Video Games | Psychologist Celia Hodent proposes an “ethical charter”

A doctor in cognitive psychology, Celia Hodent has helped improve the user experience in many games, incl Fortnite. Since 2020, has tackled an overly aggressive monetization model trying to rope in players. Pers join him in Los Angeles.

How did a psychologist come to collaborate on video games?

I have a doctorate in cognitive psychology, I have done research on cognitive development, how mental processes like perception, attention, memory work. I turned to entertainment, to games early. Games are very important for the development of children and also for maintaining our neurons and brain in adulthood. Pretty quickly, I fell into video games because I’m a gamer myself, I grew up on video games, I played a lot with my parents. I started at Ubisoft, in France, I went to Ubisoft in Montreal – I stayed one winter, I survived! [rires]. I really enjoyed my time in Montreal. I got an opportunity at Lucas Arts in San Francisco. I arrived at Epic Games in 2013 and I became director of user experience, I worked a lot Fortnite to 2017. I have been a consultant for six years.


Celia Hodent, PhD in cognitive psychology

Your name is mentioned in the class action lawsuit against Fortnite. How do you respond to those who see you as one of the people who helped make this game addicting?

Obviously, in video games as in any other cultural product, we have to be involved. My work is user experience, which puts itself in the person’s shoes. The goal in video games is to have fun. Is the game ergonomic? Do people understand what they have to do?

So nothing like in a video game Fortnite designed in a dangerous way, using what we know about the human mind to get people addicted?

Video game developers never want to get people addicted. This is neither desirable nor desirable from an ethical point of view. The idea is to bring fun, that’s all. Game designers use mechanics to make games more interesting. But that’s very much regardless of the marketing techniques used to bring people back, not because the games are interesting, but because if we don’t come back, we will lose all our credits or everything we have won. .

In July 2020, you launched Ethical Gamesa campaign that offers guidance on making gaming more ethical.

I’ve been talking about it for a long time. Since early 2019, I’ve been giving talks at the Game Developers Conference saying there are ethical questions about what we do. If we are to defend video games as art, we must be aware of completely unethical practices, which are done to engage in monetization, or to bring people back not because games are fun, but because they feel they have to. do it. This is an element that, from my perspective and that of many in the industry, is problematic.

Do you have a particular game in mind?

In fact, the problem is not with the game mechanics themselves. Often it will be something outside the game, for example, the prizes you can get if you log in every day. If we don’t want to play, we shouldn’t be punished. There’s a mechanism that’s not just used in video games, in marketing in general, in your supermarket, on airplanes, it’s a loss aversion mechanism. It’s so widespread and has been around for a long time, it’s nothing new. These models are now used in video games, especially models free to play.

Have you convinced any studio to join you?

I’ve had several studios contact me, interested in the process. I don’t think it’s mature, I’m still working on bringing together all the academic research on the different elements we cover in this code. The idea was to develop an ethical charter for video games, but we wanted it to be based on science, not on the moral panics we hear all over the place. It will take a little longer.

For brevity and clarity, this interview has been edited.

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