Positive psychology, the future of games, and cinematic "Zoloft"

It is understood that not everything in art and entertainment falls into the same mold- that’s what makes every piece of work unique. But with a recent NY Times article talks about a Hollywood producer’s application of positive psychology to film, could such notions be applied to games as well?

Through careful research, producer Lindsay Doran conducted a presentation for fellow producers where she presented a very simple conclusion: positive movies don’t necessarily need to have a happy ending, and audiences more highly regard personal relationships over personal achievements.

Her examples range from The Karate Kid to The King’s Speech in that the main characters not only achieve their goals but more significantly share them with people close to them. In other words, achievements do not appeal to the audience unless they are shared with others. 

“Obi-Wan dies, Dumbledore dies, Gandalf dies, 1,500 passengers on the Titanic die, thousands of Pandorans die.” The protagonist may be happy at the end, “but his smile,” [Doran] said, “is laced with the loss that’s come before.”

On several levels, this may be applied to games, but does it hold weight? If a game is a game because it encourages the player to achieve something, then it is possible that games innately fall under the frame of positive psychology. She explains further:

What this suggested to [Doran] is that “the accomplishment the audience values most is not when the heroine saves the day or the hero defeats his opponent.” Instead, she said, “the accomplishment the audience values most is resilience.”

What’s curious then is the emphasis on a positive outcome: that film, and apparently games, can act in as what she terms as “cinematic Zoloft.” We’re not entirely convinced by the necessity of positivity, though it is certainly a reasonable view on why exactly we feel so good when will kill off the last boss. 

– Lyndsey Edelman