To understand the effect of human psychology on games' popularity, first, we need to find out the answer to a question, i.e."Why do we play games?"

Is it for living our inner fantasy through the games? Or is it for the momentary satisfaction of doing things we cannot do in real life? Or is it due to our competitive behaviour towards other players playing the same or similar games? Or is it just to pass our excess time and relax?

Why We Play Games

The answer to the question is not a single thing but an amalgamation of some or all of those answers. In fact, human psychology and behaviour are kept in mind during many phases and places during game development.

According to research[¹] done on player motivation in online games, the main motivating factors were found to be: setting "in-game achievements", which motivate the player to go forward in a game, including an "in-game system and rules" which give ease and sense of interest to the players, and finally the level of "competitiveness" inside the game among other players.

Second is the social aspect of the game, which helps players connect by chatting and forming a group inside of a game. This helps slightly increase the retention of players in the game.

The last part includes the player's immersion in the game, like providing the ability to customize characters and other play items or letting the player select a set of weapons or equipment according to the player's choice.

The set of things mentioned above that motivate players into playing games is found in many popular games such as PUB-G, Fall Guys, etc. These games have tested and proven that incorporating human psychological factors in the game can help boost the number of users interested in the game.

Another study[²] mentions that, in addition to taking part in a challenge, players play games to experience emotional arousal and relaxation, compete against other players, take part in fantasy activities which would not normally be possible, and interact socially with other players. This kind of scenario is mainly applicable to extremely competitive games.

Another point mentioned in the study is that human behaviour seeks competence, autonomy and relatedness. Absolute competence is when a player is a player who can be said to be playing smoothly and going with the game flow without any hindrance. The flow of the game is good when the game is challenging enough to be interesting but not too challenging that the player cannot play and loses interest. Autonomy is met when the player is in perfect control of their game. Relatedness means that players can interact with each other within the periphery of the game's scope.

What Matters in a Game

Now let us ask another question relating to how psychology affects how popular games can become, i.e., "Are high-end graphics important?"

Jake Simpson, the Lead Programmer of Raven Software, says,

"... Everyone is saying, "Of course they are!" And you'd be right. But how important are they really in the gist of the whole gaming experience? Are they the be-all and end-all? Well, no, not really.

The basic argument here is that great gameplay will make up for so-so graphics, but great graphics won't make up for so-so gameplay--at least not for very long..."[³]

The statement is very true and is relevant to this blog because "Graphics" is a visual element of the game, whereas "Gameplay" is the psychological aspect of the game.

All studies that test games' UI/UX field are related to this point. The UI/UX is good when the player feels at ease while looking at and playing the game, and they should not need to go through any unnecessary and redundant processes to do simple tasks. People are inherently lazy, so if there is one more button click than necessary, many not-so-invested players might close the game altogether rather than go through a long process.


Combining the two points above, we can see that many popular games incorporate psychological lures into their games to get more players, whether deliberately or by accident.

  1. PUB-G (competitiveness, online communication)
  2. Fall Guys (competitiveness, customization)
  3. The Witcher (Fantasy fulfilment, emotional arousal from story)
  4. Flappy Bird (Extreme flow of the game, self-competition, easy-to-play UI/UX)
  5. Counter-Strike (Fantasy fulfilment, Immersive team communication)

Thus, we can see that famous games incorporate the subtle aspects of human psychology to make their games more interesting to attract more players. So, we can conclude that human psychology study and their implementation in games are important factors that help make a game more popular.

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  1. Yee, N. (2006). Motivations for Play in Online Games. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 9(6), 772–775.
  2. Boyle, E., Connolly, T. M., and Hainey, T. (2011). The role of psychology in understanding the impact of computer games. Entertainment Computing, 2(2), 69–74.
  3. Staff, G. (2001, June 27). QOTW: How Important Are Graphics to Games? GameSpot.