Sunday, June 24, 2012


In my never-ending quest to procrastinate (productively, when possible), I've decided to begin a blog fusing my personal and professional interests together.  Welcome to the Playability Blog.

If you're somehow not related to me or a real-life friend wondering what logorrheaic nonsense I'm up to now (instead of the many things I should actually be doing to graduate), introductions are in order.  
As of writing this, I'm a sixth-year doctoral candidate in the University of Illinois psychology department.  I'm a cognitive psychologist by training, but growing ever immersed into the world of human factors.  In fact, I'm writing this as a human factors intern at Motorola Solutions in Planation, Florida.  If you're not familiar with human factors, then for now let's just call it "applied psychology" (though I'm sure there are ergonomists out there who would be offended at such a limited definition, I have plans to flesh that statement out in future posts).

This blog's title, "Playability," is my spin on a ubiquitous term from human factors, "usability" (basically, user friendliness).  My goal is to apply the ideas of psychology and human factors to understanding what makes games fun and engaging.

This is certainly not virgin territory.  It's becoming increasingly popular to look at the psychology behind what makes video games good and bad, due in no small part to my academic older brother, Mike Ambinder of Valve.  (It's weird to see a wikipedia article on someone you've gotten drunk with, but I digress.)  Gamasutra has also been doing this for years (and I encourage you to check them out if you haven't already).

Still, there are ideas I've had while playing games, conducting research, and standing in the shower that I have yet to see discussed anywhere on the internet.  Maybe it's because they're painfully obvious or canon for courses in game design.  Heck, I'd never even heard of a lot of the terms mentioned in egoraptor's Sequelitis on what makes Mega Man so awesome (one of my favorite videos on the internet right now, by the way).

But being the narcissist I am, I'd like to think maybe I can provide that same learning experience to others on the internet with the particular knowledge base I have.

Some disclaimers:

1. I make no claims to being an expert in game design; what I will shamelessly flaunt is an expertise with studying and understanding the cognitive processes underlying human behavior - which I hope gives me at least a little more street cred than the angry nerds on the IGN message boards.

2. This blog is my fun pet project first and an educational experience second, so I might not hunt down every single citation to back up every single thing I say.  I do that enough in my professional life.  I will happily go the extra mile, though, upon request.

And so, with that, I embark on this masturbatory exercise of intellectualization.

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