Gamer Psychology – Does Diet Affect Your Mood While Gaming?

Can what we eat affect how we game? Dalmarus would bet his Funyuns on it. He explores the weighty topic of gaming and food in his latest Gamer Psychology column.
Gamer Psychology

Thanks for joining me again for my attempt at delving a little into the psychology of gamers. As a group, there are definitely certain aspects of thought we all share in common. Part of that is the concept of chasing the carrot and always looking for that next high from a reward, whether itÂ’s a new level, a new item, or even a gain in crafting skill. All of these things have made me wonder over the years whether or not this translates to what we eat as we game.

Surprise! Gamers like to eat stuff.

Before we get much further, let’s go over some ground rules again just so I don’t end up being brought up on ridiculous charges in court after someone claims I ruined their lives and gave them false advice. Rule number one – I am not a doctor, a psychiatrist, psychologist, or any other kind of -ologist; I’m just a person who has been gaming for a little over 30 years, has worked for some of the game industry’s biggest companies, and has written about games and gaming for a number of years as well. All combined, this makes me think I know a little bit about games and gamers, but… it does not mean I know a damned thing about actual medicine, science, or mental health. So if my article convinces you that this is why you’re fat (like me) and that the only solution is to quit gaming and go on a strict liquid diet of nothing but grapefruit juice, DON’T DO IT. Go see a real doctor. Not me. Alright, now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to it, shall we?

One of the reasons I love EverQuest so much, and a prime reason so many people were “addicted” when it came out was due to the designer’s using a very real system of incremental reward. Humans are programmed to respond to stimuli in a positive way if they feel they receive any type of reward. It’s the same concept of a rat pushing a button to get a piece of cheese. Yes, I just called you a rat.

In EverQuest, there are an incredible number of skills a player can attain. Each time they level, those skills can go up by 5 points. To get those skills up, a player must use them. Sometimes they go up when the correct action is taken, and sometimes they donÂ’t. This creates a system designed to drive players to continually click the button to make X action happen in the hopes of reward. When the skill point does go up, we get a sense of happiness and satisfaction. Combine this skill system with the numerous other ways a game can reward a player (as I said before, loot, levels, etc.), and youÂ’ve got yourself a potent combination for keeping someone hooked and playing.

C is for Cookie! Cookies are rewarding.

So keeping all that in mind, my question today is this: do you think the food that we eat while playing can have a similar effect? It seems like the answer would be a straightforward yes, but I would be interested in seeing someone conduct an actual experiment to test this. HereÂ’s how I would go about it if I had enough volunteers:

Every person would play two different games for a period of a few days. To start off, I would have people play a game they were not particularly fond of, but at the same time, one they didnÂ’t actually hate. Every time they leveled, gained a new skill, got a useful piece of loot, etc, I would give them a favored snack, whether that was a cookie, piece of candy, etc. I think it would be interesting to see whether getting a piece of food they loved would give them a better impression of the game they were playing.

It's an acquired taste.

For part two of the experiment, I would have everyone involved play their favorite game, one they absolutely love to log into as often as they can. Instead of getting a treat every time they gained a skill, loot, a reward, etc., I would have them take a bite of something awful – pickled herring, canned beets, some food they absolutely despised. I would be curious to see whether, after a few days of this, their love of the game would diminish, perhaps to the point of not wanting to play the game at all anymore, even after the end of the experiment.

Again, I donÂ’t advise anyone to do this experiment for a number of reasons. One, IÂ’m not qualified to conduct a medical experiment of any kind, obviously. The other side of it is that I wouldnÂ’t want to ruin anyoneÂ’s favorite game on the chance that it actually worked that way.

Have you got a favorite food that you like to eat while playing a game? Is it always the same food? Does it change depending on the game you play? IÂ’d be extremely interested to hear your responses so please share them below. As for myself, I admit that I rarely, if ever, eat anything while gaming (or working for that matter). I get too focused on what IÂ’m doing and forget that I need food for very long periods of time. Then when IÂ’m done, IÂ’m starving to death and go all Joe Pecsi until I finally get some food in me. What about you?

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