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Emotion Engineering: A Scientific Approach For Understanding Game Appeal
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Emotion Engineering: A Scientific Approach For Understanding Game Appeal

July 29, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 5 of 6 Next

Emotion Engineering

Using the previous tables, a designer can move backwards in the (interactions / game variables / emotions) loop and design game systems that can induce chosen emotions. This requires three steps.

First, the designer picks the emotions he's looking for in the emotions table and finds out which game variables are involved, as well as the required ranges of values and their variations, if any. If the emotion appears in several cells, he can pick the one(s) he prefers. If he wants to avoid an emotion, he must make sure to consider all its instances in the table (and, since the table is by no means complete, where else he thinks the emotion could occur while playing his game).

Second, he chooses in the game and player tables which appropriate game systems can generate these values and variations, either from the game's actions or by giving the player opportunities to make these changes.

Lastly, he instantiates the chosen systems within the context of the desired emotion. Since this last part is of course totally dependent on the designer's personal experience, goals and constraints, the examples below try to be as abstract as possible.

Let's look at how to apply this method to three complex emotional states, each composed of several "atomic" emotions: inducing nurturing instinct, flow, or the sensation of being hunted.

Each of the instantiations of game systems shown in italics is only one of the possible choices a designer could make.

Nurturing Instinct

Nurturing instinct = Empathy + Agency + Comfortable routine + Surprise + Naches

Empathy (Persistent High Data at the System level): Consistent behaviors from game entities (Player can understand the creatures and anticipate their behaviors), Emergent behavior (Creatures are complex enough to seem intelligent and aware of the interactions), Preparation (Player's actions take some effort which increases their perceived value), Ability customization (Creatures respond differently to customized tools, as is they have tastes and preferences), Learning a rule (Creatures are complex enough that the player must spend time to learn their behaviors), Score increase (Creatures give positive feedback when pleased).

Agency (Persistent High Data at the Action level, Persistent High Mastery at the System level): Permanent world change (Player's actions change the creatures, Mistakes can hurt them), Collectibles (Customized tools, Rare behaviors, Rare creatures), XP (System level track of progress and effort needed), Resources (Put the emphasis on the cost of interaction and the player's commitment) (Treats, Meds), Voluntary gameplay mode switch (Player can choose the creatures' activities), Lowering difficulty of current challenge (Slow rhythm, No pressure, No insurmountable challenges), Iconic / Symbolic content with clear affordance (Tools' and activities' functions are clear, one per tool or activity), Positive & negative feedbacks (Creatures show the player whether an interaction is pleasing or not), New long-term goal (Creatures express needs that take a lot of effort to satisfy).

Comfortable routine (Decrease when High Freedom at the System level): Guidance / Clear goal (Creatures' needs generate challenges, Challenge solution is often obvious; it requires investment, not skill), Simulation conventions (Whether inactivity is perceived by the creatures, Whether challenges can be concurrent, etc.), Clear chosen goal (Player can work toward a specific change in the creature) (Creature evolution, Creature training), Local resolutions (Medium-term challenges with little impact on global change, Mistakes can be corrected).

Surprise (Increase when Low Freedom at the System Level, Decrease when High Mastery at the System level): Unlocking content / Inconsistent or random behaviors (Breaks the routine's monotony) (Rare events, random or with rare conditions), Easter eggs (Reward experimentation with creatures).

Naches (Pride for one's child's or mentee's accomplishments) (Increase when High Mastery at the Social level): Mentoring (Player can give goals and progress feedback to the creatures), Cooperation (Creature skill acquisition requires a tight feedback loop with the player), Correct response to cultural cue (Creatures display signs of effort when learning, Creatures' skill acquisition is punctuated by joyful behavior on their part), Teaching a skill / Recurring opponent's mistake (Creatures have disabilities that they can overcome through being taught).


Flow = Exhilaration + Confidence + Coherence + Forward thrust - Boredom

Exhilaration (Persistent High Freedom at the Action level): Action opportunities (Limited constraints on move set, Short-term athletic skill challenges), Resource gain (Steady flow to feed preparation or positive feedback - see below).

Confidence (Persistent High Mastery at the Action level): Affordance (No ambiguous stimuli), Highly trained reflexes / Kinesthetic isomorphism (Player can play without thinking about the controls), Advantage opportunities (Player can identify which sequences of moves can solve local challenge).

Coherence (Persistent High Mastery at the System level): Consistent behaviors from game entities (Player can predict next game state and react accordingly), Positive feedback (Reward local successes with easy challenges, power increase or score multipliers), Hints (Warn the player of imminent danger), Opportunities for exploiting preparation (Short-term tactical combos), Voluntary gameplay mode switch (Player can use favorite tactics), Opportunities for taking the lead (Player catch-up), Opportunities for exploiting emergent behavior (Chain reactions, Player can provoke opponent's mistakes).

Forward thrust (Increase when High Freedom at the System level): Alternative methods / Concurrent goals (Player can use favorite tactics), Generating opportunities (Even if caught off-guard, player can maneuver so he can fall back to favorite tactics), Safeguards (Player can recover from near defeat).

Avoid Boredom (No Excess Mastery at the Action or System levels): Difficulty increase, Complexity increase, Involuntary gameplay mode switch, Random behaviors (Sustained level of perceived difficulty at the Action level, Use semi-random temporary increases in difficulty to keep the player on his toes) (Waves of enemies, One unpredictable enemy type, Periods of low availability of tactical resources).

Article Start Previous Page 5 of 6 Next

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