Video Games and Psychological Conditioning

Having grown up with video games over the years, I find it amazing how conditioned I’ve become when presented in certain game situations. There are environments and gameplay moments that simply make me react a certain way even though the game may not necessarily intend to have an effect like that.

So I wanted to take a closer look at some situations in games that shouldn’t affect me in a certain way but do. If you have stories similar to mine, please do share them in the comments, I’d love to hear them.

rise of the tomb raider syria

How do you feel about swimming levels or exploring abandoned houses? Let me tell you a few stories after the jump…

I first noticed this behavior playing Fullbright’s Gone Home, a first-person interactive adventure game where you are tasked with exploring an old home to figure out where your family has gone. There are no set goals, though the narrative is slowly revealed by interacting with objects around the house such as a note, or a book, etc. There is absolutely no danger to your character but thanks to a downpour of rain outside, a huge empty house, and the game taking place at night, my brain sounded the alarm and continued to convince me that I needed to watch my back. I have seen too many video games like this where you are exploring a large building only to be blindsided or some sort of evil force jumps out of the shadows.

The more I wandered around, the more unsettled I became, sure that some evil little doll was going to charge at me down a hallway, or a sudden scream was going to come from a remote area of the house. In actuality, as more and more clues opened up new areas of the house to investigate, nothing sinister ever happened. There were no undead spirits, evil cultists, or ax murders in this house.

Game: 1 Brain: 0

More recently, I’ve been playing (and thoroughly enjoying) Rise of the Tomb Raider, which sees Lara Croft in Sibreria looking for the lost city of Kitezh. In the various cave systems and tombs that Lara comes across, at times there is water that you can swim through. Typically the water isn’t very deep but there are sections that force you to dive and/or swim through. These sections creep me out, even though nothing as ever attacked me in this game while swimming. I can’t help but feel like some sort of creature or animal is living in these ancient waters, waiting to snack on a tasty human. There’s also a few times where the music would build up while swimming, causing me to hammer down on the ‘B’ button to make Lara swim faster, convinced that Jaws was coming up behind me.

In all honesty, video games have taught me over the years that water typically isn’t your friend. One of the best examples I can think of is Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire, which launched early in the life span of the Nintendo 64. There’s a particular level where our hero, Dash Rendar, is tasked with navigating through a sewer system in order to infiltrate a palace. Wouldn’t you know it, the sewer waters were crawling with hostile dianoga (yes, I did look up the technical term) creatures that were freaky looking and had terrifying sound effects. Couple that with the primitive way the N64 rendered the dirty water and the blocky (but good for their time!) graphics and you had a recipe for childhood psychological trauma and nightmares.

Star Wars Dianoga

I mean, just look at this thing! Horrifying!

That’s probably the game that started the whole water level nervousness seeing as that was the first “realistic” game that allowed a 3D character model to move around a water environment. Sorry Super Mario 64, your cartoonish eels don’t have anything on the dianoga. Also, for those of you wondering, an attack from a water creature hasn’t happened at all in my time with Rise of the Tomb Raider, so that’s another loss for my brain trying it’s best to freak me out.

Game: 2 Brain: 0

So those are just a couple of examples of the way video games have conditioned me to think about certain game play elements. It’s pretty amazing at how certain memories continue to stay with and affect us even in games which actively try to do it differently. Have any stories to share with similar experiences? Let me know down in the comments.

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9 Responses to Video Games and Psychological Conditioning

  1. Hatm0nster says:

    My time with SNES and N64 platformers taught me that items can be found just about anywhere: jars, grass, boxes, enemies…etc. So imagine my surprise when I first started playing through Fable II way back when. The game had all sorts of destructible objects lying around, but in all the time I spent smashing them up I never found a single item! I finally gave up when I found a text document somewhere in the game making fun of the very idea of valuables being stored in boxes and such. I felt silly, but also very annoyed.

    I’ve also learned to expect some sort of encounter whenever I find a room/space that’s either very large and/or filled with cover. In that regard I’m right 90% of the time. Then there’s dungeon crawling. Kotor, Dragon Age, Skyrim, and really most games that feature some sort of dungeon have taught me that the interesting stuff is often found away from the main path to completing the dungeon. They’ve also taught me that some games like to seal off options once you’ve gone too far. Simply put, I now approach dungeons by trying to identify the main path(s) as early as possible, then exploring everywhere else before continuing. I can’t tell you how much awesome loot I missed out on before starting to play like that.

    • This is awesome man, thanks for sharing!

      I absolutely agree about the exploration stuff. I try to avoid the main path out of fear that I’ll go too far and won’t be able to go back and find things I missed.

      • Hatm0nster says:

        I’d say that something has to change in regard to dungeon design, but a dungeon has to have a defined path to completion right? I suppose Zelda does dungeon crawling best, as it makes proper use of just about every room in the dungeon with only a couple of minor secrets located off of the main path.

  2. Jasyla says:

    I have similar experiences to Hatmonster, most of my gaming conditioning is about exploration. I always go down what I perceive to be the “wrong” path first, because something could be hidden and I don’t want to miss it.

    The game Shadow Hearts: Covenant conditioned me to explore in a rather annoying way (though the game is still one of my favourites). In SH:C you could find hidden objects that gave no indication they were there, no little glimmer to give them away. You had to be right on top of them before an icon would show up to tell you something was there. This made me track through every nook and cranny in future RPGs, even if their hidden items weren’t nearly so well hidden.

    • Glad to know I’m not the only one that does that haha! Collectibles and hidden items drive me nuts because it forces me to look in every nook and cranny just in case. I secretly love it though 🙂

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