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The Watery Pachinko Machine of Doom: Project Horseshoe's Thoughts On Story
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The Watery Pachinko Machine of Doom: Project Horseshoe's Thoughts On Story

January 17, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 7 Next

Social networks

Various forms of social networks ranging from MySpace to are turned to connect people and encourage meaningful relationships. As highly social animals, people find almost any interpersonal interaction to be highly meaningful.

  • Systems for bringing people together: The surveys on dating sites help connect people of similar interests. There is interesting work going on analyzing the hubs of various social networks and setting up events that causes hub roles to collide with one another, smashing together entire social groups for immense dramatic effect.
  • System for maintaining relationships: Existing relationships must be groomed through the use of gifts, notes and idle chatter. Systems like Twitter or the newsfeed in Facebooks are excellent examples of these systems in action.

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Social networking design challenge:
Make a game that replicate the joy of a good Tupperware party.(They are so happy!)

Other interesting areas

These were areas that weren't discussed as in depth, but also offer powerful techniques for mediating the player's experiences.

  • Reality television: Reality television shows, ranging from moderately mediated examples like Survivor to heavily mediated competitions like Dancing with the Stars, offer inspired example of how to use environmental and psychological manipulation to create intense human drama. As ratings demonstrate, a real person actually falling in love can be more appealing than an actor pretending to fall in love.
  • Rituals: Throughout history, various religious and cultural groups have used ritual to create deeply meaningful experiences that resonate across generations. One topic we discussed was Aztec sacrificial rituals and their impact on an entire culture. With their intricate rules, reward system and extensive use of the magic circle, they have many hallmarks of a social game, albeit one with serious real world consequences. It is worth studying what makes rituals so powerful and contemplate how those lessons could be applied to games.

Models For Supporting Player Emotions & Experiences

As we dig further in each of the examples above, it becomes clear that there is an underlying psychology behind many of the successful game systems. By understanding the science of what we are attempting and then applying experimental methods, we can ensure that our games product their intended effects by designer choice, not accident.

Predictive Models

There are numerous predictive psychological models that we can adopt that help designers understand how players will react to various stimuli.

  • Theories of emotion: What causes emotion within the player? There is a large body of academic work that describes the connection between memory, recall, emotion and decision making processes.
  • Organizational psychology: How do group dynamics evolve? Organizational psychology is the study of groups and how change occurs within groups.
  • Psychophysiology: "Psychophysiological measures are often used to study emotion and attention responses in response to stimuli. Loud startle tones, emotionally charged pictures, videos, and tasks are presented and psychophysiological measures are used to examine responses" -
  • AI modeling of players: Many of these academic techniques gain immense value when they are turned into AI routines that attempt to predict the player's behavior. Instead of turning loose a hundred players in a new level, you can instead turn loose a hundred AI driven bots. For many situations like line of sight modeling or even prediction of how social networks evolve, AI's are remarkably effective at generating short term predictions.


Basic game design is a highly iterative activity that requires the designer to make educated predictions, test those predictions and then adjust the design. Unfortunately, our measurement techniques are currently quite crude.

  • Biofeedback: The direct measurement of emotion through biofeedback systems can give designers a detailed understanding of how individual players experience the game. Skin conductivity and heart rate variance are two promising low-cost options.
  • Skill chain-based logging: The indirect measurement of fun by logging the player's interaction with known learning opportunities can alert the designer to flaws in the flow of the game. This technique works well across large populations of players.
  • Social graphs: Many social networks contain an immense amount of information about who each player interacts with, how long they interact and what key words they use. This data can be fed directly into a reputation-focused AI model and used to tune the AI so that it becomes incredibly good at predicting what will happen. Imagine being able to get an overview of guild conflict or player defections a day or more in advance. In effect, you can predict the social weather of your online game with ever-increasing accuracy.

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 7 Next

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