Game Rewards

Games As Psychology Lessons #2.2

Action & Reward:

Framing Your Rewards

The first and arguably most important part of the action-reward mechanic is what I shall to refer to as framing. All games, regardless of genre, introduce the gamer to the action-reward mechanic by setting up the story, introducing the characters, the enemies, and the purpose of the entire game.
The purpose of this intro in terms of gameplay is two-fold. The first purpose is to provide the overall reason for our in-game action. Whether our objective be to bring down an evil entity, to become heavyweight champ or to earn a ton of money, we need to know why we are performing the actions the game is asking us to perform. Secondly, we are introduced to the kind of actions we shall be performing and the kind of rewards we shall gain.

Check out this intro to Left 4 Dead 2 and see how quickly we are told the reason for our actions and the rewards we shall be given.


In this Left 4 Dead intro the action-reward mechanic is immediately set-up under the following guidelines


— Our purpose is to escape the city. Everything we do will progress us towards this goal. We are also made to think that perhaps we shall be rescued if we survive long enough (this is hinted at by the helicopter)

— The main tools of our action are weapons, of which there are various, and we (by virtue of gaming tradition) are made to believe we shall collect more weapons as we progress.

— Our enemies are the monsters. Killing the monsters will allow our party to survive.


From this moment on,the mission and purpose of Left 4 Dead 2 is absolutely clear, creating a clarity of action and reward for the remainder of the game.  We shall kill enemies to progress our party towards escape whilst collecting bigger and better weapons. We understand our purpose, we know why we act, we know how we shall be rewarded, we are ready to play the game. This is a typical example of how the action-reward mechanic is set-up. Once set, the mechanic shall lead us from the death-defying platform jumps to the pistol to our first enemy take-down to the machine gun to the enemy campy to the grenade launcher to the final boss to the final cutscene to the end game credits and the hopefully new game with unlocked specials.


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Paul Harrison

Paul M Harrison is an entertainment journalist, novelist, and blogger, and a specialist in the theory of storytelling. Paul Harrison can be contacted via his personal website or on Twitter or Facebook.

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