Hi guys! The latest part of my blog, focusing on how game development can be used to affect an emotion in the player. The emotion in question? Enjoyment.
You may notice that I am skipping from Week 3-4 to Week 8-9. The inner weeks are on their way, I am simply a bit behind on my class work. It will be caught up on!
Enjoy the blog :)
Eliciting Enjoyment In The Audience
The Ekman Atlas of Emotions (Ekman, 2018) is the result of nearly 150 scientists who study emotion, coming together to share their knowledge. This study concludes that there are five (5) distinct emotions at a minimum: Anger, Fear, Disgust, Sadness and Happiness. Today, I want to look at how Happiness, or Enjoyment (as I will be referring to it), affects and is affected by the discipline of Game Development.
The Atlas of Emotion breaks emotions up in to three key areas: trigger, experience and response. What causes the emotion, how does this emotion present, and what are we likely to do in reaction? Enjoyment experiences are then broken down into a further twelve (12) sections, detailing exactly the type of experience, and its intensity. For example, we have a “sensory pleasure” response. This is defined as “Enjoyment derived through one of the five physical senses: sight, sound, touch, taste and smell.”, and has a low to medium intensity attributed to it. An example of this within game development may be simple aesthetic beauty (eyesight), or haptic feedback (touch).
Each of these 12 sections vary in intensity, none of a particular value but rather falling into range. For the purposes of description, I will be rating intensity on a 0-10 scale, 0 being not affective and 10 being total ecstasy. Given we are working with a range, you will thus often see a min-max format (e.g. 2-4).
Enjoyment is an emotion that is the traditional goal of game development. From our earliest ages, we play tag, chasey, tree climbing, swimming. We hop between cracks of bricks and from cushion to cushion so as not to perish in the lava of our loungerooms. With the advent of the video game development industry we experience the wonder of world exploration, the joy of fiero and sensory stimulation more than ever before. This enjoyment includes many of the 12 sections, however the key areas I wish to focus on are:
But how exactly does Enjoyment tie into the games industry? For the sake of a tighter focus, I will constrain myself to video game design, and not the wealth of history and information contained within the physical mediums.
The first computer game was made in 1958 by Physicist William Higinbotham, using software co-opted from a missile trajectory system, and was named “Tennis for Two” ("October 1958: Physicist Invents First Video Game", 2018). The players had a dial and a button. The dial controlled angle, and the button hit the ball. The players had to time their shot and angle to make it over the net.
This game was remarkably simple, with two lines to represent net and ground, and a circle to represent the ball. However, the movement of the ball was smooth and continuous, and the game created a sense of Sensory Pleasure. Given that this game was shown off at a technical exhibit, Higinbotham attributed its popularity to the fact that “the other exhibits were so dull”. However, in interacting with this medium in such as unique and innovative way, all participants of this exhibit experienced a sense of Wonder in its use. And this game was not easy. A mistimed or malaligned shot would cause a fail state, so there was also a sense of Fiero in the game.
This represented the beginning of the game development industry, however as time has passed and technology has evolved, games have found more and more avenues to express themselves. Games are now used for education, storytelling and art, inspiring more and more varied emotions in the player.
Let us take the Witcher III: Wild Hunt for example. Widely lauded for being one of the greatest storytelling experiences of all time, the player is continuously in a state of Wonder. The world is huge, and there are hundreds of NPC’s to interact with, whether it is just a quick word or hour-long quest. The game looks at several philosophical statements as its core, the foremost being “Slaying monsters”. “Slaying Monsters” was the title of the pre-release promotional trailer, where Geralt, the protagonist, comes upon a set of men assaulting a woman. He has dealing with these men, and begins to ride away, but upon turning back he is asked “What are you doing?”, to which he replies “Slaying monsters”. Here the developers look at the comparison of the basest human natures to that of a traditional monster (slimy skin, big teeth and all). This message goes beyond what was every portrayed in traditional games, and perhaps what was even possible to portray.
The game industry approaches the creation of enjoyment in various ways, but a widely known theory known as “Flow Theory” forms a large centrepoint for many related decisions. “Flow” is defined as “the state of concentration and engagement that can be achieved when completing a task that challenges one's skills” ("Flow Theory & Works", 2018) and this theory was proposed by 1950’s Slavic Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow exists when the challenge presented to a person is equal to their skill. Both challenge and skill must be above a certain threshold to avoid apathy however.
Csikszentmihalyi links Flow directly to enjoyment and happiness, not only instantaneous, but long lasting, as the flow-ee is often “creating high quality works” or “improving skills leading to mastery”.
This theory has been central to game development for many years now, with developers striving to modulate game difficulty to match player skill. A common example of a games use of Flow can be seen in Tetris. In the beginning of Tetris, the user feels apathy or boredom. However, the game scales continuously, with the challenge rising per line deployed. Thus, the challenge rises to meet player skill, and the player often ends in a state of flow.
Another notable, if not ethical, mechanic that is often used in game development in the pursuit of enjoyment is the Skinner Box, or Operant Conditioning. “Operant conditioning is a method of learning that occurs through rewards and punishments for behavior. Through operant conditioning, an individual makes an association between a particular behavior and a consequence” (Skinner, 1938). Skinner goes on to link positive rewards with continued behaviour, and negative rewards to negative behaviour. This is prevalent in our lives, from early childhood behaviour reinforcement to our adaptation to new environments in adult life. It is also highly prevalent in game development.
At the most basic level, game development uses skinner box tactics to make the player feel better. “You passed a level!”, “You got gold!”, “You did the thing we wanted you to do!”. The purpose of this is twofold. First, the developer can lead the player down the paths they want them to go in the game using only reward tactics. Reward a player for turning left at a maze 100 times, and they will turn more left than right. The second is that once positive stimuli has been repeated within the games context for a sufficient amount and time, the player will begin to associate the experience of playing the game with pleasure, at a subconscious level at least. This will lead them to continue playing the game, increasing retention rates.
But while subconsciously enjoying, often the player will consciously dislike the game. For example, Candy Crush. Candy Crush uses Continuous Reinforcement, “…reinforced every time a specific behaviour occurs” ("B.F. Skinner | Operant Conditioning", 2018) to reward the player whenever they complete a level, or make a match. This has lead to a high retention rate for the game. However, due to a consistent theme and challenge, the game often becomes boring after a certain time. At this point the player ends up in a conflict of the two mindsets. The first: I should stop playing, as I am not enjoying myself any more. This is the uppermost thought, the conscious thought. The second: I should continue playing to receive rewards. This is the lower thought, the subconscious. This conflict often leads to players playing for much longer than they wished, and then associating the game with a negative experience.
Finally, one of the most common techniques in game development, and a subset of Operant Conditioning theory, is Token Economy. A Token Economy is a secondary reward type that rewards the player with small elements of faux currency. This currency may then be exchanged later for a primary reward. Within game development, it is common to have a currency system, (traditionally gold, although often something else) that may be used to purchase goods and services within the game. However, with the advent of microtransactions in the modern game, the game economy now often encompasses 2-3 currencies.
B.F. Skinner | Operant Conditioning. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/operant-conditioning.html
Ekman, P. (2018). The Ekmans' Atlas of Emotion. Retrieved from http://atlasofemotions.org/#states/enjoyment
Flow Theory & Works. (2018). Retrieved from https://study.com/academy/lesson/mihaly-csikszentmihalyi-flow-theory-works.html
October 1958: Physicist Invents First Video Game. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.aps.org/publications/apsnews/200810/physicshistory.cfm