Friday, January 20, 2012

Building worlds, not just games

It could be argued that the key element in any video game is immersion. Even games like Angry Birds and FarmVille, which most "serious" gamers would say they can't stand, put the player in a situation that captures the imagination.

When someone sends out a request for their needs in FarmVille, the message that they send says something like "help water the crops" and not just "click this hyperlink to help" which, on a subtle level, helps immersion by establishing that the goal is to complete an action in the game. The game puts the player in control of a little world, where his actions have consequences and things happen while he's away. Like it or not, it's actually a great example of how games are able to give the player a sense of purpose in the world they've created.

Think of the poor, delicate strawberries!
Some games set up the game as a complete escape from reality, and the experience is heightened by turning out the lights, putting on some headphones to drown out the outside world, and delivering a theatrical experience to make the player feel as if he is another character in the game, like someone watching the story unfold from just out of sight. It's usually first-person games that work this way, but it's a method that also sees a lot of use in horror/survival games, such as Resident Evil or Silent Hill. Look out, Pyramid Head is just behind that next corner!

In other games, the gameplay portion takes center stage, and the player becomes immersed by identifying himself with the actions taken by the character. In a platform game like Super Mario Bros., when the player presses the "jump" button, he doesn't think "I pressed the button that made the character jump," but rather "I jumped." In this way, the player projects himself onto the main character in the game, and with good storytelling, this can evoke emotional responses.

Ok, so Mega Mario doesn't really need to jump...
In the game I've been working on, I hope to achieve the latter of these methods with the story that I'm presenting. The story is a bit of a roller coaster ride, with the character going through periods of enthusiastic optimism, followed by suspicion, which leads to trying to fight off hopelessness, and I can't say much more than that because I want the ending to be a surprise.

Ultimately, it's ideal when a game gives the player a high level of immersion, whether it's hoping your crops make it through the night while you're asleep, or the world is going to come to an end unless you defeat the nasty villain and save the day. The player's mindset certainly plays a big part in how immersive any game can be, but every designer should work hard to help draw the player in and really let their imagination run wild.

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