Between Entertainment and Long Lasting Impact
During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!
This week: This time, I think about computer games I will remember for a very long time and those I will not.
When I think back to my computer game playing experience, then a few titles always will pop up in my mind first. For instance, I will always remember having played the Mass Effect series, Kerbal Space Program, and Assetto Corsa. But why are more memorable than games like Company of Heroes or Transport Fever which also kept me entertained while playing them?
The reason for their memorability lies in their game design that either resulted in a highly emotional gameplay or in a gameplay that allowed for a fair competition between players. Emotions are always real to us no matter if they are evoked by a real or by a virtual event. Emotions are also very deep experiences that are easily memorized and triggered when thinking back to a particular event.
The Mass Effect series puts the player into the role of a spaceship’s commander. During the gameplay, the game’s narrative challenges the player with the task to protect an entire galaxy from an enemy that intends to wipe out all living species. The player, however, is not alone but has virtual companions. Each of these crew member has an own personality and, depending on the players decisions during the gameplay, has a different fate. For instance, the player can have a love affair with members of the crew and sometimes even is responsible for deciding which of the crew members has to sacrifice its own life to protect the rest of the crew. In this way, the player creates strong emotional bonds to the virtual agents that start to feel real as the gameplay progresses. These emotions are what make Mass Effect to a very memorable computer game.
In contrast, Kerbal Space Program features no emotional narrative. However, the game’s difficulty is relatively high. The game mechanics encode knowledge about orbital mechanics that has to be understood by the players to successfully play the game. This not only results in a very steep learning curve, but also in very exciting moments when the player achieves a personal goal, e.g., landing on the Mun, and realizes that they have acquired new knowledge in this process. This challenge-based rewarding moment also evokes strong emotions in the player which subsequently result in the game being memorized as a very positive experience. Thinking back to playing Kerbal Space Program then triggers these emotions again, thus making this game to a very special game in a player’s history.
Allowing for a fair competition ultimately results in a very emotional gameplay as well. Assetto Corsa is a highly realistic racing game that provides players with the opportunity to perform virtual car races that put their own driving skills to a test. For instance, players can race against each other driving the same type of car which then results in no driver having an advantage due to balancing issues. This kind of gameplay induces a (friendly) competition among the players, especially when they participate in championships and compete over a longer period of time against each other. This competition, the challenge to practice and to train the own skills, and to ultimately celebrate small victories evokes positive (and sometimes also negative) emotions in the players. Thinking back to playing Assetto Corsa triggers these emotions again which also make this type of game to a very special memory.
In contrast to these games, other games merely provide some entertainment during their actual gameplay. They might even motivate a player to continue playing the game to collect all possible achievements, but at the end of the day, only light emotions were triggered during the gameplay. As a result, no or only weak emotional bonds are created to these games which make them seem less memorable when thinking about great games that truly influenced us.
In conclusion, while almost all computer games entertain a player, only those are truly perceived as great computer games that evoke strong emotions in the player during the gameplay. This also is an important insight for game designers who like to create serious games or to increase the motivation using a gamification approach. Creating a gameplay that evokes strong emotions potentially achieves the best results.