The Placebo Effect Can Make You Enjoy the Same Old Video Games More

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The weird and wonderful impacts of the placebo effect are well-documented for health treatments. But now a team of researchers has shown that it can help you enjoy a video game that you’re told has been updated — even when it’s exactly the same as it always was.

New Scientist reports that a team from the University of York in the UK had participants play an adventure game called Don’t Starve twice. The first time round the researchers told them the game map was randomly created; the second time participants were told that it was created by “adaptive AI” that changed it on the fly according to their abilities.

Both times, the game was identical, and used a random map.

But that didn’t stop the players reporting that the two games were different. Some found it harder, some found it easier, but none thought it was the same and it was generally rated as more immersive and entertaining. A second trial, where half of the participants were placed in a control group where they were told it was random and half were told it was AI-generated, saw the results replicated. The results were first reported at the CHI PLAY conference in London.


It’s perhaps a fairly unsurprising result, but it does suggest that we can be fairly easily tricked into believing that even something we directly interact with and experience is new and exciting, when in fact that’s not the case. It perhaps doesn’t pay to think to hard about what that means in terms of half of the things we buy...

[New Scientist]

Image b Chris Halderman under Creative Commons license