Emotion Engineering: A Scientific Approach For Understanding Game Appeal
July 29, 2008 Page 6 of 6
Being Hunted = Dread + Unpredictability + Caution + Anticipation of failure - Hope
Dread (Persistent Low Freedom at the Action level): Linear path (Limited number of significant path choices, Limited number of hiding places), Temporary loss of ability (Being slowed down by a wound), Resource loss (High cost for being caught), Limited opportunities to escape when seen.
Unpredictability (Decrease when High in Mastery at the System level): Negative feedback (Hunters catch-up, No possible escape), Inconsistent or random behaviors (Hunters cannot be tracked or their positions predicted), Involuntary gameplay mode switch (Stealth / Flight).
Caution (Persistent Low Mastery at the Action level): Taking a risk (Risky portions in main path or secondary path, where the player can be spotted more easily), Misdirecting affordance (Traps).
Anticipation of failure (Persistent Low Mastery at the Self level): Pretend danger (Ominous noises), Perceived cheating on the part of the game (How can they always find me?), Opportunities for recurring mistake (Hunters can hear the player when he makes noises).
Avoid Hope (No Increase when Low in Mastery at the Action level, Freedom at the System level and Mastery at the System level): Can't exploit advantage opportunity (Hunters show no weaknesses), Can't pursue concurrent goals (Fleeing prevents access to resources or means of escape), Can't exploit preparation (Hunt can only end by a narrow escape that feels lucky).
One can use the game variables table to sum-up the appeal and flaws of a game as they pertain to its systems and the emotions they induce. In the following examples, the darker a cell is, the lower the emotional appeal created by its associated variables. I tried to use common sense when judging this appeal, since some emotions might be desirable in a given context (Fear in a survival horror game) and not in another (Fear in puzzle game).
Note: That a game has a grayed-out cell doesn't mean that this makes it bad, it is just a consequence of the design choices. For instance, Portal is a short game because it's been purposefully designed as one: its length is part of the overall experience it offers. Some players might still find it too short.
I'm not trying to prove that Portal is objectively a better game than Puzzle Quest. I'm saying that, personal taste aside, Portal provides a more complete experience.
By the way, I believe that the brilliance of Portal doesn't stem solely from its completeness, but also from its elegance. Elegance is a quality of the relations between the cells of the table. Since it's about meta-design rules, it'll be the subject of another article.
From Mendel to Mendeleev
Is this a useful tool? I don't know yet. I hope that like Mendeleev's periodic table of elements, this or a different model will help game designers establish a common language devoid of fuzziness and interpretations.
A language that would allow us to better work together, share theories and turn our craft into an art. And like Mendeleev and his table, such a model might even lead us to predict the existence of yet unknown elements, unexplored territories in the game design space.
Gregor Mendel's sheer dedication and patience as well as his scientific rigor are an inspiration to anyone attempting such an endeavor. Mendel worked alone, when game designers are part of a vibrant and well connected community. Somehow, I don't think we'll have to wait seven years to produce a work worthy of his efforts.
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