On Designing for Behavior

On Designing for Behavior

Jenova Chen, creator of a recent videogame titled Journey, explains his views on gamers’ behavior:

There’s this assumption in video games that if you run into a random player online, it’s going to be a bad experience. You think that they will be an asshole, right? But listen: none of us was born to be an asshole. I believe that very often it’s not really the player that’s an asshole. It’s the game designer that made them an asshole. If you spend every day killing one another how are you going to be a nice guy? All console games are about killing each other, or killing one another together. Don’t you see? It’s our games that make us assholes.

I love finding quotes and examples on the importance of design in changing behavior. On his popular book Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely explained that the design of a form can affect people’s decision to whether or not become organ donors. Or for example, there’s this great experiment on how to get people to use the stairs instead of the escalator:

The idea that we control everything in our lives and that we make only conscious decisions is so engrained in our ego, that we waste the opportunity to make actual change. Read this sentence as many times as needed, and let it sink in:

The way we act depends on the design of our choices.

Yes, it makes reality a bit more complex, because now we’re not some rigid pack of traits, but a set of malleable habits that we can change if we redesign our choices. It adds responsibility to our lives, because we no longer can hide. We now face the decision to either change the design of what we’d like to improve, or shy away from our chance to make things better, the way we’d like them to be.

This has been my message with education alternatives lately. Stop trying to find the panacea. It doesn’t exist. We don’t need to find the perfect system of education. We need to create a better design of educational choices, so everyone can make the right one for their particular situation.

This is why system implementation works so well. If you want to get on a diet, don’t resist the urge to eat ice cream, just don’t buy it in the first place. Change the system and design of the eating choices in your house.

If there’s one thing that’s very powerful in today’s complex world, is understanding how to design a system that gets yourself and others to act the way you envision it. Be responsible, embrace the task. Let’s design more systems where we don’t kill each other.

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