, as a father, my son is a gamer, and I love that we get to share this activity together. I'm also a massive psychology nerd, so I love to learn about the psychology of gaming, so I read books like this one. I've read a few books on this subject, but Jamie Madigan has written one of the best. I think I enjoyed this book so much because not only does it explain the psychology of gaming, but the research he discusses can be applied to many other aspects of the world today. I often found myself taking long breaks after reading different chapters from this book to sit and think about how interesting some of the topics were.
Profile Image for Mr. Banks.
64 reviews
January 15, 2021
Getting Gamers uses studies and methodologies from the field of psychology and applies it to games and the gaming community in general. A unexpectedly funny book given the content and I had a lot of fun reading it. The author's love of games shines through the pages and it made for an informative read.

Here are my high-level takeaways from the book:

1. We can use general psychological studies and apply them to the domain of games and gaming communities.
- Social psychology frameworks help us understand why people cheat, fanboy, and market games to their friends.
- Behaviour economics help us understand why people purchase games or help game developers *encourage* in-game purchases.
- General psychology theories explains why people immerse themselves in games and how their real lives can be impacted by their game (avatar's) lives.

2. Self-determination theory states that people play games to satisfy three main criteria: competency, autonomy, and relatedness.
- Competency is the feeling of mastery and players commonly achieve this by mastering the mechanics or comparing their scores over time.
- Autonomy means players want to feel like their in-game decisions matter in the outcome of a game.
- Relatedness is a player's want to connect, cooperate, or belong in a community of other players (or even NPCs)

3. Psychology should play a greater role in influencing game design and the management of a game's community.
- Game design has historically been an intuitive process relying on gut-feeling rather than applying the scientific method.
- Psychologist have been hired at studios but are mostly relegated to data-science type roles which have no direct influence over the game design and community.
- Psychological frameworks have been shown to make games more engaging and can alter the toxic behaviour of a gaming community.

As a follow up, I'm thinking of reading an intro to psychology textbook to provide a better foundation of psychology and a survey of the main studies used in this book.
Profile Image for Caleb Ross.
Author 38 books184 followers
March 14, 2019
Getting Gamers is a totally engrossing survey of both the unique ways video games help us understand human psychology and the psychology of gamers themselves.

Jamie Madigan has created something special with Getting Gamers. While I generally hesitate to credit books with legitimizing videogames--as I think we're past needing to legitimize a medium that's so ubiquitous--Getting Gamers does do so but in a unique way. In some chapters, especially those discussing MMOs, Madigan explores how virtual spaces (ie, videogames) can be used as testing environments for psychology theories. Sure, we can articulate a test of the Proteus Effect in real life, but it's so much easier and more controllable to do so in a virtual space.

Getting Gamers is essential reading for psychology nerds and for scared parents who need to see how important videogames really are.

I recommend either downloading a sample from the Kindle store or watching these two videos that overview a couple of the topics from the book.

Video #1
Why Do Videogame Fanboys/girls Want to Fight You?

Why Are Some Online Gamers So Mean?
Profile Image for Buck Wilde.
811 reviews42 followers
April 15, 2020
An entire book dedicated to the unironic, dual-fisted, fellatiatory appreciation of how modern developers use dirty little social psych tricks to screw their target demographics out of microtransaction money.

I gave it a pity star for all the shout-outs to classic psychology experiments, but the narrator was insufferable. As if the sycophancy wasn't bad enough, he tried to wrap everything in cute little jokes. You know when your professor would just absolutely bomb a joke, but there were a few kids who forced the laugh just to defuse the awkwardness? A whole book of that, congratulating Epic Games for marketing Vbucks to children.
Profile Image for Tamara.
137 reviews1 follower
January 31, 2022
This book is divided into three main parts: the psychology of gamers, the psychology behind game design and the psychology behind sales in the game world. These are topics that are dear to my heart, so I really enjoyed it, but I was thinking while reading that a lot of the topics in the book relate to larger ideas about why we do what we do as humans in this world. I think it might be an interesting read for non gamers as well. and I'm going to go play Bioshock now.
Profile Image for Sam.
166 reviews7 followers
October 16, 2016
Very interesting book. I haven't read any other books on this topic and would definitely recommend this to my gamer friends. Or at the very least recommend they check out the blog by the author. I haven't checked it out myself, but many of these chapters felt like blog posts that had been adapted and unfortunately, I think they probably read better in blog format. Every time the concept of priming came up in a chapter, Madigan explained it again. Using different examples at least, but by the third time I was like, ok, we know, just refer us back to the chapter it was introduced in. The chapters would occasionally make reference to each other in their conclusions or introductions, but other than that it was like each chapter stood alone. Which, if you want a book that you can just pick up and flip to a random chapter to read is a good thing. If you are reading it straight through, not so good.
I did enjoy the author's voice (for the first thirdish of the book. After that it got a little wearing. Or maybe it's just that it occasionally felt like he was trying to hard), very conversational and readable. Madigan breaks down complex concepts well with well chosen examples while poking fun at the odd things psychologists do to tests their theories. I am definitely going to keep my eye out for more books on this topic.
**also, some points off for mistakes that really should have been caught by an editor. Like spelling someone's last name wrong every other time, especially when the name is used several times in one paragraph so it's right there - on the same line! And misnaming a book (in the text, not in a citation).
Profile Image for David.
Author 18 books12 followers
May 2, 2020
I work in the game industry as a game designer and this book was a wonderful experience. The writing style is great, always keeps you interested and occasional jokes really hit the spot. The book has meaningfully divided chapters mixed with texts on very interesting psychological researches applied to the field of gaming. It will be interesting to read not only to gamers and game professionals, but its content can also be categorized as a "popular psychology" since the book explores matters of fanboyism, shopping habits, social interactions, etc.

From my game designer's standpoint, I finally learned why we design some elements of the game the way we "feel" how it works best or why something is "proven on the market that this is the way to go". For example, I know that people will be more likely to buy game booster after they faced an extremely hard game level, but the author finally explained to me what are those mental processes which prompt such a behavior. On the other hand, I also got some nudges to explore how video games can make people behave nicer to others and how games can make their lives better.

I really hope we'll get more books like this in the future, kudos to the author for sharing his knowledge, I'll definitely recommend this book to all my students and colleagues.
10 reviews10 followers
May 21, 2017
I only read chapter 5 ("How Do Games Get Us To Grind, Complete Side Quests, and Chase Achievements?). I would have read more chapters, but I learned (from another source) that most of academic psychology consists of statements of theories with little evidence. Upon closer reading, I found that indeed very little evidence was provided for the theories. However, there are some exceptions (for example, here is one good experiment with lots of data: "Researchers Devin Pope and Maurice Schweitzer examined data on 2.5 million golf putts made by professional golfers between 2004 and 2008 in order to find out if these pros were more or less careful when making a shot that would make them go over par. After using statistical methods to control for all kinds of things (e.g., distance from the hole, slope, etc.), the researchers found that pro golfers indeed tried harder and were more accurate on putts that let them avoid going over par" (p.81)). The Notes and Bibliography sections at the end may be useful; the Bibliography contains 181 sources from both journals and books. Overall, I found the ideas in Chapter 5 thought-provoking. However, the book is not worth my further reading, since most of the studies cited contain so little evidence.
74 reviews6 followers
August 7, 2016
For me, the meat of this book was in 2 chapters - Those Who Play & Those Who Sell.

Those Who Play tackles the questions of why people often indulge in bad behavior while playing online games, and how they treat perceived outsiders. Much of this content also relates to behavior we see in other areas, such as online forums and social networks.

Those Who Sell covers how games are marketed and the tricks used to get us to spend more on games and the ever growing trend of in app purchases. This chapter has good tips to consider about marketing and advertising in a broader context, and how may be targeted for the purchase of other products.

The humor in the book gets a bit too flippant at times, but mostly worked, though it may annoy others even more.
Profile Image for Scott Wozniak.
Author 14 books74 followers
July 16, 2020
This was chock full of insights from psychology studies and how they are applicable to games. It’s both fascinating and practical—and it was written with a witty, sarcastic tone that was great! Loved it!
13 reviews
June 28, 2020
Quite a frustrating book. Very interesting research presented on games and by extension all kinds of psychological issues related to motivation, enjoyment, decision making etc. But the way it's written made it a struggle to read because
1. Many descriptions of games and psychological concepts are written in a way that assumes the reader knows next to nothing about either. Yet many in-jokes would be totally opaque to such a reader. Thus you'll either be bored or cringe. I was mostly bored.
2. More importantly, the style is just infuriatingly long-winded, with pointless nerdy jokes all over the place. This could maaybe work in a TED Talk but definitely not in the book. Here is a passage where I just felt the author has no respect for my time:
"You know what country we haven’t mentioned yet? France. I should talk a bit about France. Specifically, I should mention that Daphne Bavelier, an accomplished researcher currently in the University of Rochester’s Cognitive Neuroscience department, was born there. At one point the young Bavelier decided she wanted to spend some time abroad, so she came to the United States to spend a semester studying there. Decades later, she’s still there, so I guess this story is actually going to be more about the United States than France after all. Sorry. "

I wish there was a better book on the same topic because I did learn a few extremely valuable lessons from its selection of research.
Profile Image for Wesley Schantz.
47 reviews2 followers
May 22, 2023
A most encompassing look at the subject of video games and psychology. A book to dip into for a broad range of topics, suitable to excerpt from or to quickly summarize the state of the discourse, circa mid-2010s, which is historically when the mental health crisis we're in the midst of now really got going. It's also most skimmable, particularly where the authorial voice gets intrusive. Covering topics from players' psychology to companies', the book is organized according to questions about the various parties involved in the industry; the answers, by and large, tend to come back to certain premises about motivation, which to me just aren't that compelling or interesting. For a better book about that, I recommend The Undoing Project, by Michael Lewis. Lewis is a great writer; he not only traces the thinking and relationship of Kahneman and Tversky, but helps to show how dramatically their work questioned the scholarly and social consensus about what motivates human behavior. Of course, they don't have much to say about video games!

From a longer piece on games and psychology - https://videogameacademia.org/2023/05...
60 reviews2 followers
December 21, 2019
If you're not familiar with psychological motivations in games and are interested in the topic this is an easy book to recommend. It is a great overview of where games overlap psychology. Tons of examples of specific psychological knowledge with specific examples of how they apply to games. I've encountered a lot of these from different behavioral psychology books and my games experience and still found examples that increased my knowledge.

There are a few points that keep it from 5 stars in my mind. The author leaves a lot of loose threads where he has made connections in his mind but not explain them fully in the book. For example he talks about the Dunning-Kruger effect in tutorials and specific games, but leaves you hanging as to whether the specific games have addressed it or what the benefit would be to telling players they suck at a game earlier. I think that points to a larger organizational problem with the book. The sections seem forced and not fleshed out based on the larger topics. It feels like the book is covering a checklist of topics and a page count.
Profile Image for Robert Potter.
27 reviews
May 2, 2020
Getting Gamers is a fantastic book, chock full of useful information that takes a stab at answering a wide variety of questions that all manner of gamers and game designers will find interesting and applicable. Whether your a noobie, fresh into the hobby, a veteran hardcore gamer, or a working professional, I can’t recommend this book enough.

I found myself bouncing from saying “Duh, of course!” after Jamie expertly outlines the psychological underpinnings of why in-app purchases are so successful to being supremely intrigued by the in-depth look at violence in video games.

These are questions worth asking, and Getting Gamers does a good job at answering them.
9 reviews
August 29, 2017
It was very interesting to see psychological studies applied to video games. Complaints about it not being an in-depth are overstated. The book is not meant to be groundbreaking research into understanding the psychology of gamers, but a general application of current theories and research to some of the more popular games people play, intended to be understood by a general audience. It's a good starting point, and with his website, www.psychologyofgames.com, and the suggestions he provides at the end, it will be interesting to see where this subject, and Madigan, go in the future.
Profile Image for Erryn.
36 reviews5 followers
December 28, 2020
Psychologist review: this is a good book for both those who know a lot about games and not much about psych or those who know a lot about psych but not much about games. If you don't fall into either of those categories it might feel a bit out of scope. The author occasionally takes a while to get to his point and his biases do cone through, but that's par for this type of writing and I don't think it takes away from the book too much. I didn't learn anything new but I did leave inspired which I think was the point.
Profile Image for Ricardo Shimoda.
105 reviews1 follower
February 21, 2022
It's a good overlook on several studies about video games and psychology. I like it because the author always distinguishes between correlation and causality going a little further to connect studies that bring you closer to causality instead of simple, visible correlation.
One thing that I can take from this book is that this is a vast field and with so many implications and consequences, and yet so ignored by academia. The hours / days / months / years humanity is spending on playing those games, though, tells a different story about the need to investigate all those aspects further
Profile Image for Stephanie’s Libby Antics.
440 reviews3 followers
September 19, 2022
It is not the book’s fault I hated it, so it gains back two stars.

I WANTED a book telling me all the good things about video games and basically telling me to be a better gamer girlfriend :p hmm… wife?

I did NOT want a pop psychology book about video games! One whole section is about why gamers like to buy things on sale…. Ummmm that’s everyone who buys anything?? And ffs if I knew I would be hearing the same psych studies I’ve beaten to death 800 times now I never would have picked this up 😑
25 reviews
June 7, 2021
Amusing read overall. Many studies sited were already mentioned in other places, I guess psychology isn't all that original. The crux of it is contained in the Epilogue: addressing all psychology majors, there're more topics related to games and gaming than video-game violence, educational games and game addiction. Sure. The book lists many other topics, but somehow lacks the glue to tie it all together.
Profile Image for Aaron White.
102 reviews22 followers
March 20, 2023
Part insightful, part research-based confirmation of long-held assumptions. Fantastic introductory dive into psychology of video games and gamers (just like the title says). I would love a follow-up that engaged in even more topics and takes on changes in the industry since this initial book was written.
Profile Image for Joshua Gutman.
32 reviews7 followers
January 8, 2020
The first half of this book was much stronger than the second half in my opinion. Many of the topics in the second half were closer to pop-psych only loosely relevant in my opinion to games and game design.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 53 reviews

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