The basic system of recording
and recalling emotional memories that underlie these reactions is present
in every single one of us. In normal circumstances, the recall
of emotional memories is a healthy and helpful aspect of basic human
cognition. Storing emotions in good and bad times and then recalling
them instantaneously if a similar situation occurs is a great evolutionary
benefit. When you see the mountain lion the second time around,
your body is instantly primed for flight. You don’t have to think
or analyze the situation. You simply feel the correct course
of action. The upside of all those millions of years of evolution
for game developers? Your players have spent their lives collecting
a deep pool of strong emotional memories that is just waiting for you
to tap into with the appropriate game design.
Technology: In Bacchus,
the confession is a game mechanic that encourages the players to tap
into their emotional memories. Confessions are effective because
the player self-selects memories with strongest, most pertinent emotional
content and voluntarily shares them. For most people, this has
the effect of turning on an emotional fire hose.
In order to make the recall as intense as possible, we want to augment the verbal recall with a few simple technologies. Human memory is stored like a sparse set of data points in a connected network. When a person remembers, they pull on related data points to flesh out the memory. You can increase recall by feeding the user related data points, thus lighting up more bits of their memory and increasing the clarity of the final result.
The classic example is a group of people remembering an event. A single person might remember a few key elements and have a fuzzy memory of the event. However, when a group of people gets together, each one contributes a small piece of additional information that helps light up a highly detailed map of the memory. Technology can serve a similar role.
The result of this particular
system is the intense recall of very personal memories. With intense
recall comes the highly desirable stronger physiological reaction.
The main benefits of using the recall of personal emotions is that you
are almost always going to get a solid emotional response, especially
in newer players. You are digging up the raw materials of their most
personal emotions and the results can be explosive.
Limitations: The downsides of using emotional memories to generate physiological responses are substantial.
“[T]he onscreen spirits
are clad in ornate ritualistic garb… The room takes up her words and
amplifies them, giving them god-like resonance. Bass mixed with reverb
mixed with primal, guttural passion. An inhumanly beautiful electronic
chorus rises, matches and turns her words into a song. Her movements
become a blur. Her glowing eyes are ecstatic. At the peak,
her spirit on the large screen explodes in light…”
In Bacchus, the player is surrounded
by rich, evocative visuals and symbols. These also play an important
role in priming the player to feel emotion. This technique builds upon
some of the elements of emotional memories, but uses relevant stimuli
instead of the blunt trauma of actual recall. We broadly evoke
the player’s existing experiences with religion.
Theory: Once upon a
time, I had a workmate that had an irrational fear of house plants.
When she was a child, an aunt played tag with her in a greenhouse.
At some point, the game stopped being a game. The girl desperately
wanted the aunt to stop, but the aunt assumed the girl was still playing.
The intensely emotional memory of being hunted, terrified, and surrounded
by clinging, suffocating plants was seared into my workmate’s memory.
This is in keeping with our discussion of emotional memories.
What I found fascinating is
that recalling the specific event was not the only trigger for her phobia.
Instead, stimuli peripherally connected with the memory, such as particular
shades of green, a swaying vine, or a delivery of flowers with a bit
too much leafy foliage on Valentine’s Day could set off a panic attack.
Emotional memories need not be triggered by recalling the exact event that embedded them. Instead, rich contextually coherent descriptions of similar situations can trigger those same pathways, though perhaps to a lesser degree. You may feel joy when you remember your first kiss with that shy girl from next door. But you may also feel joy if you hear the story of someone much like you who kisses the shy young princess. Enough nodes in your memory are triggered for you to react to the related story.
There is a rather broad cognitive theory of media at play here. In short: