Cry-tech? Or maybe a case of FEAR.

Sometimes life throws you not just a bone, but a whole skeleton.

I have a huge deep-seated interest in the psychology behind gameplay. I have a huge interest in psychology in general, but with games there is something about the ‘play for reward’ mentally of the masses that entices me to find out why. Why do some gamers spend hours on one tiny part of a level that they just have to beat before they can move on? How is it that semi-freeroaming games manage to keep you where they want you to go? And why is it that an increasing number of games are setting hearts racing in fear or even bringing a tear to a gamer’s eye?

Happily, this article was posted on The Escapist today and showed some of the methods at a designer’s disposal.

I found it interesting that Rouse picked up the idea that making a game environment less detailed and realistic could actually produce a more involving scenario for the gamer to put themselves into. I can see this as a good idea; without the distractions of a ‘pretty’ environment, the player can get down to brass tacks and the task in hand. And perhaps with less definition on the characters, the player would put more of themselves behind the person they’re controlling.
A recent example- I’ve restarted Mass Effect. Yes, the game allows you a certain degree of customisation when it comes to character, but I chose to play as Shepard. Yet I feel less invested in the character than I do about belting down a Tokyo street in the Blur beta, where you can’t even see the character. Because behind the wheel of the Shelby I’ve put myself- as I am, all 5’3 of cheery young woman (except with a huge grin of delight). While comparing an intense storyline game such as Mass Effect with a racer like Blur may not be the best example, I think it shows one thing- no matter how long I could have spent customising a female character to look as much as me as possible, it wouldn’t have changed the level of empathy and involvement I would have put behind her.

Using GlaDOS as an example for the emotions of loss and recovery also struck chords with me. GlaDOS has always interested me as a character- largely an unseen voice with a sinister edge and psychotic tendencies, yet she was a huge hit with players right from the off. And even though she’d spent the entire game making me feel less than welcome (and let’s not forget the cake), I still found myself running the timer in the final level right down because I didn’t really want her to be destroyed.

I touched on the idea of emotions in game in my Final Year Project at uni- although that was purely from a sound design angle- and found that games designers are good at slipping in small things that can have a big impact on the player’s emotional state. Something as simple as a change in an NPC’s voice and tone after they suffer a loss (I’m thinking of Hammer from Fable 2 after she loses her father- she became less talkative and a fair bit more grim and determined, which spurred me on a fair bit), or the little signature sounds that instantly provoke an expletive (as I’ve often heard on Left 4 Dead 2 servers when a short sound is followed by ‘#@!*, Hunter/Smoker/Witch!’).

I’m hoping that this is something I can expand on in the future. Emotional responses to games will obviously differ from person to person; but will be classed as successful as long as they get an emotional response. Whether visual, auditory, or a lot more subtle- games can be powerful tools if used correctly.

You won’t catch me playing Resident Evil 5 on my own in the dark ever again. I don’t think my heart could take it…

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~ by Tegan on March 15, 2010.

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