At "Why We Play Games: The Four Keys to Player Experience," on Friday afternoon, Nicole Lazzaro of XEODesign spoke about emotion in gaming from a research-oriented perspective. Specifically, she focused on gameplay-driven emotional experiences, and delineated four types of emotion that players derive from their games.
Story-Driven vs. Gameplay-Driven Emotion
Lazzaro began the session by distinguishing between story-driven and gameplay-driven emotional experiences. Most discussions of emotion in gaming deal only with story-driven emotion, she said, but emotion that stems from gameplay is in fact the more common and relevant type of experience.
Many games induce a notable lack of emotion in gamers, Lazzaro said, but a notable few generate strong emotional reactions - the same few that rank among the most popular. Lazzaro wanted to discover what those games are doing right, and how other games can emulate their success.
Each participant in Lazzaro's research study was asked to play their favorite video games - games that ranged from action titles like Halo and Grand Theft Auto 3 to puzzle games such as Tetris and Snood - while cameras recorded their facial expressions. Lazzaro then analyzed players' reactions to the games on a moment-by-moment basis.
The Four Reasons that People Play Videogames
Lazzaro found that factors such as genre, licensing, difficulty, and presence of cut scenes had little bearing on which games caused a player to react most strongly. Rather, it was the experience of a game - the "feeling of what happens" when a person plays - that caused the emotional reaction.
Lazzaro was able to divide that feeling into four distinct types:
Category-Crossers: The Broadest Appeal
The most interesting point of the study, though, was that the most popular video games - titles such as Halo and Grand Theft Auto 3 - appeared in all four categories, meaning that these games were enjoyed by players of every type.
That, said Lazzaro, is the key to creating a successful title - cycling between hard and easy fun, allowing opportunities for altered states of perception, and encouraging enjoyable social interaction. A game that does that, she said, will cover the range of potential gaming experiences, and thus appeal to the broadest number of potential gamers.