As gamers we love loot. Love it. We see something drop from an enemy encounter, and we rush up to it, eager to get our grubby, battle-scarred hands on it. It doesn’t matter if we play alone, with friends, frenemies or clans, we just can’t get enough of the good stuff after battling.
Have you ever thought about why we’re so loot obsessed? If you take a step back and think about it, what we’re getting excited about is a collection of pixels on a screen, and often the actual content of the loot is close to worthless in terms of the game itself. So why do we get so excited when we see it?
The typical set up in a loot-heavy game is a generous reward system – you get loot for nearly every encounter (so it’s a plentiful resource), but you only get the good stuff every so often. Rare loot is a precious, wonderful find, and the schedule by which you’ll get it is set in such a way that you’ll always think it’s possible – so you’ll continue to keep fighting, keep going, and keep trying for the good stuff. It’s rare, but not so rare that you feel hopeless and give up.
If this sounds a bit like the way casinos run, you’re correct. Payout schedules on slot machines are adjusted to the same principle – the house wants you to keep playing, so they’ll throw you a bone every so often. And sometimes – just sometimes, that bone has some serious meat on it.
What’s going on here is operant conditioning, by way of positive reinforcement. Good old BF Skinner coined the term (and noted its forms) back in the 50s when he was doing behavioral experiments on rodents, which, like it or not, applies scarily well to the human world.