I have mentioned before the problem with entropy in games, but today I would like to bring up a more pressing issue.
“The time for emotional games is now” proudly screams the ad for the MolyJam, a competition dedicated to creating experimental gameplay, but can you do it? Can you make a game bring someone to tears?
I have seen a lot of “emotional games”, and to be honest, very few have actually instilled any feeling in me. And that’s not because I am a lifeless corpse of a person, although I am, it is because most “emotional” games on the market are nothing of the sort. They are thoughtful, and that is a totally different thing.
An emotional game should make people sad, and very few interactive arts actually do that to the degree that other media outlets (films and books) do. I believe that games are actually far more capable of gripping players and giving a feeling than anything else aside from reality. The problem is that it is really hard. The highest mountain is the hardest to climb, but eventually someone will reach that peak and will place a flag that will put the banners of Mount Video and Mount Literature to shame.
The closer something is to reality, the more it will affect you. If someone showed you a cave paining of someone being stabbed to death in a horrible way, it would not really effect you for the painting would be so obscure it would be hard to make out the characters. In Tom and Jerry people laugh when Tom gets his head stuck in a window frame and his tongue sticks out like it is trying to escape his body.
Compare this to those two events happening in reality. Unless you’re a sadist, then I imagine you will be very shocked if someone got their head stuck in a window and their tongue gets a life of it’s own, or if someone was stabbed to death in from of you. We can therefore conclude that the closer something is to reality the more influence it has on you.
Now, games are closer to reality than any other media because of the fact they have free- will. In reality, the things you do affect the world; the same happens in games. Not only that, but games are a combination of a lot of other media, making them even more involving.
But there are three things that are holding us back.
Entropy, as I have discussed before – the chaotic nature of games makes them notoriously hard to work with. This means a lot more time and money need to be put in to ensure a nice story.
Things can get TOO REAL – don’t try to climb all the way up that mountain or you’ll run out of air. There is a boundary that all players have where a game stops being fun and starts being disturbing. Keep this in mind when thinking about horror games especially.
And last of all, keep in mind that if anything bad happens DIRECTLY to the player it will not make them sad. It will make them angry; don’t just randomly punish your player because all it will do is make them rage-quit.
So, you want to know the secret way to make the saddest game in the world?
You give your game one character, a single character that interacts with the player in a way that no film or book character could; that reacts and comments on the player’s actions and make them fall in love with that character.
Then kill her/him.
If you’re lucky, the player will not become angry at the game but will instead burst into tears in a great cathartic explosion. And then you’ve done it, you’ve got as high as you can up the tower of sadness. Hopefully, if you do it just right, and I mean just right, the player will rate you 7 out of 5 stars and not punch his fist through the computer.
That’s the real problem – the sadder you make your game, the closer you get to overdoing it and having the exact opposite effect.
“The time for emotional games is now” beams the add for MolyJam, and even though I’ve weighed up the good and the bad, I still stand with that claim. People are afraid to go near that boundary and that upsets me, because sure, it could go wrong, but it could also go so right.
MolyJam link: http://www.whatwouldmolydeux.com/
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Joseph, or Lawsome, as the internet folk call him – Spends a lot of time making games, most of which fall apart or don’t work and are never published, but the few that survive can be found on his account at Yoyogames http://sandbox.yoyogames.com/users/Lawsome1997. He mainly enjoys writing about game theory but you’ll see him do a few reviews. He avoids games that look generic and would rather play something original than something fun. He has strong opinions on games and can hold his own in an argument, if you tell him that COD MW3 is the best game ever he may bite your head off.