Negativity Bias in Gaming

Many researchers claim that negative events affect us more than positive ones. We remember them more vividly and they play a larger role in shaping our lives. Could it be that we also notice negative news about video games more than the good stuff? Let’s take a look at this so called “Negativity Bias”.

I like video games. I play video games for the sole purpose of entertaining myself, whether that is through the solid story telling of the Mass Effect series, shooting aliens in games like Destiny, or satisfying my weird need to micromanage equipment like I have been doing in Divinity: Original Sin for the past several weeks.

However, as I am growing older, I also find myself reading more about video games than actually playing them and I find myself a returning listener to several podcasts on my hobby. While you’d expect that podcasts dedicated to video games would be rooted in enthusiasm and the concept of having fun, I started to notice that these podcasts I consume seemed to have a rather negative undertone.

Paying more attention to the topics discussed, I started seeing patterns and trends and they all seemed to go in the direction of criticizing business practices and highlighting all the things that were wrong in the industry.

Listening to a few of these podcasts a week, one would start to believe that the people closest to the games industry, don’t seem to enjoy video games anymore!

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I frigging HATE playing games

Comment Section

It’s reasonable to think that the enthusiasm of those reporting on the industry gets hampered the moment that a hobby becomes a job. Having to plow through a game as Fallout 4 to ensure your review goes online the second the embargo lifts can understandably take some of the fun out of the experience. Maybe, a little bit of bitterness can be expected from those exposed daily to sometimes shady business practices as well. But surely, the general gamer is still happy as a clam right?

Looking into the comment section of the aforementioned podcasts, I quickly discovered that nobody actually likes gaming anymore. According to the comment section, everything is literally shit and video games are actually the worst.

At this point, I am surprised how the games industry makes a few billion dollars per year, since it’s clearly complete shit.

Right?

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Why is it, that we see so much bad news when it comes to our hobby? Why are these the headlines that are being talked about on media outlets and comment sections? Well, as it turns out, it’s not just the world of video games that is on fire: it’s actually the whole world that is a horrible place.

If you turn on the news at any day of the week, you’ll notice the world is populated by evil politicians, scheming bankers, dirty priests, racist presidential candidates and several hordes of armed students. It seems no matter where you are, you are basically going to die.

Yet, at the same time, this isn’t the whole picture (or even half of it). In spite of all the suffering you are being served through the screen each and every day, good things happen to people all the time. There actually is a lot of happiness all around you. Most of your friends are probably having a pretty good time RIGHT now and if they aren’t, someone else is working hard to get them through it.

Why then, is there such a discord between what actually happens in the world and the media’s accounting of it? And, could the same be happening in the world of video games?

The Draw Of “Bad News”

Many researchers claim that negative events affect us more than positive ones. We remember them more vividly and they play a larger role in shaping our lives. Farewells, accidents, bad parenting, financial losses and even a random snide comment take up most of our psychic space, leaving little room for compliments or pleasant experiences to help us along life’s challenging path. The staggering human ability to adapt ensures that joy over a salary hike will abate within months, leaving only a benchmark for future raises. We feel pain, but not the absence of it.

Hundreds of scientific studies from around the world confirm our negativity bias: we process negative data faster and more thoroughly than positive data, and they affect us longer. Socially, we invest more in avoiding a bad reputation than in building a good one. Emotionally, we go to greater lengths to avoid a bad mood than to experience a good one. In our era of political correctness, negative remarks stand out and seem more authentic.

Could it be that your brain is simply built with a greater sensitivity to unpleasant news?

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Body and Brain Going Negative

Your body generally reacts more intensely to negative stimuli than to equally strong positive ones. For example, intense pain can be produced all over the body, but intense pleasure comes only (for most people) from stimulating a few specific regions.

In your brain, there are separate (though interacting) systems for negative and positive stimuli. At a larger scale, the left hemisphere is somewhat specialized for positive experiences, while the right hemisphere is more focused on negative ones (this makes sense since the right hemisphere is specialized for gestalt, visual-spatial processing, so it’s advantaged for tracking threats coming from the surrounding environment).

Negative stimuli produce more neural activity than do equally intense (e.g., loud, bright) positive ones. They are also perceived more easily and quickly. For example, people in studies can identify angry faces faster than happy ones; even if they are shown these images so quickly (just a tenth of a second or so) that they cannot have any conscious recognition of them, the ancient fight-or-flight limbic system of the brain will still get activated by the angry faces.

The alarm bell of your brain — the amygdala (not the annoying boss in Bloodborne, but the two little almond-shaped regions, one on either side of your head) — uses about two-thirds of its neurons to look for bad news. It’s primed to go negative. Once it sounds the alarm, negative events and experiences get quickly stored in memory — in contrast to positive events and experiences, which usually need to be held in awareness for a dozen or more seconds to transfer from short-term memory buffers to long-term storage.

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So, unless you are bent on defying properly done research, you could say that, yes, we are prone to notice bad news a lot better than good news.

With that in mind, I asked myself, ARE outlets reporting on negative topics more or does it just appear this way and am I myself at the receiving end of a healthy dose of negativity bias?

Trying to satisfy this curiosity and perhaps looking for some confirmation bias (seriously, if the brain wasn’t the brain, it would be an asshole) I set out to research and analyze over 300 YouTube videos to see if outlets actually focused on the bad. Unfortunately, since there are millions of YouTube videos out there, it is almost impossible to grab a representative percentage, so I had to slightly change my question.

Instead, I went out to research “Do negative topics, generate more traffic?”

Keeping in mind that negative headlines catch our attention better, it would be expected that videos on YouTube with a negative vibe in the headline would generate more views. Clearly, videos that generate more traffic are financially more interesting for outlets as more clicks generate more revenue.

However, I still have to mention that out of the millions of videos I only researched around 300 videos which is a very small sample size. I would openly invite anyone else to duplicate my research on a larger scale to either confirm my hypothesis or just argue with me online.

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Let’s data the shit out of this

In order to keep my data manageable, I had to set some limitations to myself and narrowed it down some base rules:

  1. The researched outlet has to be well known
    To save myself the trouble of having to wade through rivers of mediocrity on YouTube, I choose to focus on three well known outlets, that also complied with rule number two;
  1. The videos have to be in the shape of a weekly format
    Screening out reactionary videos to specific news, I set a rule that the researched videos had to have a weekly format. This allowed me to look for themes and patterns in the outlet’s media.
  1. Videos are only to be analyzed on their headline, not on content
    As I focused my research on the power of headlines, I didn’t scan the videos for their actual content. As the retention data of YouTube videos isn’t publicly available, I went purely on headlines and click.
  1. Statistics had to be publicly available
    YouTube provides limited data on traffic/subscribers on YouTube channels if content providers choose to make this available. This was essential to even do the research.
  1. I only look at videos posted this year
    All videos that were analyzed were posted onto YouTube between January 1st and the first week of November.

Based on these rules I selected three outlets/shows to research:

  • GAMESCAST by KindaFunnyVids
  • GT Time by Gametrailers
  • The JimQuisition by Jim Sterling

The data that was collected was:

  • Date posted
  • Title of video
  • Length of video
  • Views
  • Thumbs Up
  • Thumbs Down
  • Approval rate (percentage of thumbs up on total thumbs)
  • Subscribers driven

GamesCast by KindafunnyVids

For Kindafunny I focused on their weekly show “GamesCast” which is hosted every week by Tim Gettys, Greg Miller, and Colin Moriarty. The show usually focuses on news of the week, reactions to specific events or just general video game banter with the occasional special guest.

The first thing to notice in all that throughout the year, only two phrases with a negative connotation has been used in a headline for the show (“failures” and “disappointments”) and non of these show up in the top three of best viewed shows this year.

In general, based on their word cloud, Kindafunny’s GamesCast is either positive or neutral in their game coverage and the data for their videos is consistent throughout the year.

Interesting fact: the words “Final Fantasy VII” shows up in both their best viewed video and in the second the least viewed video.

TOP 3 Viewed

Date Title Viewers YT Subs driven
15-Jun Final Fantasy VII Remake! Sony Press Conference Reactions! 136621 330
17-Feb The Best PlayStation Games of All-Time 83527 197
21-Jul Jim Sterling x Colin Moriarty 82267 321

LOWEST 3 Viewed

Date Title Viewers YT Subs driven
31-Jul Console Mergers and Game Magazines 12944 7
10-Jul Final Fantasy VII and Metroid 12291 9
30-Oct Xbox Special Guest 11804 2
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Kinda Funny word cloud

Gametrailers

For Gametrailers I focused on their weekly show “GT Time” which is hosted every week by Kyle Bosman, Brandon Jones, Daniel Bloodworth and a rotating “superseat”. The podcast focuses on news of the week, such as game announcements, headline stories, fan questions and weekly bets.

GT Time is currently in its second year, but has only been on YouTube since February 2015, which could explain why the earliest videos are significantly viewed less than the later ones.

The first thing to notice is that the headlines throughout the year have been remarkable negative and although the headlines may not always contain words with a negative connotation, they can be perceived as sarcastic or downright sassy.

Looking at their data, the top three of their best viewed videos immediately stood out.

The top two videos contain words with a negative connotation (“fail” and “boring”) while their third video also implies negativity.

Interesting fact: The three best episodes of GT Time had Michael Huber in the “superseat” who is known best for unbridled enthusiasm and positivity when it comes to gaming, (briefly made famous by his reaction to both the Shenmue and FFVII: Remake announcements) putting an interesting contrast to the title chosen for the podcast.

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TOP 3 Viewed

Date Title Viewers YT Subs driven
15-Oct Some Games Are Just Destined to Fail 34708 16
14-May The New Assassin’s Creed Is Already Boring 33908 39
2-Jul Nintendo is Over the Wii U 32876 12

LOWEST 3 viewed

Date Title Viewers YT Subs driven
12-Mar Total Badass Badasses 9259 9
5-Mar Raise Your Hands If You Care About VR 9029 6
26-Feb Better Off Dead 8024 16

*Note GT Time didn’t have a presence on YouTube before February 2015, so the discovery of the show would be expected to be lower than usual.

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Gametrailers Wordcloud

Jim Sterling

Jim Sterling’s show “The Jimquisition” used to be a staple show on escapistmagazine.com but has gone rogue to start his own Patreon last year. The Jimquisition has a weekly format, but has several episodes that are reactionary to current events as well. These episodes usually follow “breaking news”. The regular episodes mostly focus on whatever seems to catch Jim’s eye and do not shy away from confronting the industry when “something goes wrong”.

Before diving into the data on his show, I noticed that my own negativity bias was already in full effect, as I expected almost every headline to have negative connotations. Surprisingly, this was not the case. Even though the content of the videos often contain swearing and other inflammatory material, his headlines are fairly balanced.

Jim’s best viewed video, does not only contains words with a negative connotation, they actually contain an expletive. The other two top videos are purely focused on game developer Konami, which according to the word cloud, seems to be a personal favorite for Jim Sterling.

Jim’s least viewed videos do not stand out on any particular topic. The Jimqusition Live show, is Jim’s least viewed video this year, but it is also the longest video and out of format.

Interesting fact: The three video’s that received the most “thumbs down” this year are videos where Jim Sterling discusses the design of Quiet in Metal Gear Solid 5 and LTGBQ relationships in Fallout 4. Showing a significant dip in the approval rating.

Jim’s fans seem to agree most with him on: “Content Divided: Death To Pre-Order Culture” (99.19% approval rating) where there is only a 81.70% approval of what Jim has to say on Metal Gear Solid’s  Quiet.

TOP 3 Viewed

Date Title Viewers YT Subs driven
19-Jan How Evolve Fell Down The Bullshit Tree 566730 4166
29-Apr Konami Is Konami 421210 1619
10-Aug The Silent Hell That Is Konami 392817 664

LOWEST 3 viewed

Date Title Viewers YT Subs driven
22-Jun Shenmue 3 – The Good, The Bad, And The Iffy 221038 218
26-Jan We Need More Spencer Mansions 213841 476
29-Jul JIMQUISITION LIVE 2015 172035 196
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Sterling Wordcloud

Looking at the data I collected, my first conclusion was that, YES, headlines with a negative connotation seem to be successful, but as there are many other variables that could influence viewership, I tried to find somewhat of a “control video”.

Luckily for me, I found the closest thing in ScrewAttack’s web series “Reasons we LOVE/HATE”.

These videos have a weekly format (with a summer break) and every week the topic is identical, so for example, one video mentions what they LOVE about Luigi, while the counter video mentions what they HATE about Luigi.

As I only focused on headlines, I found this series interesting to see which series would draw in the most viewers or if people would watch them both equally.

Here is the data:

Reasons we LOVE:

TOP 3 VIEWED

Date Title Viewers YT Subs driven
8-Jan 14 Reasons We LOVE the Wii U 305896 75
29-Jan 16 Reasons We LOVE Link 300916 59
12-Feb 19 Reasons We LOVE Sonic the Hedgehog 286466 21

LEAST 3 VIEWED

Date Title Viewers YT Subs driven
12-Mar 17 Reasons We LOVE The Order: 1886 113987 -5
9-Apr 18 Reasons We LOVE Gears of War 113255 -1
7-May 15 Reasons We LOVE Banjo-Kazooie! 105593 17
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Love

Reasons we HATE:

TOP 3 VIEWED:

Date Title Viewers YT Subs driven
8-Jan 14 Reasons We HATE the Wii U 460450 80
12-Feb 19 Reasons We HATE Sonic the Hedgehog 411323 24
29-Jan 16 Reasons We HATE Link! 362485 50

LEAST 3 VIEWED:

Date Title Viewers YT Subs driven
9-Apr 15 Reasons We HATE Gears Of War 153132 5
23-Apr Reasons We HATE Assassin’s Creed 151603 -1
13-Aug 15 Reasons We HATE Battletoads 149720 9

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Interesting Data!

In total, the Top 3 LOVE videos generated a total of 893,278 views on Youtube, where the Top 3 HATE videos drew a total of 1234258 viewers (340,980 more viewers).

The least viewed LOVE videos still draw a total of 332,835 viewers where the least viewed HATE videos draw in 454455 (121620 more viewers)

In 2015 “Reasons we LOVE”  totalled 5,390,760 viewers against 7,119,092 viewers for “Reasons we HATE”, making it appear that HATE trumps LOVE by a whopping 1.7 million views.

What can we learn from this data?

Well, first off all, people LOVE Link more than they LOVE Sonic, and equally HATE Sonic more than they HATE Link.

Another interesting fact is that if you openly LOVE The Order: 1886, you are at risk of losing subscribers, while hating on Assassin’s Creed also makes 1 specific person super angry.

Could there be other variables at work here? Absolutely. Perhaps the host of the HATE Series (Evil Craig) is more popular than the diverse hosts of the LOVE series.

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SO mad

However, in all the data I collected, it seems to sway in the direction that publishing videos with a negative connotation, do seem to draw in more viewers.

This leaves us with an interesting question.

“Is it more profitable for media outlets, to focus on what is wrong in the industry?”

Judging by my limited data, it appears so.

But should they?

There are undeniably some problems in the greater world of gaming. We have seen failed game launches, there has been some shady DLC and there more severe problems with working conditions in either game development and games media. But we also have to reflect on our own behavior as gamers.

As we are drawn to negative headlines, it is no wonder that we sometimes feel reinforced in our vitriol when commenting on the issues being discussed on the podcasts we consume. There is a reason why people purposely avoid comment sections on articles and we are even getting to the point where outlets decide to not allow commenting at all.

Acknowledging our natural interest and attraction to negativity, media outlets are left in a precarious situation.

They can cater to the phenomenon and reel in viewers by making their headlines as inflammatory as possible, but add to the sense of general negativity in the medium

OR

Refuse to explicitly play on our biases and cover their items as they see fit, knowing that they could increase revenue and profit with a more negative approach.

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On the flip side, as the audience, being aware that our biases could be catered to, can help us see balance in the news and we can start focusing a little on why we keep playing these games in the first place.

For our enjoyment.

It is said that to balance out a single negative experience, we need to have five positive experiences. What have been the five best experiences in gaming for you personally? Let me know in the comments.

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