RPGs Experience Point: The Zeigarnik Effect




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    Experience Point: The Zeigarnik Effect

    Do you know who Bluma Zeigarnik is? Well if you donít then you should totally click on that link because, in addition to be awfully pretty (as Russian scientists go), she did some really fascinating research back in the early 20th century. The ďZeigarnik EffectĒ came out of that research, which is basically how your brain wonít let something go if it got interrupted in the middle of doing it.

    As the article goes on to discuss, this is used to great effect by TV shows that have the Cliffhanger Ending. When weíre posed a mystery or twist like that at the end of the show, it gives us something to think about and discuss until the next episode rolls around. If done well then we have a hard time letting go and are much more likely to tune in next week to discover how it all plays out.

    Even though I had no idea that I was implementing the Zeigarnik Effect, I see it happen in my weekly game sessions. Although I have to say that while Iím really good at pacing for one-shot games, I donít always do a great job of it during my regular sessions. Sometimes we end at what seems like a point of closure and other times we have to quit right when it seems like weíre about to have a big, important scene (battle or otherwise).

    I gradually came to notice games which ended with the big reveal for what was going to happen next time were followed by sessions where we really hit the ground running and got a lot done. Frequently my players would engage more between sessions and had already planned out exactly what their first moves would be. Itís because their brains had been chewing on the puzzle to come for quite some time leading up to the session.

    As Iím sitting here typing this, I realize that I should be using it more for my one-shot games too. There again I have a tendency to take breaks right after defining scenes in the mid-game. We break for several minutes to hit the bathroom or get drinks and stuff like that. Then people return to the table and it takes a few minutes to move things forward toward what happens next.

    Instead I should be carrying them through the closer part of the earlier scene and right into the setup for the endgame where the BBEG is revealed or the big set-piece battle will unfold. And right when the hook is set say, ďAlright letís take a 5 minute bathroom break.Ē I bet weíll return to the gaming table with more momentum.

    Getting past that starting point is, as the article suggests, often the hardest part of getting something done. Once weíre in motion then we tend to stay in motion unless something acts on us to keep us from finishing (yes this is a broad generalization - get used to them because I make them a lot). Itís something I hear from my coaching clients quite a bit because ďprocrastinationĒ is one of the more common problems people approach me with.

    Iím hardly one to be casting a lot of stones in this area. I find that I can be a terrible procrastinator (my good friend Riggs says the kinder management term is ďpressure promptedĒ) at times. And one of my worst areas for this is something I should be doing a lot more regularly: Exercise.

    Exercise is important for everybody but it is especially important for me because Iím a Type 1 Diabetic. My body makes no insulin so I need to incorporate my exercise routine into my blood sugar control regimen. Even though I am not somebody who enjoys exercise just for the sake of exercise, I always feel better having done it. So why is it so damn hard to get started?

    Recently I started using the Zeigarnik Effect to my advantage. Iíve removed most other barriers to my primary form of exercise (running) by virtue of having a treadmill. Itís sitting about five feet from where Iím typing this and itís available rain or shine in a climate controlled room with ample music and other entertainment easily available. And yet I still manage to find ways to avoid it.

    Lately when it is time for me to get off my butt and run I can feel my body wanting to resist what is good for it. What I do is say to myself, ďIím just going to put on my running shoes. If I still donít feel like running then I will give myself the day off.Ē As Iím sure youíve guessed by now, I virtually ALWAYS run once Iíve got my shoes on. If I sit around now with my shoes on I get fidgety as my brain keeps after me about this unresolved task. Iíve started and thatís all I needed in order to be able to finish.

    Iím also trying to apply this to my writing. Lately there has been lots of writing to do including but hardly limited to this column. I do my best to write when inspired and not try to ďforceĒ it. But I am finding that it is a bit easier if I get down the opening paragraphs even if I donít write all of what Iím working on right then. My brain tends to keep writing even if my fingers arenít and fairly soon Iím rushing back to the computer to type it all out.

    I think I was utilizing some of these methods long before I knew who Bluma Zeigarnik was. But I am a big fan of having terminology for things because it makes me more aware of them as well as giving me a way to talk about them more easily. So welcome to the Zeigarnik Effect! Use it wisely.

    Do you find that you are leaving cliffhangers in your life or gaming that help you move to the next phase with momentum on your side?

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    Good observations and something I have done at times without thinking about it. I think I will make a more conscious effort to incorporate it into my gaming structure.

    Slightly different than a cliff hanger is the escaped BBEG. A recurring villain has driven my players to distraction in the past. I rarely have planned these or cheated to have them survive - it just happens. Players seem very driven to "finish the job" when one of the villains gets off the hook.

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    I find myself procrastinating all the time. Exercise is indeed one of those areas but another would be writing. I love writing stories but even as I sit at my computer typing this I have little urge to open a Word document and write down some ideas. It's like my own personal Berlin wall in my brain that I can't tear down.

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    I had never heard about Bluma Zeigarnik before but this is really interesting. I'm definitely suffering from the Zeigarnik effect. If I'm working at something and have to stop to do something else, my mind can't let go and I often find myself unable to rest until I've completed the job.

    On a related note: When getting stuck because of a problem it's usually more effective to take a break, do something else and have your mind working on it subconciously. Time and again a solution that eluded me when mulling over it singlemindedly occured to me while driving home from work or over the weekend.
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    Sorry I didn't make it back to comment sooner. Been sick all week and it has kinda sucked.

    Quote Originally Posted by pogre View Post
    Good observations and something I have done at times without thinking about it. I think I will make a more conscious effort to incorporate it into my gaming structure.

    Slightly different than a cliff hanger is the escaped BBEG. A recurring villain has driven my players to distraction in the past. I rarely have planned these or cheated to have them survive - it just happens. Players seem very driven to "finish the job" when one of the villains gets off the hook.
    That's a really good example and one that I've seen in action myself. A 3e game that I ran many years ago had an Ogre Magess recurring villain (Invisibility and Regeneration make that easier) that the party grew to absolutely HATE. They fought a DEMIGOD at the end of that campaign but it was not even remotely as satisfying to defeat him as it was to kill that Ogre Magess. The Wizard had developed an entire suite of spells designed specifically to defeat her.

    I like your notions of not to push for a villain to survive. But when it happens, it can be a huge opportunity to have the players sink their teeth into your plotlines.

    Quote Originally Posted by Dndungeoneer View Post
    I find myself procrastinating all the time. Exercise is indeed one of those areas but another would be writing. I love writing stories but even as I sit at my computer typing this I have little urge to open a Word document and write down some ideas. It's like my own personal Berlin wall in my brain that I can't tear down.
    Keep working at it. Try that pattern of commanding yourself to start while simultaneously giving yourself permission not to finish (for leisure stuff, not work stuff). See if that pattern can jump start your brain and propel you forward.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jhaelen View Post
    I had never heard about Bluma Zeigarnik before but this is really interesting. I'm definitely suffering from the Zeigarnik effect. If I'm working at something and have to stop to do something else, my mind can't let go and I often find myself unable to rest until I've completed the job.

    On a related note: When getting stuck because of a problem it's usually more effective to take a break, do something else and have your mind working on it subconciously. Time and again a solution that eluded me when mulling over it singlemindedly occured to me while driving home from work or over the weekend.
    You're spot on. I very frequently step away from an intractable problem to "let my brain chew on it for a while" and it is mightily effective. Course I'm also pretty bullish on the idea of getting other minds working on it. I'll shoot a quick email to a friend asking for thoughts on a specific thing I'm working on and the whole Zeigarnik Effect works on them too.

    I'm an evil genius like that.

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    An interesting article and interesting thoughts based upon it.

    I know that my most terrible procrastination is not about starting things, it is about finishing them. I'm a rubbish completer (and I think I know why).

    Maybe I can think about how to start the completing of a thing
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    This works!

    I've done a version of this as a 4th grade writing teacher. Many times, it kickstarts those students who just sit there. I have a fancy bag with random starting sentences. They pick one and write it. It gets the struggling student with writer's block started. When they are finished, I let them go back and change their starting sentence if they want.

    Once "something" is down on their paper, they are over the hump.

    ----

    In role-playing games, simply train your players to DESIRE that cliffhanger or "reveal" before they pack up and leave or before you take a break.

    Treasures "reveals" work exceptionally well. Give them the pile of treasure, let them play with it a bit, then reveal as they get ready to pack up that a note is engraved into the bottom of the golden box that says , "Do not release the genie." See ya next week!

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