EntertainmentGamesPsychology and videogames: interview with Ramón Boyler

Psychology and videogames: interview with Ramón Boyler

Currently, video games are still on the warpath with certain sectors of the population and every year a new controversy related to them always arises. The recent craze for loot boxes and micro-payments have only increased that part of the skepticism and fears that had been fading over the years.

To bury once and for all the half-truths and false myths about video games, we have spoken with Ramón Baylos, a health psychologist specializing in systemic family therapy and new technologies, as well as a video game analyst at the online magazine Areajugones .


How does the reward factor work on a psychological level in multiplayer titles?

The strategies that video games use to keep us attentive to what is happening on the screen are very diverse, ranging from the most primitive instincts of the human being to those more complex psychic processes that make us who we are.

One of the forces that tend to push life forward has to do with sheer survival and this, ultimately, is summarized in two very basic factors: getting closer to what gives me pleasure and, on the other hand, moving away from what that causes me discomfort . If we think of micro-transactions as such, we will realize that the interaction that they carry out with the player is aimed at that first action; something to which an instantaneity factor is added. That is to say, that the purchase of an item in-game opens the door to obtain pleasure with a simple action and automatically.

However, it is with lootboxes where this dynamic shows its most perverse side and that, in short, is the one that is generating the most concerns within the scientific community .

Buying lootboxes offers a psychological process that is not only based on obtaining gratification, but also on avoiding discomfort; an intercalation of processes that is the one found after problems such as those associated with gambling. And, if we stop to think about it for a moment, the dynamic is quite simple: I, anybody with their problems and concerns, come home after a long day at work in search of something that makes me feel good without I have to do a lot on my part. I go into my favorite game and buy a loot box. If I get an object that I want, I will buy more boxes to continue with that good streak and continue obtaining pleasure; and if I don’t have to, I’ll buy more boxes to avoid the discomfort I feel when witnessing this kind of “microfilm”. All this to generate a wheel in which the person becomes entangled within the reward-frustration cycle and makes the purchase of lootboxes become a well-established part of their leisure time.


How can we approach the game economy (how do you get those rewards, coins, unlockables) to get away from gambling?

I think the solution is for both sides of the board to do their part, be it the companies in charge of creating the title or the consumer who is going to play it .

If we start with the first ones, there are some strategies that are already being applied, such as, for example, displaying on the screen the exact probability that an item will touch us in a loot box; something that is aimed at collapsing that irrational idea that many times we have that chance and probability are governed by rules that we can master. All this so that the video game itself can give you more information with the aim that you make decisions from a more informed position, one aimed at ensuring that the psychological power in the person-video game relationship resides in the first and not in the second . This can also be complemented with other types of preventive tools such as, for example, parental control systems that limit access to these elements in the game by the little ones.

On the other hand, it is impossible to conceive of the video game as something alien to our culture and, in my opinion, it is somewhat dangerous to ignore our responsibility for what happens in it and attribute it to something that is a product that is born from it. Therefore, the ideal path would be to complement the aforementioned with a dedication of resources by the culture so that consumers can do a job in personal growth, emotional education and prevention with the aim that they have more tools at the time to face the problems derived from the misuse that we sometimes give to video games.


One of the topics that comes up the most is how ‘Fortnite’ encourages competitiveness among the little ones, thus creating a relationship of dependency with its audience. How real is there in this? And why is there so much concern about generating competitiveness among the smallest when our system is based on “being the best”?

Competitiveness in itself is not negative, the bad comes when everything revolves around it. Video games are a powerful mirror of what makes us up as a society, mainly because they are cultural products that are born from the minds of people who live in it and are aimed at the minds of people who live in it, and ours is a tremendously competitive and individualistic.

Something that, at least in part, is due to the fact that today everything circulates too fast thanks to new technologies and therefore it is much more convenient and practical to try to be above others instead of wasting time stopping to think what’s valuable inside of me And the latter is an extremely useful process for anyone in psychological terms, but at the same time, it undermines the way in which we have built our culture .

We live in a social environment that has a tremendous panic of what is known as anorgasmia or, in other words, a situation in which pleasure is not constantly obtained. Because a defeat only generates the desire to suppress it by trying to win in the next game and not facing the natural and healthy process that is born in the face of the feeling of failure. Because we have been educated to prevent things from going wrong and not to face something like this happening . Something that, in my opinion, is ridiculous as we have a very low percentage of control over what can happen on a daily basis in our lives.

This is another example of why I think video games are wasted. Rather than posing them as a useful tool for exposing that frustration and learning to deal with it, we have been taught that what we need to do is hide it under the rug and get constant gratification. Although luckily games have already begun to emerge that try to explore the latter: Dark Souls , Death Stranding , Undertale , Sekiro


We are not yet able to extrapolate the fiction of the game, but we know that by reading Shakespeare you will not want to kill your uncle or that by listening to AC / DC you will not become a Satan worshiper. What is the disconnect that is taking place here – on a psychological level – between culture and society?

One of the main reasons behind the disconnection that you mention, I think it has to do with the fact that the video game still does not have enough of a medium to be respected by all the generations that coexist . We all respect music because we have all listened to music and we all see cinema with good eyes because we have all seen movies; therefore, surely the video game is well regarded when all generations have played one .

On the other hand, the fear that exists in our culture that the fiction of a video game overlaps with reality has to do with the ignorance of how its dynamics work , both at a practical and psychological level. Perhaps it tends to demonize our environment because, while in a movie or in a book we are mere spectators of what happens, in a video game we are active agents of what happens in it . Because seen from the outside, it is not the same to see how someone is shot in a movie than to have to press a couple of buttons to do it yourself.

However, I think that in this process that valuable concept that we mentioned before and that has to do with holding the person responsible for what they play and how they play and not how the game affects the person is lost again. Video games do not generate sensations and emotions out of nowhere, but rather signal and intensify those that are already present in us.

That could be another cause of this disconnection, because, as I said before, our society still has a long way to go emotionally . Having there an element that intensifies something that is frowned upon to show culturally, is directly aimed at questioning this whole scheme that humanity has invented. If we add that tendency to inhibit ourselves from our processes, it creates the perfect formula so that the video game from the outside is seen as a generator of emotions instead of as an indicator of those that we already experience.

Does this mean that a person can become violent when watching violent game? No , it means that the reaction that a person shows when playing it already depended on a violence and the video game has only illuminated it. When we see a video of a person throwing a controller out the window, it is not that the video game has magically generated an irrepressible desire to take the controller and throw it out the window, but rather that the situation of failure generates a feeling that is too painful -if it is possessed. low tolerance for frustration – and it is easier to resort to an outburst of anger than to accept the emotional process that is being experienced at the moment .


The WHO declared video game addiction as a disease in 2018 and it will take effect in 2022 so that those affected by the disorder begin to be treated officially. Could you shed a little light on the matter?

It is not clear if it is an addiction as such, an impulse control disorder, a problem gambling that should be classified apart from the traditional one or even if video games are a mere transport to the stimulus that does hook people. But this discussion comes from the obsession that still exists in psychology to try to fit everything that happens in the human mind into patterns and boxes . Something that we have inherited from the medical model, which is really useful for the biology of the body because it is what it is, but the mind continues to advance towards new horizons and, with them, we should be able to expand our margins and ways of studying it.

Criticisms of my profession aside, the WHO movement is positive and negative at the same time : positive because it helps to make visible a problem that is real, that exists and that makes more and more people suffer, to mobilize different nations and cultural systems to dedicate certain resources to detect, prevent and treat these problems. And, on the other hand, negative since it is one more step towards the demonization of the video game. Not only because it goes back in that direction of not holding the person of whom we spoke before responsible, but because the research work that has been going on for decades on how new technologies influence our psychological facets is ignored. .

The WHO movement is reckless in that sense, for ignoring that emotional growth comes from the detection of one’s own psychological processes that are specific to each one and, therefore, paying attention to something external to the person does not help to grow humanly.


Since we are only mentioning the “supposed” negative effects of video games, what benefits and / or skill development can we get from spending our free time playing them?

There are still many years for these to be visible (the positive effects), especially because, if we only pay attention to the negative, it is the only thing we will find in them . But video games have a lot of signals that indicate that they could be beneficial in certain circumstances. At the beginning of 2019 I attended an event to present the Xbox Adaptive Controller in which Microsoft invited a large number of associations that were using it for social and research purposes, coming to have figures that supported this idea that many give fear assert: video games can help stimulate our intelligence .

A circumstance that is due to two reasons: first, because the brain is an insatiable beast of stimuli that grows and becomes more complex the more it receives and, precisely, our interactive leisure environment is an inexhaustible source of them. And, on the other hand, because one of the definitions of intelligence is related to the ability to adapt to situations that are new or, in other words, to overcome learning processes.

Videogames offer us the ideal space in which to learn ; because they provide us with a controlled environment in which to intuit what the rules are by which it works, bring them to light and learn to get the most out of them in each situation. And each and every one of the video games out there has different rules, although some of them share some of their bases.

And the same can be applied in the emotional spectrum, since video games signal and intensify emotions, as we mentioned before. In this sense, video games can act as a catalyst for what we feel , unblock one of those feelings that has become entrenched or, at least, be able to look at them from other prisms and perspectives that require a bit more interactivity and, therefore, they go beyond mere reflection.

However, it is difficult for studies to begin to come out that begin to shed more light on all these intuitions since those that exist now are only aimed at looking at the negative part or because the sections we have talked about here are some with a high temporal cost when properly investigated.

Finally, does playing video games make us different (does it alter our disposition to life, our personality, our way of thinking …)?

I don’t think it’s so much that they make us someone different, but they do influence us in some way . Either because of what we have commented before or because they can appear at a time in our life in which we are especially sensitive to what we see in them and mark us in some way. But this is something that happens with any cultural product of the rest of the arts .

Again, it all depends on how the person who plays a title manages that same process, how much responsibility they want to take on their interaction with the medium and how much interest they want to devote to learn about all this information.

As I always say, video games in themselves are not so powerful as to change the character of anyone , what changes the character of that someone is how the person manages the relationship they have with themselves and their environment. And, although it is true that we have a long study path ahead of us in order to establish a healthier relationship with them, it depends on us if we want to ignore their associated problems to give them a better use or continue denying what it seems. that is becoming a reality : Although video games and new technologies bring with them new challenges on a psychological level for humanity, we are the ones who must embrace the responsibility to prevent their negative effects and seek the healthiest way to take advantage of them.

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