I love the essays put together by Daniel Cook (aka Danc) of Lost Garden - they're frequently complex, but always enlightening. This week at Gamasutra, he tackled the challenge of creating strong emotional experiences via game design: it's a powerful aspect of media and one that has been discussed in a lot of forums. He pins down the (general) problem of game design when it comes to evoking emotion - designers tend to rely on one of two methods. Either games fall back on other forms of media ("And then we show a movie of the faithful heroine being stabbed by the evil villain!") or what he terms 'copious handwaving' ('"See, this pink pulsating blob represents 'Feelings'", explains the designer to the confused player.'). His solutions? Taking a look at several different methods (most with a long history of other applications), their uses and limitations, and how technology can help. Some general thoughts?:
Here is a thought. When trying to create emotion in your players, tone down with the fixation on Hollywood, camera techniques and in-game narrative. It isn't our unique strength as a medium. Instead, explore what would happen if we, as designers, actively attempted to create and manipulate the social, psychological and physical environments of our players in order to induce artificial emotions. Toss the storyboards and scripts. Game design becomes an exercise not so dissimilar from the movie The Truman Show. You provide the carefully balanced system that sets up the appropriate physiological states and cognitive labels. The players react with predictable, measurable human drama.
OK, I'm not sure we really need to toss the storyboards in all cases, but experimentation with new ways of making the medium more powerful is never a bad thing. It's a really, really interesting piece and well worth sitting down to peruse.