Time has gotten away from me with this project and the research has taken a bit of a hit. I’ve been finding more and more things (that’s the easy part) but actually digging down into them to see what nuggets of wisdom there are to be gleaned is another thing entirely.
Rather than explore the papers in depth now, I’m just going to grab the most useful and salient points/quotes.
Violence and games
Endestad, T. and Torgerson, L (2003) Computer games and violence: Is there really a connection? Proceedings of DiGRA 2003 Conference: Level Up . Utrecht, The Netherlands: DiGRA
“The presented results come from a large, representative study, with approximately 2000
youths in each of five age groups. This high number of respondents made analyses
possible that had not been done earlier. We included different categories of videogames,
gender, and age group in the analysis. This allowed for a more detailed analysis of the
possible relationship between exposure to videogames and violent behaviour.
The first question raised in this paper was whether there is a connection between violent
videogames and violent behaviour, and if this effect is unique. We found an association
between violent behaviour and all categories of games. However, only violent
videogames and racer videogames had a unique positive effect on violent behaviour.
This means that there is not a strong general effect of gaming on violent behaviour. Our
results also show that it is action games, and not first person shooter games, that
predict violent behaviour.
One exception is for the youngest adolescents, where only first person shooter predicted
violent behaviour. This shows that age is an important factor, and leads us to the next
question raised in this paper. Is there a peak in preference for violent videogames and
violent behaviour in the same age group? If this is the case, will the association
between violent videogames and violent behaviour disappear after having controlled for
age? The results show that the effect of first person shooter games disappeared for most
of the age group after controlling for age and gender. However, the effect of action
videogames remains as a significant predictor in all age groups.”
Design of games – flow, motivation and player action
Paras, B (2003) Learning to Play: The design on in-game training to enhance videogame experience
Simon Fraser University 2003
In an attempt to provide a robust definition of ‘game’, Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman (2004) looked at eight different definitions of game as provided by game historians and designers. They then deconstructed their definitions and isolated specific characteristics that were common to most or all of the definitions. They used their shared characteristics to construct a composite definition that reflected much of the best critical thinking in the history and theory
of game design. The result was the definition of game as, “a system in which players engage in artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome.” (ibid). When we establish goals and attach artificial conflict, we are indeed creating games within which we can either fail or succeed. This opportunity for failure and success provides players with challenging, engaging experiences.
When players play games, they often become so immersed in the gameplay that things happening outside of the game do not distract. This phenomenon is known as flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). As a psychologist, Csikszentmihalyi spent much of his time trying to understand how people felt when they most enjoyed themselves, and why. He defines flow as the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.
During the course of his research, Csikszentmihalyi discovered activities that most consistently produced flow. Among these activities were sports and games. According to Csikszentmihalyi, the conditions for flow require an experience where the participant’s skill is closely matched to the challenge of the activity. In game terms, the objective should be challenging, yet feel as though it is just within reach so that the player does not feel anxious. Conversely, the objective should not be too easy as to bore the player. These design attributes have been a part of games since their beginnings. Even the videogame Pong (Ralph H. Baer, 1966) applies these fundamental attributes by becoming increasingly more difficult as the player’s skill improves. When the player finally
loses in Pong, replaying the first few levels is extremely boring because their skill does not decrease. Modern day games such as Half-Life 2 (Valve, Vivendi Universal, 2004) automatically create restore points along the way so that challenge is always optimized.
2.3.1 Behaviourist Stimulus Response
On a very basic level, videogames apply behaviourist stimulus-response theory in their designs. Skinner’s ideas concerning operant conditioning address two main types of learning: positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement (Bower & Hilgard, 1966). Videogames often use both types of reinforcement to
ensure that players learn. Of primary usage, though, is positive reinforcement where the player is rewarded for doing something correctly. In many games, correctly achieving a goal will result in rewards such as power-ups (increased ability for the avatar that the player controls), advances in the narrative, or in-game tokens. Videogames apply such structure on almost every level. Meaningful play requires discernable and integrated play (Salen & Zimmerman, 2004). If a player performs an action, they should reap the rewards of that action both immediately and later on. Discernable interaction helps the player to learn more quickly by constantly and consistently providing feedback on the choices that they are making.
Such learning principles are important in instructional design. Games implement reward structures that entice the player to perform at their best. For example, In Burnout 3: Takedown (Criterion Games, Electronic Arts, 2004) and Need for Speed Underground 2 (Electronic Arts, Electronic Arts, 2004), the player is able to win special vehicles that they can use in game. Rather than conceal this information from the player, silhouettes of the cars create tangible stimuli. Objectives are often quite clear. To reap a reward, the player is instructed in what type of response they must perform. Continuous stimulus and response interaction encourages the player to learn and advance their skills.
2.3.4 Learning Environments
Effective learning environments are an important aspect of learning. There are recognized similarities between the design of games and the design of educational experiences. In Things that make us Smart, Donald Norman (1998) identifies seven basic requirements of effective learning environments:
1. Provide a high intensity of interaction and feedback.
2. Have specific goals and established procedures.
4. Provide a continual feeling of challenge that is neither so difficult as to create a sense of hopelessness and frustration, nor so easy as to produce boredom.
5. Provide a sense of direct engagement, producing the feeling of directly experiencing the environment, directly working on the task.
6. Provide appropriate tools that fit the user and task so well that they aid and do not distract.
7. Avoid distractions and disruptions that intervene and destroy the subjective experience.
These specifications closely match the design of most videogames. If content were properly integrated within videogame environments, the result would likely be effective, highly motivational learning. Since the requirements that Norman lists match closely to games, instructional designers should look to games as examples of these principles in action. Should they be able to integrate them into their classroom, students might become more motivated to engage in the material.
Sound in FPS games
EGrimshaw, M. and Schott, G. (2007) Situated Gaming as a sonic experience: The acoustic ecology of First-Person Shooters Proceedings of DiGRA 2007 Conference: FuturePlay . Toronto, Canada: DiGRA
Statements such as “the only thing the player knows about
the world of the game is what is displayed on the screen”
 may be valid for certain types of digital games, but
ignore the important role that sound plays in many other
digital game genres, particularly FPS games.
contrast to the image of the game environment that fakes 3-
dimensionality , sound is an omni-directional experience,
capable of carrying information about virtual materials and
dimensions of the game environment both on-screen and
off-screen. Thus, it is our contention that sound is a key
contributing factor to the creation of the 3-dimensionality of
FPS game worlds and the immersion of players within them.
We elected to treat audio
samples as auditory icons in order to acknowledge how
meaning is encoded in sound with the construction of a
sound object that is sounded whenever a particular event
occurs in the digital system of which it forms part. Auditory
icons can, therefore, range from sounds that are similar to
real-world analogues of the digital action to more abstract
icons. The former often require socio-cultural knowledge or
experience of the real-world equivalent, while the latter
require prior experience of the auditory icon in context.
Furthermore, the action of the
player has an affect upon sonification because it is possible,
as Stockburger states, to exercise kinaesthetic control over
that sound by the movement of a character in relation to the
position of the sound source. By moving a certain distance
away from the church, the sound is attenuated until the
point at which it ceases to play. In technical terms, the game
engine tracks the character’s position within the virtual
volume of the game world in relation to the sound source
and decreases the volume of the audio sample until it is
stopped altogether. By the simple act of fading the sound’s
volume (this also works in reverse), this form of
sonification provides a relational framework for the player
to begin to contextualize themselves within the acoustic
spaces of the acoustic ecology.
Modes of listening are utilized for various sounds within
the game. In terms of how an audience listens to film sound,
Chion suggests three modes of listening (derived originally
from electro-acoustic music theory): causal listening,
where the listener attempts to gather information about the
sound source; semantic listening, where the listener utilizes
a (semiotic) code to interpret (the meaning of) the sound,
and reduced listening, where the listener perceives and
appreciates the sound sui generis without reference to cause
or meaning… We propose a fourth mode of listening: navigational
listening…. Listening to recorded music or watching a film is an
activity lacking in much physical, haptic interactivity; in
neither case is it typically possible for the listener to move
within the musical or cinematic environment following a
sound to its apparent source. Localization or directionality
is, however, designed into FPS games. Unlike the real
world, where a static sound source can be located by
moving our heads or our bodies in relation to it, this
movement is only an illusion in FPS games. Audio beacons
primarily require navigational listening on the part of the
player as they navigate towards the source of the sound.
Using cutscenes VS not using cutscenes
Pinchbeck, D. (2007) Counting barrels in Quake 4: affordances and homodiegetic structures in FPS worlds Proceedings of DiGRA 2007 Conference: FuturePlay . Toronto, Canada: DiGRA
Since the release of Half Life (1998), first-person
perspective games can be seen to drive towards an
unbroken immersive experience, with fewer breaks from
real-time delivery. Simultaneously, a move towards ever
greater complexity and depth of game content can be seen,
although the basic ludic structure of the genre has remained
Modern first-person games 1 can be characterized by an
increasing integration of story and play. One can trace a
move, beginning with Valve’s Half Life (22) away from the
string-of-pearls style of play/story management typified by
cutscene and text-based loadscreen progression that can be
found in earlier FPS games. Far Cry (5), Prey (11), Doom 3
(12), Quake 4 (13) and Half Life 2 (23) all attempt, with
varying degrees of success, to integrate their narrative
content with real-time gameplay, reducing the amount of
information existing outside this framework. In narrative
terms, one can see an emigration from heterodiegetic to
homodiegetic devices, that is, literally moving the content
in-world, into the reality presented. Those games which still
utilize cutscenes do so sporadically, and mainly for effect,
keeping with the increase in the illusion of a complex
reality, more complex narrative arcs and goal systems have
emerged from these games. It is no longer acceptable to
simply run from one location to another, blasting everything
that moves, or hit one big red button after another. Complex
worlds require complex sequences of action to maintain
their viability, and this causes something of a problem in a
genre based around a very simple ludic structure.
Presence in 3D games
McMahan, A. (2003) Immersion, Engagement and Presence: A method for Analysing 3-D Video games. In Wolf, M. and Perron, B (Ed.), The Video Game Theory Reader (pp.67 – 86) New York: Routledge
means the player is caught up in the world of the game’s story (the diegetic
level), but it also refers to the player’s love of the game and the strategy
that goes into it (the nondiegetic level).
conditions create a sense of immersion in a virtual reality or 3-D computer
game: (1) the user’s expectations of the game or environment must match the
environment’s conventions fairly closely; (2) the user’s actions must have a
non-trivial impact on the environment; and (3) the conventions of the world
must be consistent, even if they don’t match those of “meatspace. ”4
and narrative genres are often used as a way of deﬁning the conventions of
a world and to help the user align their expectations with the logic of the
world. It is no accident that role-playing and adventure games, the video
game genres that have the most in common with more linear time-based
narrative forms such as the cinema, were among the ﬁrst to go 3-D.
However, narrative is not a key component of most video games. Instead,
many users appreciate games at a nondiegetic level—at the level of gaining
points, devising a winning (or at least a spectacular) strategy, and showing
off their prowess to other players during the game and afterward, dur-
ing replay. To be so engaged with a game that a player reaches a level of
near-obsessiveness is sometimes referred to as deep play.The termoriginated
with Jeremy Bentham, in his The Theory of Legislation (1931). Benthamwas
referring to a state of mind in which users would enter into games almost
irrationally, even though the stakes were so high it was pointless for them
to engage in them at all… The term deep play, when referring to
video games, then, is a measure of a player’s level of engagement.
Technical literature on pres-
ence in VR oftenmake reference to the conventions of ﬁrst-person shooters
as the standards for a sense of presence and a transparent interface, especially
Doom, Quake, and Unreal. For example, Randy Pausch et al. say that Doom
“. . . get[s] users to the pointwhere the interface becomes transparent and the
user focuses on task performance.”17
Steuer gives a useful outline of the provenance of the term presence:
Presence is closely related to the phenomenon of distal attribution or external-
ization, which refer to the referencing of our perceptions to an external space
beyond the limits of the sensory organs themselves. In unmediated percep-
tion, presence is taken for granted-what could one experience other than one’s
immediate physical surroundings? However, when perception is mediated by
a communication technology, one is forced to perceive two separate environ-
ments simultaneously: thephysical environment inwhichone is actuallypresent,
and the environment presented via the medium. . . . Telepresence is the extent
to which one feels present in the mediated environment, rather than in the
immediate physical environment. . . . Telepresence is deﬁned as the experience
of presence in an environment by means of a communication medium. . . . In
other words, “presence” refers to the natural perception of an environment, and
“telepresence” refers to the mediated perception of an environment. This envi-
ronment can be either a temporally or spatially distant “real” environment (for
instance, a distant space viewed through a video camera), or an animated but
non-existent virtualworld synthesized by a computer (for instance, the animated
“world” created in a video game).
Matthew Lombard and Theresa Ditton deﬁne presence as “the artiﬁ-
cial sense that a user has in a virtual environment that the environment
is unmediated. ”24
They surveyed the literature on presence and found that
other researchers had conceptualized presence as the result of a combina-
tion of one or all of six different factors. Their summary indicated that an
increased sense of presence can result from a combination of all or some of
the following factors: quality of social interaction, realism in the environ-
ment (graphics, sound, etc.), from the effect of “transportation, ” from the
degree of immersiveness generated by the interface, fromthe user’s ability to
accomplish signiﬁcant actionswithin the environment and the social impact
of what occurs in the environment, and from users responding to the com-
puter itself as an intelligent, social agent.
Quality of Social Interaction
The ﬁrst element of presence is the quality of the social interaction available
within the VRE, that is, if it was perceived as “sociable, warm, sensitive, per-
sonal or intimate when it is used to interact with other people.”28
andDitton surveyed studies whichmeasured how different communication
media could “(a) overcome the various communication constraints of time,
location, permanence, distribution, and distance, (b) transmit the social,
symbolic, and nonverbal cues of human communication; and (c) convey
equivocal information. ” Key concerns were how intimacy and immediacy
were achieved in the medium in question, especially how language choices
helped reach those goals.
Durlach and Slater30
assert that the sense of being with someone, or the
sense of togetherness, contributes to a heightened sense of presence; this
deﬁnition includes the ability for all the participants in the VRE to interact
with the space as well as with each other.
Asense of realismis also an important factor, that is, howaccurately does the
virtual environment represent objects, events and people. Realism is subdi-
vided into social realism (the extent to which the social interactions in the
VRE matched interactions in the real world), and perceptual realism (how
closely do the objects, environments, and events depicted match those that
“The art of V[R]E design is surely to provide users with carefully structured
opportunities to allow them to explore, strategise, and generally feel some
sense of control over what they are doing. ” Perceptual opportunities include
Sureties, Shocks, and Surprises.
“Sureties” aremundane details that are attractive because they are highly
predictable. Examples of sureties include:Architectural details such as lamp-
posts, street furniture, and marks to indicate distance; indicators to tell us
where to go such as railings, paths, doorways; and background sound that
reassures us (cars in distance, etc.).
Shocks are poor design elements that jar the user out of the sense of
“reality” of the VRE, such as the “end of the world” shock—the user can see
where the environment ends; “ﬁlm set shock”—buildings are incomplete;
polygon leaks—seeing through cracks; and latency and motion sickness
caused by poor design or overlong use of the hardware.
Surprises are nonpredictable details that arise logically out of the VRE
design. There are three types of Surprises: attractors, connectors, and re-
Attactors tempt the user to go or do something. These include mystery
objects the user may want to examine, such as moving object that attract
attention (such as animation), objects needed for tasks in the VRE, objects
that cause fear, alien objects that indicate the end of a level, sensation objects
that attract attention through the nonvisual sense, awesome objects that
impress by their size, and dynamically ﬁgured objects that relocate in space
Connectors are conﬁgurations of perceptual opportunities that help the
visitor ﬁgure out howto use/explore theVRE, such as axes or direction signs,
choice points that should indicate outcome of both choices, and deﬂectors
such as a closed door.
Retainers are the interesting things that make users linger and enjoy the
VRE such as hot spots, learning areas, puzzles, gadgets, and so on.
PerceptualMaps are designs that showhowsureties, surprises, and shocks
Perceptual and Psychological Immersion
Presence is also the result of perceptual and psychological immersion. The
ﬁrst is accomplished by blocking as many of the senses as possible to the
outsideworldandmaking itpossible for theuser toperceiveonly the artiﬁcial
world, by the use of goggles, headphones, gloves, and so on. The second
results from the user’s mental absorption in the world.
Theorists such as
Schuemie et al.
have followed Lombard and Ditton in assuming that the
ability to interact with the mediated environment is the most important
factor in the sense of presence, and that this explains why immersive virtual
reality environments have been shown to be effective in the treatment of fear
of heights, fear of ﬂying, arachnophobia, claustrophobia, and agoraphobia,
and the fear of being in places from which escape might be difﬁcult or
The Use of a Social Actor in the Medium
The use of a synthetic social actor also can lead to a heightened sense of
presence. Users respond to virtual guides and virtual pets inmuch the same
way they respond to the direct address of newscasters on TV.
Synthetic social actors can be of different types. For example, an inter-
action with a social actor can be preprogrammed.
Finally, a sense of presence can result fromusers responding to the computer
itself as an intelligent, social agent. Humans tend to do this, even though
they consciously understand that such responses to computers are illogical.
Responses, such as treating a computer with politeness and ascribing it
with gender stereotypes are aimed at the computer itself, and not to the
programmer. Therefore, when the virtualmediumitself follows basic social
cues, the userwill feel a higher sense of presence.This includesmost artiﬁcial
intelligence (AI) programming, such as natural language programming,
which is designed to make the machine seem more human….
I am currently conducting an experiment in how the sense of presence
is altered if a 3-D CAVE environment responds to the user’s subconscious
cues as well as conscious ones. The name of the project is The Memesis
Project. It is an experiment in interactive narrative designed to test certain
theories of presence and immersion in the environment and transparency
or immediacy in the interface. In this version of Memesis, the environment
is designed to resemble a haunted house that collects information about the
user’s phobias and deep-seated psychological fears in order to provide an
ultimate,more thrilling “haunted house” experience. If the ﬁrst, single-user
version is successful, future versions of Memesis are planned to carry the
interactive narrative and engagement research even further.
goal is to see how much and in what way a more intelligent environment
can affect the user’s sense of presence.
(More of the same – presence in games)
Pinchbeck, D., Stevens, B., Van Laar, D., Hand, S., Newman, K. 2006. Narrative, agency and observational behavioiur in a first person shooter environment. Presented at Narrative AI and Games AISOB Symposium, Bristol, UK, April 2006
The relationship between narrative and play is fre-
quently debated amongst game researchers, often in
relation to the discussion of narrative’s role in
knowledge acquisition, memory, perception, con-
sciousness and subjective reality (Ryan, 2001; de
Mul, 2005; Pinchbeck, 2006).
Simply because we remember narratives well, it
does not follow that either narrative information is
privileged in perception, or that narrative has any
impact whatsoever on the act of perception.
FPS games were selected
as a form of mass market virtual environment,
where the avatar is minimally intrusive and thus a
greater projection of the player into the game world
is potentially enabled. The relationship between the
narrative of the game and the experience of the
player is likewise more direct than third person per-spective game experiences, as the avatar is less ex-
plicitly implicated or impacted by game events. In
other words, it is less a case of controlling an avatar
than undertaking actions oneself. Under such cir-
cumstances, it is reasonable to expect a less abstract
engagement with the game than would be expected
with the filter of a third person, visible avatar.
Deus Ex (2000) ef-
fectively combined FPS action with a highly suc-
cessful branching narrative structure, actively en-
couraging ethical engagement in the player over
mindless violence, and is still frequently cited as one
of the pinnacle achievements of the genre. The se-
quel, Invisible War, is a failed attempt to replicate
this success, suffering primarily from both an overly
obtuse and intrusive narrative which results in con-
stant interruptions to play and over-frequent envi-
ronment loading screens. Both Half Life (1998), and
Half Life 2 (2004) reduce the active disruption of
play by excluding narrative cut-scenes entirely, but
nevertheless rely on strong narrative to drive play
forwards and have been applauded for their narra-
tive strength and focus. Half Life’s developers,
Valve, have also hinted strongly that the follow-up
to Half Life 2 will involve a greater emphasis on
interaction with non-player characters, something
which suggests an ongoing focus on narrative im-
Eye tracking was initially put forward as an ad-
ditional, objective, real-time measure that could be
used to cross-validate subjective measures, in the
form of post-test presence questionnaires. However,
the data yielded some intriguing suggestions of pat-
terns that are worth examining in more detail. In
particular, three sets of patterns stand out:
1. Differences in perceptual behaviour between
experienced players and novices;
2. Relative importance of architectural and
agent-based objects in the environment;
3. Shifts in perceptual behaviour in action- and
Jenkins (2003) postulates four types of narrative
inherent to game experience: embedded, enacted,
evoked and emergent. The terms correspond to:
1. Devices distributed throughout the play envi-
ronment that convey narrative information;
2. The narrative act formed by experiencing the
environment as a whole;
3. Pre-existing narratives from the player’s pre-
vious experiences, which are not limited to game
play and that are triggered by events or objects dur-
4. The narrative that is created as a result of play.
Narrative must be distinguished from story in
order to enable a discussion of the comparative in-
fluence of short-term goal achievements on longer
term, plot-based goal achievements upon player
behaviour. Narrative is defined here as a linear se-
quence of actions or events, linked in a causal man-
ner, which yields meaning. Two points need further
clarification: firstly, that this causality may be pro-
jected or implied, rather than inherent in the actions
or events themselves; secondly, that narrative is to
be seen as a type of schema, an information man-
(The researchers got 5 players of different skill levels to play 2 levels of HalfLife2 and used eye tracking devices to record what they looked at during the sessions)
A number of key differences to observational
and exploratory behaviour were immediately appar-
ent between novices and experienced players. The
most immediate and expected was that the novices
looked off-screen to the controls more frequently or
positioned their point of focus (hereafter referred to
as the focal point) at the bottom of the screen to
keep the controls in their peripheral vision. Inter-
estingly, however, two of the three novices stated in
their post-test questionnaires that they felt they had
not looked offscreen. This would suggest a moder-
ate sense of presence was being generated, accord-
ing to parameters to be found in the literature
(Youngblut, 2003), and was corroborated by post-
test subjective response. In the case of the third
novice, the test was stopped after seven minutes due
to simulator sickness. However, it was apparent that
the participant, even though reporting that they were
conscious of looking outside the screen often, felt a
degree of spatial presence, as evidenced by whole
head movements to attempt to gain better perspec-tives on the environment, and moderate scores in
post-test presence questionnaires.
Fig 2: Novices tend to track objects with focal point
whilst avatar perspective remains fixed.
By contrast, experienced gamers restricted their
gaze to predominantly the central section of the dis-
play, using avatar perspective to explore their sur-
roundings, i.e., moving the window around the vir-
tual world…Experts keep their focus close
to the aiming mechanism
The suggestion that experienced gamers oper-
ate according to learned schema must be tempered
with the understanding that it may be due in part to
their simply being more adept at using the interface.
Interestingly, as novices became more confident
with the controls, it appeared that their gaze was
beginning to centre.
Non-human but moving objects seemed secon-
dary in terms of attached importance. The flying
Scanners found in both sections of the game wereattended to, but generally after human agents had
been assessed, or in their absence. The giant televi-
sion screens found in three separate locations in
“Point Insertion” received comparatively little at-
tention from most participants, and only one partici-
pant spent any more than a second or two observing
them. It was noted that perhaps the information
transmitted by the devices is primarily auditory, but
they do remain a striking and active visual features
of the environment.
The evidence of hierarchical attention, especially
in the experienced gamers, is more suggestive of an
FPS schema than the focal point and avatar per-
spective relationship. The taxonomy of narrative
devices appears to function as expected: those ob-
jects which enable the greatest projection of agency
are prioritised in perception. Background narrative,
however, is relatively minimal in importance. Dur-
ing “Route Kanal”, a looped announcer’s voice is
clearly and regularly audible, but participants strug-
gled to remember if the voice was male or female,
and one did not remember a voice at all.
The fact that non-narrative devices are the
focus of visual attention more than any passive nar-
rative devices in such situations seems to suggest
that achieving micro-goals far outweighs any im-
portance attached to even short term narrative. How
an object may be dangerous or useful seems to over-
shadow its meaning.
More stuff on how to tell story in games – cutscene vs non-cutscene
Cheng, P. (2007) Waiting for something to happen: Narratives, Interactivity and Agency and the Video Game Cut-Scene Proceedings of DiGRA 2007 Conference: FuturePlay . Toronto, Canada: DiGRA
Since cut-scenes often follow
cinematic codes of representation, current theory often
renders the cut-scene as passive and non-interactive, as
opposed to the interactive nature of gameplay.
Building on this definition then, the standard
distinction made between game play and cut-scene is the
fact that the former is “active” or “interactive” and that the
latter is “passive.” This is the problem that Juul points to
his in definition of the cut-scene, because they “prevent the
player from doing anything” (emphasis mine). Similarly,
Rehak defines the cut-scene as moments in the game that
are, “intended for viewing, not playing. At those moments,
the game cues players (typically by shifting to a
‘letterboxed’ mode with black bars at the screen top and
bottom) to remove their hands from the controls and simply
watch information that advances the game’s narrative” .
There are many unique aspects to King Kong. It
uses a first-person perspective when the user plays as Jack
Driscoll and also a third-person perspective as Kong
himself. This switch in perspective has important
implications in terms of agency that will be explored later
in the paper. In terms of its cinematic presentation, King
Kong consciously upsets several conventions of the video
game in order to, according to game designer Michel Ancel,
“put…you in the movie” . To this extent, many items
that would be considered standard for games, mostly in the
form of on-screen indicators for life, ammunition or
mapping, is noticeably absent. Instead, health levels are
indicated by audio and visual cues: the screen turns red and
the images blur to indicate severe injury and the music and
sound effects change, as if your character is beginning to
fall unconscious; the player presses a button to hear your
avatar, Jack Driscoll, report on the amount of ammunition
remaining: “I’m almost dry;” and the game is designed in
such a way, through level progression and shorter levels,
that a real-time mapping mechanic is rendered unnecessary.
Most importantly, King Kong utilizes a game play dynamic
first seen in the ground-breaking Half-Life in 1998.
Narrative information commonly presented in cut-scenes is
instead presented in the form of “dynamic story events” ,
meaning that narrative information, usually found in the
form of dialogue and conversations or even key plot events,
are presented as part of game play, wherein the player still
has full game play control of the character.
Frome, J. (2007) Eight Ways Videogames Generate Emotion Proceedings of DiGRA 2007 Conference: FuturePlay . Toronto, Canada: DiGRA
The notion of emotional response relies on the extremely
ambiguous term “emotions”. There are many ways to
classify emotions, such as Ekman’s basic emotion types (joy,
sadness, disgust, fear, anger, surprise, interest, and
Players take two
roles when they engage with videogames. The first role I
call observer-participant. An observer-participant engages
with an artwork but does not change the material form of
the work. In this role, engagement with videogames is
similar to engagement with films. When we watch films, we
observe the images and sounds the film presents but we do
not change these features of the film. Similarly, during
videogame play, there are many images and sounds that a
player cannot change, and a player’s response to these
aspects of the game are based on her observation. I call this
role observer-participant in recognition that when you
engage with an artwork, in addition to merely observing its
form, you participate with it in significant ways through
your mental activity. You cognitively process the images
into meaningful representations, you construct the story
through inference, and you evaluate characters as
sympathetic or not. Observer-participation gives the player
a constrained freedom in their understanding of an artwork.
For example, players can freely disagree about whether
Grand Theft Auto (Rockstar Games, 1998) celebrates or
ironically criticizes violence, but if they did not agree that
the game allows a player’s avatar to steal cars, we would
say that they had made a mistake. As observer-participants,
players’ emotional responses are based on what they see,
hear, and feel. They can interpret these inputs in different
ways but they cannot change the inputs themselves.
Is it this aspect of the observer-participant role that
distinguishes it from the second role: actor-participant. The
actor-participant does change the material form of an
artwork. Unlike films or books, interaction that changes the
form of an artwork is the norm for videogames. As you play
the first-person shooter Halo (Bungie, 2001), for example,
you determine much of what appears onscreen through you
gameplay. When you press a button, the character you
control throws a grenade, changing the images on the
screen. When you pull a trigger, you character fires his
weapon. Videogame play requires actor-participation
because any moves you make must be represented in a
manner that changes the game’s material form. As an actor-
participant, players’ emotional responses are based
primarily on what they do rather than what they perceive.
I propose a
different method of classifying videogame-generated
emotions based on the different aspects of a videogame to
which a player might respond. The two most obvious
aspects are game and narrative, which we might think of as
causing game emotions and narrative emotions.
We can think of game emotions as
emotions of competition; they are emotions generated due
to winning, losing, accomplishment, and frustration. When
you are playing a videogame, game emotions are directly
related to your performance. You might be anxious playing
Robotron: 2084 (Williams, 1982) when killer robots begin
to swarm you and threaten to end your game. Completing a
level in 1942 (Capcom, 1984) with a 100% kill rate can
provide a deep sense of satisfaction.
Narrative emotions are based on a videogame’s characters,
settings, and events. Whereas game emotions are caused by
videogames but not other media such as film or literature,
all narrative art can generate narrative emotions, and they
are the most common emotions we feel when engaging with
artworks. One example of a narrative emotion is sadness
that Rick and Ilsa fail to stay together at the end of
Casablanca (Curtiz, 1942).
Although it is fairly intuitive that videogames can generate
game and narrative emotions, there are two other categories
of emotion that are also important to understanding the
experience of gameplay. The first is artifact emotion, a
concept developed by Ed Tan to explain emotional
responses to film . Artifact emotions are those that are
generated by our response to a work as an artifact, or
crafted art object. Although every emotional response to art
is prompted by an artwork, artifact emotions are about the
artwork as an artwork; they are about the way the artwork
represents its story or content. In other words, artifact
832emotions are emotions of aesthetic evaluation. Artifact
emotions might include anger that Superman Returns
(Electronic Arts, 2006) is too short because it can be
completed in just six hours, admiration for the impressive
clothing textures in The Godfather (Electronic Arts, 2006),
or frustration at the complex interface one must master to
play Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six (Red Storm, 1998).
The last type of emotion in the model is ecological
emotions, which are generated when a player responds to a
videogame in much the same way she responds to the real
world. I call these ecological emotions in reference to
ecological psychology’s emphasis on the interaction
between people and their environments. To understand
what I mean by ecological emotions, consider an apparent
paradox: when we play a survival-horror videogame such as
Fatal Frame (Temco, 2001), we may scream in fear, but we
never run out of the room in fear…
we may consciously know that
the ghost on the screen cannot actually harm us, but its
sudden appearance may cause us to jump with surprise. It is
this surprise which I classify as an ecological emotion. We
jump as if the ghost were part of our real environment and
could actually hurt us. Whereas an artifact emotion
responds to a videogame at the level of representation, an
ecological emotion responds to what the videogame
represents, and responds to it as if it were real. This is not to
say that our response will be as intense as it would be in
real life, but only that ecological emotions to
representations are in accord with the emotional responses
we would have to that which is represented.
The different audience roles and types of emotion discussed
thus far suggest a framework for thinking about which
aspects of artworks generate different types of emotions. I
call the stimuli presented by artworks emotion inputs. The
computer metaphor should not be taken too strongly;
players are not identical and will not respond to inputs in
the same way.
Sorensen, B. and Meyer, B. (2007) Serious Games in language learning and teaching – a theoretical perspective Proceedings of DiGRA 2007 Conference: FuturePlay . Toronto, Canada: DiGRA
and Kern (2000) argue that in the past 40 years language
instruction has generally existed in a field of continuous
change where “the focus of instruction has broadened from
the teaching of discrete grammatical structures to the
fostering of communicative ability” (Warschauer & Kern
2000, 1). The consequences of these instructional shifts are
among other things that recent trends in language education
generally prioritise communication and negotiation of
meaning over structural language drills…The
transformation of these three phases of technology based
language teaching and learning may be summed up in the
claim that the role of technology in language learning has
been moving away from an association with drills,
grammatical explanations and translation tests, into more
communicative based contexts where task-based, project-
based and content-based approaches are integrated with
Games may provide the opportunity for going beyond
‘manipulative’ approaches (Dunkel 1991) as games are not
necessarily about memorizing or providing correct answers,
but rather about the performance of skills within a specific
system of thinking and acting. As argued by Kossuth (in
Underwood 1987) in games “the user does not think about
the language in use, but only about the action and where it
might lead next” (217). In this sense games may be a lever
for the transformation of drill-based to context-based
acquisition. In addition to this, performance may be
increased by game-based activity, as learners may
“voluntarily read more than they would if assigned a linear
text, and their comprehension can be expected to increase
with each repetition” (ibid.).
Two main conclusions from the research project Children
growing up with interactive media – in a future perspective
that affected the game-based design of LAB were: 1)
children live in both physical and virtual spaces, and 2)
children mainly make use of the digital media in their
leisure time and they learn to use digital media primarily
from other children and through their own experiments.
The Mingoville course contains 10 missions that take the
learners through the following themes: The Family, Colours
and Clothes, Numbers and Letters, Nature and Seasons, The
Body, Food and Shop, Time and Travel, Animals, House
and Furniture as well as Sports and Media. The missions are
not only theme based but contain a number of activities that
aim at for instance vocabulary training, spelling, and word
recognition. “Stories” is thus an activity where children can
listen to and create narratives. “Creative lab” is a laboratory
where children can draw pictures or sing karaoke in English,
and “Games” are serious games that involve for instance
the construction of sentences and the recognition of words.
One of the most popular interactive features of the course is
currently the activity “Let’s talk about you” where children
are interviewed for Mingoville Times by one of the course
characters. The interview is then published in the
newspaper where parents and friends can read it.
Magnussen, R. (2007) Teacher roles in learning games – When games become situated in schools Proceedings of DiGRA 2007 Conference: FuturePlay . Toronto, Canada: DiGRA
Using learning games in education gives rise to a learning
situation where game culture meets school culture and the
result can be successful or corrupting for both… When teachers use this type of games, they have to
adapt to new teaching situations and roles. This includes the
fictional role in a game, but also the role as a supervisor for
a group of students that play the role as professional experts.
In the manual the teacher’s role is primarily defined as a
helper and initiator. The teacher has access to all the
answers and should advise students by asking open
questions that will help players focus and get back on track
if they get stuck in the investigation process. The pupils can
get the data they need from the ‘police database’ but the
teacher is still in control of what is released at what point in
the game. In the manual, the teacher is also encouraged to
role-play the chief of investigation who advice the
investigators, but let them take the decisions. The chief sets
the agenda at the status meetings where all the groups
reports to each other and he or she asks critical questions
about the further investigation. The teachers should work on
striking a balance where they play roles to a degree that
feels natural to them instead of not playing roles at all. In
the manual, the teachers are reminded that it can be
disrupting for the pupils’ identification with their roles in
the game if they have to step out of the role in the game and
into the ‘pupils’ role whenever they speak to the teacher. In
the manual it is stressed that it is important to maintain the
illusion throughout the game that the pupils are doing
something important in solving the cases, this keeps up
motivation for conducting the investigation process…
We received several comments about the teacher manual
while we worked with different groups of teachers. In
comparison with traditional school books and other
materials sold by the publisher, the IT-supported role-
playing game is a novelty to many teachers. The teacher
therefore expressed a need for a quick overview of the
game situation that the teachers’ manual did not provide.
Before we initiated the game test, the author of this paper
therefore used one or two three-hour sessions with the
teachers after they have had a chance to study the game
manual. The teachers were both introduced to the technical
side of the game (the student and the teacher interface) but
also to the role of the teacher and how he or she was
expected to role-play as chief of investigation
The teacher might not be aware of how changing the game
rules breaks the pupils’ illusion that they conduct important
actions in the classroom context. This can be seen as
breaking ‘The magic circle of the game’ (Salen &
Zimmerman, 2004). The magic circle of a game is defined
by Salen and Zimmerman as ‘the space within which a
game takes place.’ (Salen & Zimmerman, 2004). In this
definition, the magic circle is created whenever players
decide to play a game. They can step into a formalized
circle with set rules (like backgammon) or they can create
their own magical circle (like arm wrestling). The circle is
the boundary of the game space where the rules of the game
have authority. In this space game objects obtain special
‘Within the magic circle, special meanings accrue and
cluster around objects and behaviors. In effect, a new reality
is created, defined by the rules of the game and inhabited by
its players. Before a game of Chutes and ladders starts, it’s
just a board, some plastic pieces, and a die. But once the
game begins, everything changes. Suddenly the materials
represents something quite specific. This plastic token is
you. These rules tell you how to roll the die and move.
Suddenly it matters very much which plastic token reaches
the end first.’ p. 96 .
Jarvinen, A. (2007) Introducing Applied Ludology: Hands-on methods for Game Studies Proceedings of DiGRA 2007 Conference: FuturePlay . Toronto, Canada: DiGRA
The theory of game elements is based on the
notion of games as systems, i.e. dynamic wholes with
interacting parts [cf. 10]. I have defined nine game elements,
which represent different parts found in game systems
across various media and technologies.
However, the aim has been to incorporate such a formal
model of games into another model that is more sensitive to
players and the contexts of play. To achieve this, I have
employed sociologist Erwin Goffman’s concept of focused
gathering: ‘social arrangements that occur when persons are
in one another’s immediate physical presence’, which
involve, e.g., ‘a single visual and cognitive focus of
attention’. For Goffman, playing a game presents a specific
instance of focused gatherings: he calls them gaming
METHOD FOR IDENTIFYING GAME ELEMENTS
The first step in trying to understand how a game as a
system works is to find out what are the parts of the system.
The first method introduced is created for the purpose of
identifying the parts, i.e. game elements. It is based on a
theory which defines nine possible element categories that
are found throughout the universe of games. The categories
are explained below, proceeding from simpler elements to
the more complex:
Components: The resources for play; what is being moved
or modified — physically, virtually, in transactions — in the
game, between players and the system. Tokens, tiles, balls,
characters, points, vehicles are common examples of game
Environment: The space for play – boards, grids, mazes,
Ruleset: The procedures with which the game system
constrains and moderates play, with goal hierarchy as an
especially important subset.
Game mechanics: What actions the players take as means to
attain goals when playing. Placing, shooting, manoeuvring
are examples of what players are put to perform in many
Theme: The subject matter of the game which functions as a
metaphor for the system and the ruleset.
Information: What the players need to know and what the
game system stores and presents in game states: Points,
clues, time limits, etc.
Interface: In case there are no direct, physical means for the
player to access game elements, interface provides a tool to
Players: Those who play, in various formations and with
various motivations, by performing game mechanics in
order to attain goals.
Contexts: Where, when, and why the gaming encounter
By minimum, a game has to have Components,
Environment, and at least one Game Mechanic. When the
relationships of these three elements are defined and
implemented, it means that a Ruleset emerges, as does
Information. Then we need Players, and any gaming
encounter brings about various Contexts, that may vary
from one encounter to the next one.
METHOD FOR IDENTIFYING GAME MECHANICS AND
Game mechanics are essential game elements in that they
are always about doing something in the game. In everyday
experience, performing game mechanics is what playing a
game is about. Game mechanics are best described with
verbs: Choosing, guessing, moving, aiming, shooting,
collecting, kicking, trading, performing, bidding, etc. Thus
the nature of a mechanic, i.e. the action it at once allows,
but also puts the player to perform, might come to define
the game experience for the player.
Uncertainty factors as cues of non-trivial player abilities
Any game that allows use of skill in attaining goals (instead
of, e.g., pure chance) must offer opportunities for the skills
to develop. However, it has been shown that after early
development of abilities in practicing sports, the use of the
abilities soon becomes routinised, as they require less
cognitive processing . The same can be assumed of any
game, and therefore charting all the possible human abilities
that are required in performing a particular game mechanic
yields mostly trivial results — e.g., that abilities of visual
perception are required in order to understand what goes on
in the game.
The results which the method yields can be used for a
tentative model of suspense in games, at least in the casual
ones analysed. In this light, it would seem that ‘good’
player experiences are emotional rollercoasters: they
manage to produce an oscillation between realization of
success and victory condition (hope) and preventation of
end condition and failure (fear). This oscillation persists in
the behaviour of the system until uncertainty concerning
outcome is resolved, but it is also in the nature of the
osciallation to be unexpected — which points to a set of
other relevant emotions (shock, surprise) to be studied.
Rambusch, J., Jakobsson, P. and Pargman, D. (2007) Exploring E-sports: A Case Study of Gameplay in Counter-Strike Proceedings of DiGRA 2007 Conference: FuturePlay . Toronto, Canada: DiGRA
From a methodological standpoint there are two ways of
studying and understanding gameplay. On the one hand
there is the handling of the game, i.e. the actual (physical
and motorical) activity of playing the game. On the other
hand, we have player’s meaning-making activities, i.e. their
understanding of the game in terms of how the game is to
be played, their role in the game and the culture around the
game [cf. 30].
This is an analytical distinction since in
practice both elements are closely related; the handling of
the game has an impact on players’ understanding of the
game and vice versa. For instance, our study shows that
players who become better at handling Counter-Strike start
taking playing activities more seriously which leads to more
practice and yet higher levels of proficiency
The idea of both elements being closely related is strongly
supported by theories of embodied and situated cognition
(EC/SC). According to these theories sensori-motor activity
is inextricably intertwined with higher cognitive processes
such as learning, reasoning, problem solving and decision-
making, i.e. handling and meaning-making are closely
related. Moreover, gameplay is a situated social-cultural
activity, spanning brain, body, and game environment .
It is distributed and coordinated across player, game
interface, game world and game structure  as well as
other objects and people. People are very proficient in using
the material and social environment and act in for their own
benefit [8,16] and the same goes for playing computer
games; the line between virtual game world and real life is not as clear-cut as often believed.
However, as video recordings and interviews revealed,
configuration of the equipment does have an important
impact on gameplay in CS. This has little to do with
players’ beliefs or feelings; instead, it has to do with the
isomorphism between how the physical environment is
configured in relation to the in-game environment. The
typical line-up at a tournament consists of five players
sitting in a row next to each other. Players can thus make
use of “neighbors” screens as well as their own; instead of
asking for others’ in-game locations and actions, they can
simply glance sideways. This is also the reason why the
virtual line-up of a clan inside the game to large extent
mirrors the line-up in front of the computer and how in-
game roles and positions to some extent become visible in
the clan’s physical line-up. This clearly shows how players
escape their virtual confines and take cognitive advantage
of the surrounding game environment
dominant discourses of identity in the community forum are
those of professionalism and athleticism. The professional
identity is expressed in the concern of the community to
come off as serious, dedicated and mature with a clear goal
and vision: to turn CS into an accepted sport with chances
for practitioners to make a living from playing the game.
Appeal to excellence, physical fitness, endurance, practice
and hard work constitutes the basis for a discourse of
Falstein, N. (2008) Design Language: The Portal Paradoxes Gamasutra (3616) Retrieved June 6th, 2008 from http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/3616/design_language_the_portal_.php
The basic gameplay elements are also quite minimal, a true mark of excellent game design. I often quote Einstein, who said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler” as guidance in game design, yet it is rare that a game follows that precept as well as Portal. The initial levels are perfectly tuned to just fly by, giving the player a sense of mastery and competence.
In fact, when I listened to the level design commentary after completing levels I was struck by how nearly all the changes and tuning seemed to involve adjusting the learning curve of the game; making things clear, introducing some elements more gradually in order to let players grasp them fully, reminding them with a simple challenge of game mechanisms introduced earlier on just before they are needed again.
It’s also worth noting how the simple icons at the start and at key points of each level give you the hints necessary to understand what you need to do without dialog or even text labels — yet another minimalist touch. Likewise, the type of enemies is severely limited compared to most first person shooters. I love the fact that they resisted the opportunity to add various types of guns and tools and powerups or complex double-jumps or climbing mechanisms that clutter so many examples of the genre.
Ultimately, one clearly positive lesson they followed is one I’ve heard echoed by such luminaries as Sid Meier and Will Wright; to iterate the design frequently and test it with fresh players over and over again.
This is an important way to keep from tweaking a game to be gradually harder and harder as the same testers grow bored and keep requesting tougher challenges. Project Leader Kim Swift has mentioned how they constantly adjusted the game to make it understandable to beginners.
This is a supremely accessible game — you may feel challenged at times (I know as a fairly basic action player I had trouble mastering some of the timing required at higher levels) but it was always clear what I had to do, and it never felt far out of my reach. Conversely, it felt tough enough that I had a very strong sense of accomplishment and victory — what Nicole Lazzaro refers to as Fiero — when I came up with ways to get through the levels.
Harris, J. (2007) Game Design Essentials: 20 Unusual Control Schemes Gamasutra (1937) Retrieved June 6th, 2008 from http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/2844/game_design_essentials_20_unusual_.php
There is a theory that the controls of a video game should do their best to get out of the player’s way. The interaction between the player’s mind and the game world should be as simple as possible… In the absence of such technology, controls should be standardized so a player can move from one game to another easily. They seek to develop a shared control language that applies across games: left stick moves, right controls camera, the major action button shoots, a secondary one jumps, shoulder buttons flip between weapons — that kind of thing.
Bogost, I. (2007) Persuasive Games: Casual as in sex, not casual as in Friday Gamasutra (2844) Retrieved June 6th, 2008 fromhttp://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/1937/persuasive_games_casual_as_in_.php
Proponents argue that casual games both open up new audiences for games and make new styles of games possible, but the genre has largely floundered in copycat titles.
According to the IGDA Casual Games white paper, casual games are “games that generally involve less complicated game controls and overall complexity in terms of gameplay or investment required to get through game.” The group contrasts casual games with “hardcore” or “core” or “traditional” games — games “developed for and delivered on a dedicated game console” that “involve more complicated game controls and overall complexity in terms of gameplay or investment required to get through game.”
We might summarize the industry’s conception of casual games along two axes: design considerations and player resources. Because casual gamers don’t play many games, or don’t play them very often, they are unfamiliar with the complex conventions that might feel second nature to hardcore gamers.
These games attempt to minimize complexity and investment in player time, money, and control mastery. Casual games sport designs and controls of reduced complexity that take little time to learn and to play, that come at modest cost and are easy to purchase. Casual games typically offer short gameplay sessions, come at a lower cost than hardcore games, and allow play on more ordinary devices like personal computers and mobile phones.
The typical design values of casual games strongly resemble the early coin-op industry. Consider controls. Nolan Bushnell’s cabinet version Spacewar!, which he called Computer Space didn’t sell well. One reason for its failure was complexity. As Bushnell explains, “You had to read the instructions before you could play, people didn’t want to read instructions.”1 Pong fixed the problem. Bushnell: “To be successful, I had to come up with a game people already knew how to play; something so simple that any drunk in any bar could play.” The Pong cabinet features one instruction: “Avoid missing ball for high score.”
One can easily draw a connection between the taverngoing Pong player and the after-bedtime Bejeweled player. The IGDA SIG explicitly recommends mouse-only control for casual games (“The interaction between the user and the game should be limited to the computer mouse”). A mouse is something every computer user owns and knows how to use. Simple controls on existing equipment seem to be well-addressed design strategies in casual games.
A common design philosophy for casual games is “easy to learn, hard to master.” Casual games are supposed respect the value of their players’ time, making it easier to learn to play the game. But the notion of mastery raises doubt about low commitment in casual games. Individual casual game sessions often do require only short amounts of time: a round of Solitaire or Tetris or Bejeweled might take less than five minutes. But the maxim “easy to learn, hard to master” reveals that casual games actually demand significant total play time.
Players are expected to string short game sessions together, either at once or over long periods, to maximize performance. A casual games proponent might argue that the player might choose not to master the game, but rather just to play short sessions early in the title’s progression (“games you can play for five minutes or five hours”). But the business of casual games belies such argument: for one part, the typical cost of a downloadable game suggests that medium- to long-term player commitment is required to get value from a purchase; and for another part, downloadable games’ 1-2% conversion on try-before-you-buy purchases suggests that the vast majority of players are satisfied with the gameplay experience of the trial anyway. Mastery demands high, not low, commitment.
I’d suggest that the genre’s current conception of “casualness” suggests informality. If core or hardcore games are “formal” in the sense that they require adherence to complex gameplay and social conventions, then casual games are “informal” in the sense that they do not require such strict adherence. Informality is a kind of “dressing down” of an otherwise more “proper” gaming practice. But informality also underscores the likelihood of regular, repetitive engagement with that practice. This is the casual of casual dress or casual Friday, both of which articulate a respite from the formality of business or social attire and mannerisms. Casual Friday is a repetitive, habitual casualness: come as you are, but expect to do it every week.
Applied to games, casual as informality characterizes the notions of pick-up play common in casual games while still calling for repetition and mastery. This is why casual games can value both short session duration and high replayability or addictiveness. Casual games may allow short session play time, but they demand high total playtime, and therefore high total time commitment on the part of the player. Low commitment represents the primary unexplored design space in the casual games market.
Most game developers are “core gamers”, well versed in the complex logics of resource allocation. We tend to privilege simplicity and emergence in games, favoring sophisticated experiences that create new challenges each time we play. And perhaps one well-balanced, mastery-style casual game is less financially risky than many throwaway experiences. But such an attitude ignores the pleasures of the fleeting, the transitory, the impermanent. Casual games, perhaps, can do more by doing less.
Ghozland, D. (2007) Designing for Motivation Gamasutra (1419) Retrieved June 6th, 2008 from http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/1419/designing_for_motivation.php
The player has to “believe” in the game, identify himself with something and quickly get one’s bearings.
The tutorial is essential to guide the player in this development. This is an interactive part where the player becomes acquainted with the game. In general, the tutorial should be the first level(s) where the basics are taught; however, this should not be apparent. Motivated by his need to learn and to understand, the player will be even more receptive if the tutorial seems to be a “natural way to go”. A tutorial that only enumerates rules and controls is absolutely anti-immersive and not very motivating.
We have to offer challenges to the player in order to entertain him and test him along with rewards that would motivate him to continue playing. Motivating the player is also to understand his needs with the purpose of fulfilling them. It is thus to know but also “to control” the progress of his needs in order to increase them, vary them and modify them from the beginning till the end of the game.
A reward can take several forms but it must be in correlation with the universe and with the player’s expectations. A reward is related to a challenge, a test or an effort, and thus must be proportional to the difficulty to obtain it.
In general, shoot’em up and beat’em up style games are based on the player state P. The player’s characteristics (character, ship, etc.) are upgradeable but are not permanent. Everything the player can acquire is temporary. He can lose his bonuses at the end of the level or when he dies. The player’s objective is to keep his strength as high and as long as possible to defeat the final boss.
The need N of the player is high, and he has to increase his strength P through bonuses and upgrades. Challenge expectation C is directly linked to P: weak when the player has no upgrade and strong when he acquires enough bonuses. The reward R is represented by a consequent increase of fire power and hence by the decrease of the difficulty.
Here are 3 examples of the management of the motivation commonly used that will well illustrate the PNRC mechanic and its advantages.
The player is rewarded by points and/or by ranking. The score determines the progression, and the bonus rewards the performance. The player creates a logical system where the game universe is organized and structured in form of point values. The difficulty of the challenge is measured by the number of points it brings and vice-versa. The player is then pushed to bigger and bigger challenges (C) in order to gain more points.
The system is an additional layer of the challenge/reward mechanic. Challenges (C) are trials where in order to progress the player must first successfully finish previous trials. The principle is that the player is in front of a locked door and he needs a key to open it. In order to succeed in this challenge he needs first to find this key (N) which, however, is a reward (R) in a different challenge. The key then becomes both the need and the reward and thus increases the motivation to gain it.
Giving a choice to the player increases the possibilities of both the game and gameplay. Motivating is also used to increase the player’s chances to find what he is looking for (N). Being able to apprehend the challenge before the confrontation is an enormous advantage. The fact that the player can prepare himself for the confrontation (C) is in itself a very motivating element.
Also, having even a partial knowledge of the reward before the challenge is quite interesting. The player can avoid the frustration of discovering a non satisfying reward or he can strive to gain a reward (R) that motivates him.
I am talking about positive motivation that pushes the player forward to a feeling of accomplishment. However, there are opposite motivations based on negative characteristics as well, such as addiction, alienation, anger, frustration, etc. It can be interesting to exploit these feelings sometimes, for deeper needs, but to build a complete system based on this would be destructive. At the end, the player would be left feeling bitter and would be repelled by the game.
With score system, key system and multi-choice, the motivation loop is a loop of positive reinforcement that feeds itself. The player is immersed in the game and pushed forward. He will live through a motivating experience.
Duffy, J. (2006) GDC: Top 10 Video Game Research Findings Gamasutra (2645) Retrieved June 6th, 2008 from http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/2645/gdc_top_10_video_game_research_.php
10. How does music impact a player’s effectiveness?
Number 10, by G. Cassidy et al., Glasgow Caledonia University, found the high emotional impact of music did not correlate to player effectiveness. However, when players picked their own soundtracks, their ability to succeed in the game increased and they become more emotionally responsive to the activity as well. McGonigal summarizes that “game music is not just about emotional impact or world-building. … Player success actually hangs on it.” Developers should consider thoughtfully how and when they use game music to support or challenge players, she says.
Cassidy, Gianna, et al. The Effects of Aggressive and Relaxing Popular Music on Driving
Game Performance and Evaluation. Digital Games Research Association International
Conference 2005. Read an excerpt: http://tinyurl.com/7q6uq.
9. What do players really think about voice chat and its usefulness in gameplay?
Number 9, by K. Hew, M. R. Gibbs, and G. Wadley of The University of Melbourne, uncovered aural feedback that players actually found disruptive, such as noise, speech not intended for them, and trash talk. Poor voice chat usability, in other words, hinders the players’ attempts to be social, subverting the very goal of voice chat. Consalvo explains that the research participants slowly could adapt to the ambient and distracting noises, but usually removed their headsets when the sounds became “too troublesome.” If developers choose to use voice chat, she advises it be targeted in a way that’s very specific to the game.
Hew, Kevin, Gibbs, Martin and Wadley, Greg. Usability and sociability of the Xbox Live voice
channel. Australian workshop on Interactive Entertainment 2004. Read it:
7. Does the presence of other players make an online game more or less immersive?
Using multi-player games such as Halo 2 for Xbox Live, City of Heroes, and EverQuest, the researchers of Number 7, C. Campanella Bracken et al. of Cleveland State University, discovered that “collaboration is an extremely powerful driver of emotional stickiness,” says McGonigal. The findings indicate (of gamers who played at least 12 hours per week) that players depersonalize their adversaries and do not feel a strong personal awareness of them. Player collaboration, on the other hand, resulted in the strongest sense of presence, meaning when gamers work together with other gamers, that’s when they have the greatest sense of community awareness.
Campanella Bracken, Cheryl, et al. Online video games and gamers’ sensations of spatial,
social, and co- presence. Future Play International 2005. Read it: http://tinyurl.com/cmjse.
4. What strategies do gamers invent to communicate to other players in online games, and can games be better designed to support these strategies?
T. Manninen and T. Kujanpaa of University of Oulu, Finland, in the number 4 study looked at Battlefield 1942. McGonigal, strongly suggesting that developers read Manninen and Kujanpaa’s work in its entirety, is particularly fascinated by their area of research. This ethnographic study compiled data on how players gave cues to one another in the game and found players wanted to communicate in ways that the game did not support. Players wanted to coordinate with their teammates in ways that were not supported by the game mechanics. For example, players were unable to gesture to one another or make other non-verbal cues. They also could not interact with other players without violent physical contact. McGonigal notes that the workaround strategies players invent, such as pointing with weapons instead of pointing with hands or arms, are still limiting. Because players are already inventing ways to communicate in these alternative ways, McGonigal says developers need to seriously explore these possibilities to better meet their needs.
Manninen, Tony and Kujanpää, Tomi. The Hunt for Collaborative War Gaming – CASE:
Battlefield 1942. The Journal of Game Studies. 2005: 1. Read it: http://tinyurl.com/7vgre.
3. Can alternative controllers, like eye tracking devices, offer a PC gaming experience that is more fun and involving than mouse control?
Number 3, conducted by Erika Jonsson at the Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden, found players enjoyed playing Half-Life more when they used an eye-tracking device combined with their mouse control. “Use of eye-tracking could be a successful addition to your game, provided it has a useful function and is properly play-tested,” says Consalvo. Participants in the study actually earned higher scores in the game when they used the eye-tracking device.
Jönsson, Erika. If looks could kill: An evaluation of eye tracking in computer games. Master’s
degree project, Royal Institute of Technology, 2005. Read it: http://tinyurl.com/d947u.
1. How do game events marking success versus failure affect a player’s level of engagement?
Failure is remarkably important to game players. That’s what Niklas Ravaj et al. from the Helsinki School of Economics found when they compiled their research. Using the game Super Monkey Ball 2 for GameCube, they examined how player success and failure affected the player’s level of engagement. McGonigal calls their findings “counter-intuitive,” noting the participants felt more pleasure and excitement in active failure than in success. Passive failures, on the other hand, leave players feeling less engaged. So the ways in which developers make failure possible—either active or passive—will have a significant effect on how players receive the game. “It didn’t matter that within the game [the players] were doing really terribly,” says McGonigal. “There’s a certain satisfaction of sending a monkey into space.”
Ravaja, Niklas, et al. The Psychophysiology of Video Gaming: Phasic Emotional Responses
to Game Events. Digital Games Research Association International Conference 2005. Read it:
Wilson, G. (2006) Off with their HUDs!: Rethinking the Heads-Up Display in Console game design Gamasutra (2538) Retrieved June 7th, 2008 from http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/2538/off_with_their_huds_rethinking_.php
“What is a HUD?” A HUD is simply a collection of persistent onscreen elements whose purpose is to indicate player status. HUD elements can be used to show, among many other things, how much health the player has, in which direction the player is heading, or where the player ranks in a race. This makes the HUD an invaluable method of conveying information to the player during a game. It is an accepted shorthand, a direct pipeline from the developer to the end-user.
However, millions of high-definition televisions have an Achilles heel that can hinder developers as well: burn-in. Burn-in can occur on different types of phosphor-based HDTVs, including plasma and traditional rear-projection units; it is caused by persistent onscreen elements that, over time, create a ghost image on the screen even after they are no longer shown. Hmm… persistent onscreen elements? Like a HUD? The short answer is yes—traditional HUDs can pose a risk to many who play console games for extended periods of time on their HDTVs.
Increasingly sophisticated home theater systems have helped create a sense of immersion for those that have them. More detailed graphics and more refined storytelling techniques can also draw a player into a rich and complex game world. However, nothing screams “this is just a game” louder than an old-fashioned HUD. It is not a part of the game world; it is an artificial overlay that is efficient, but often distracts the player from the environment in which he or she is immersed.
As video games attempt to reach new audiences beyond the core gamer market, developers are realizing the need to simplify interface design. While hardcore gamers might not be intimidated by numerous status bars and gauges onscreen, a casual gamer is much more likely to feel overwhelmed. Gamers looking for a “pick up and play” experience are not inclined to spend time figuring out what all those bars and gauges are for. The simpler and more intuitive the interface, the more accessible the game can be to non-traditional gamers.
So how do you replace the information provided in the HUD (in an FPL) (well presumably the article goes on to discuss this but my immediate reaction is to either have the player being able to pull out a PDA which provides this information or display it more subtly in images/clocks?/screens on walls in the space they are in – these wouldn’t be everywhere but frequent enough to keep them up dated. Another option would simply be to be able to turn the HUD on and off with an assigned keystroke.
Many elements found on a typical HUD are there not out of necessity, but out of convention; they represent a sort of “info overkill” that, for the vast majority of players, has no impact on gameplay at all. For every piece of information you offer the player, ask, “Is this information essential to the game experience?”
Call of Duty 2 (Xbox 360) provides a good example of eliminating one type of unnecessary information. Although the game does feature some elaborate HUD elements, it’s also notable for what it doesn’t feature: a visible health meter. It seems illogical for a first-person shooter to not include a health meter of some sort; and yet, the game plays beautifully, relying on a very simple and intuitive visual cue that warns the player when health is dangerously low: the screen periphery turns red and pulses.
In a racing game such as Project Gotham Racing 3 (Xbox 360), the “in-car” view during a race allows for an entirely immersive experience that also incorporates player information (such as speed) directly into the environment via the car dashboard.
In Doom 3 (Xbox), while a player’s weapon ammunition count generally shows up as an overlay in the lower right corner of the screen, weapons like the chaingun include the ammunition count as a readout directly on the weapon model. When designing a futuristic FPS, there’s no reason why a developer couldn’t just put an ammo count display directly on every weapon model from the get-go.
In a third-person game, player health and/or damage indication can be shown in ways other than through a health meter. In many survival horror games like Eternal Darkness (Gamecube), player health—both physical and mental—is clearly reflected in the player-character model’s onscreen appearance and movements. This can be accomplished through texture, animation, and even camera work. These indicators may not seem initially to be as precise as a counter or bar, but if players are given enough distinctive indicators, the process can become intuitive very quickly.
Another way to convey player status info is through audio cues. This is an often underutilized method that can either reinforce a visual cue or offer a unique message that is not easily shown visually. For example, in Halo (Xbox), when a player’s armor loses shield protection, an audio warning reinforces the flashing visual cue of the health status bar. This allows a player to know he or she is in imminent danger without having to refer to the HUD. In Project: Snowblind (PlayStation 2), if a player dawdles instead of advancing toward the location of an objective, non-player characters offer spoken dialogue that encourages the player toward the objective.
Since HUD elements are meant to convey player status information, one simple solution is to only show an element when the player status changes. For example, a health indicator does not generally need to be shown unless the player is either gaining or losing health. The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay (Xbox) uses just such a health meter, to great effect. By the same token, God of War (PlayStation 2) features a HUD that disappears when the player is not near an enemy or performing an attack move.
The HUD elements that pose the most risk of burn-in are those that seldom change, such as graphical borders. These static elements also offer the least benefit to the player, since they are generally decorative and do not contain information relevant to the game.
Gee, J. (2004) Learning by Design: Games as learning machines Gamasutra (2056) Retrieved June 7th, 2008 from http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/2056/learning_by_design_games_as_.php
So the question is: How do good game designers manage to get new players to learn long, complex, and difficult games?
Another answer that is not interesting, at least initially, is that some good games appear to be made only for people who are already adept game players. These games can be uninviting or frustrating for newcomers.
The answer that is interesting is this: the designers of many good games have hit on profoundly good methods of getting people to learn and to enjoy learning. Furthermore, it turns out that these methods are similar in many respects to cutting-edge principles being discovered in research on human learning
In the end, I have to admit, though, that I believe game designers can make worlds where people can have meaningful new experiences, experiences that their places in life would never allow them to have or even experiences no human being has ever had before. These experiences have the potential to make people smarter and more thoughtful.
Learning in Good Games
There are many good principles of learning built into good computer and video games. I list a baker’s dozen below.
Principle: Good learning requires that learners feel like active agents (producers) not just passive recipients (consumers).
Games: In good games, players feel that their actions and decisions-and not just or primarily the designers’ actions and decisions-are co-creating the world they are in and the experiences they are having.
Principle: Different styles of learning work better for different people. People cannot be agents of their own learning if they cannot make decisions about how their learning will work. At the same time, they should be able (and encouraged) to try new styles.
Games: Good games achieve this goal in one (or both) of two ways. In some games, players are able to customize the game play to fit their learning and playing styles. In others, the game is designed to allow different styles of learning and playing to work.
Principle: Deep learning requires an extended commitment and such a commitment is powerfully recruited when people take on a new identity they value and in which they become heavily invested-whether this be a child “being a scientist doing science” in a classroom or an adult taking on a new role at work.
Games: Good games offer players identities that trigger a deep investment on the part of the player. They achieve this goal in one of two ways. Some games offer a character so intriguing that players want to inhabit the character and can readily project their own fantasies, desires, and pleasures onto the character. Other games offer a relatively empty character whose traits the player must determine, but in such a way that the player can create a deep and consequential life history in the game world for the character.
Principle: Cognitive research suggests that for humans perception and action are deeply inter-connected. Thus, fine-grained action at a distance-for example, when a person is manipulating a robot at a distance or watering a garden via a web cam on the Internet-causes humans to feel as if their bodies and minds have stretched into a new space. More generally, humans feel expanded and empowered when then can manipulate powerful tools in intricate ways that extend their area of effectiveness.
Games: Computer and video games inherently involve action at a (albeit virtual) distance. The more and better a player can manipulate a character, the more the player invests in the game world. Good games offer characters that the player can move intricately, effectively, and easily through the world. Beyond characters, good games offer the player intricate, effective, and easy manipulation of the world’s objects, objects which become tools for carrying out the player’s goals.
Principle: Given human creativity, if learners face problems early on that are too free-form or too complex, they often form creative hypotheses about how to solve these problems, but hypotheses that don’t work well for later problems (even for simpler ones, let alone harder ones). They have been sent down a “garden path”. The problems learners face early on are crucial and should be well-designed to lead them to solutions that work well, not just on these problems, but as aspects of the solutions to later, harder problems.
Games: Problems in good games are well ordered. In particular, early problems are designed to lead players to form good guesses about how to proceed when they face harder problems later on in the game. In this sense, earlier parts of a good game are always looking forward to later parts.
Principle: Learning works best when new challenges are pleasantly frustrating in the sense of being felt by learners to be at the outer edge of, but within, their “regime of competence”. That is, these challenges feel hard, but doable. Furthermore, learners feel-and get evidence-that their effort is paying off in the sense that they can see, even when they fail, how and if they are making progress.
Games: Good games adjust challenges and give feedback in such a way that different players feel the game is challenging but doable and that their effort is paying off. Players get feedback that indicates whether they are on the right road for success later on and at the end of the game. When players lose to a boss, perhaps multiple times, they get feedback about the sort of progress they are making so that at least they know if and how they are moving in the right direction towards success.
Cycles of Expertise
Principle: Expertise is formed in any area by repeated cycles of learners practicing skills until they are nearly automatic, then having those skills fail in ways that cause the learners to have to think again and learn anew. Then they practice this new skill set to an automatic level of mastery only to see it, too, eventually be challenged.
Games: Good games create and support the cycle of expertise, with cycles of extended practice, tests of mastery of that practice, then a new challenge, and then new extended practice. This is, in fact, part of what constitutes good pacing in a game.
Information “On Demand” and “Just in Time”
Principle: Human beings are quite poor at using verbal information (i.e., words) when given lots of it out of context and before that can see how it applies in actual situations. They use verbal information best when it is given “just in time” (when they can put it to use) and “on demand” (when they feel they need it).
Games: Good games give verbal information-for example, the sorts of information that is often in a manual-“just in time” and “on demand” in a game. Players don’t need to read a manual to start, but can use the manual as a reference after they have played a while and the game has already made much of the verbal information in the manual concrete through the player’s experiences in the game.
Example: System Shock 2 spreads its manual out over the first few levels in little green kiosks that give players-if they want it-brief pieces of information that will soon thereafter be visually instantiated or put to use by the player.
Principle: In the real world, a fish tank can be a little simplified eco-system that clearly displays some critical variables and their interactions that are otherwise obscured in the highly complex eco-system in the real world. Using the term metaphorically, fish tanks are good for learning: if we create simplified systems, stressing a few key variables and their interactions, learners who would otherwise be overwhelmed by a complex system (e.g., Newton’s Laws of Motion operating in the real world) get to see some basic relationships at work and take the first steps towards their eventual mastery of the real system (e.g., they begin to know what to pay attention to).
Games: Fish tanks are stripped down versions of the game. Good games offer players fish tanks, either as tutorials or as their first level or two. Otherwise it can be difficult for newcomers to understand the game as a whole system, since the often can’t see the forest because of the trees.
Example: Rise of Nations‘ tutorial scenarios (like “Alfred the Great” or “The 100 Years War”) are wonderful fish tanks, allowing the player to play scaled down versions of the game that render key elements and relationships salient.
Principle: Sandboxes in the real world are safe havens for children that still look and feel like the real world. Using the term metaphorically, sandboxes are good for learning: if learners are put into a situation that feels like the real thing, but with risks and dangers greatly mitigated, they can learn well and still feel a sense of authenticity and accomplishment.
Games: Sandboxes are game play much like the real game, but where things cannot go too wrong too quickly or, perhaps, even at all. Good games offer players, either as tutorials or as their first level or two, sandboxes. You can’t expect newcomers to learn if they feel too much pressure, understand too little, and feel like failures.
Skills as Strategies
Principle: There is a paradox involving skills: People don’t like practicing skills out of context over and over again, since they find such skill practice meaningless, but, without lots of skill practice, they cannot really get any good at what they are trying to learn. People learn and practice skills best when they see a set of related skills as a strategy to accomplish goals they want to accomplish.
Games: In good games, players learn and practice skill packages as part and parcel of accomplishing things they need and want to accomplish. They see the skills first and foremost as a strategy for accomplishing a goal and only secondarily as a set of discrete skills.
Principle: People learn skills, strategies, and ideas best when they see how they fit into an overall larger system to which they give meaning. In fact, any experience is enhanced when we understand how it fits into a larger meaningful whole.
Games: Good games help players see and understand how each of the elements in the game fit into the overall system of the game and its genre (type). Players get a feel for the “rules of the game”-that is, what works and what doesn’t, how things go or don’t go in this type of world.
Meaning As Action Image
Principle: Humans do not usually think through general definitions and logical principles. Rather, they think through experiences they have had. You don’t think and reason about weddings on the basis of generalities, but in terms of the wedding you have been to and head about. It’s your experiences that give weddings and the word “wedding’ meaning(s). Furthermore, for humans, words and concepts have their deepest meanings when they are clearly tied to action in the world.
Games: This is, of course, the heart and soul of computer and video games (though it is amazing how many educational games violate this principle). Even barely adequate games make the meanings of words and concepts clear through experiences the player has and activities the player carries out, not through lectures, talking heads, or generalities. Good games can achieve marvelous effects here, making even philosophical points concretely realized in image and action.
Analysis of the best decision-making games reveals some interesting correlations between game fun and the type of decisions presented to the player. These correlations are:
1. More difficult decisions are more fun.
2. Decisions that have the most significant and tangible effects are more fun.
1. Difficult Decisions
Multi-player first-person shooter games like Counter-Strike are also excellent examples of decision-making gameplay. Like RTS games, they offer the player a continuous series of difficult decisions, and each decision has many equally-weighted sides. Common decisions include the following:
1. Should I reload now or later? What if the enemy comes around the corner while I’m reloading? But what if I run out of ammo while I’m fighting an enemy?
2. Should I move my position forwards, backwards, laterally, or not at all now? What if I get shot while I’m in between cover? But what if I lose because I don’t make my objective? But what if I get killed because I’m too far out front of my team? But what if the team mates covering the other entrance are killed and I get shot in the back?
3. Should I buy a weapon now? What if I run out of money when I need it later? But what if I die this round because I’m unarmed?
The specific circumstances of each individual match make every instance of these decisions unique. This uniqueness of every decision is what makes these games fun over the long term. Uniqueness is a sub-property of difficult decisions. In order for a decision to be difficult, it must be sufficiently unique. Each decision cannot have been made before; otherwise it is no longer a decision. If you present the player with exactly the same situation over and over, he will learn what the best thing to do is and thus the choice becomes easy. Easy choices are not really choices at all, any more than presenting an FPS player with a cliff edge is a decision point. The decision not to jump is a rather easy one, and thus not a decision at all.
Decisions must be unique to be difficult. The beauty of multiplayer games is that they can present millions of possible situations because there are so many possible interactions and situations between human players, and because human begins have so many unique, individual traits that make each opponent different. Interactions between multiple players add exponentially more complexity to the situation.
So, in order for a decision to be fun, it must be difficult, and in order to be difficult it must also be unique.
2. Tangible and Obvious Results
The process of designing a decision opportunity is not all a designer needs to do. The aftermath of a decision-making event is important as well. A player’s enjoyment of a game can be enhanced greatly by the amount and type of feedback that they receive from the game as a result of their decisions. This is why impressive explosion, gunfire and blood effects are important in FPS games, or why good puzzle games often include flashy effects to mark important events. Seeing an enemy die spectacularly is a reward for a decision well made, as is hearing the trumpet call at the end of a puzzle game well won.
Each decision can thus be evaluated not only on its difficulty and uniqueness, but by the power of the feedback that results from it. The same difficult, unique choice can be gratifying and interesting, or rather pedestrian based on the strength and tangibility of the feedback it produces.
There are many ways of delivering feedback to the player: visual, auditory, narrative, constructive, and so on. Some simple examples of feedback are the flashy effects that appear in puzzle games when the player makes points, the blood sprays in FPS games (though there is also a strong element of role-playing here), the accumulation of wealth or valuable items or character traits, the forward movement of a story or formation of an alliance, and so on. Feedback design is a well-developed and generally well-understood field of game design.
Multiplayer games, interestingly, have an inherent advantage when it comes to rewarding a player’s good decision. When someone else is on the other end of the line, winning a conflict comes with automatic positive feedback. Defeating a real live human being in any kind of contest, even anonymously over the internet, is a reward in itself. Good feelings associated with beating human opponents are a well-developed part of human biology. This, in addition to the uniqueness of human opponents, is one of the things that have made multiplayer gaming so compelling.
Decision Recognition, Evaluation, and Design
Game designers need to not only understand how decisions create a computer gaming experience, but also need to be able to create an experience that includes lots of unique, difficult decisions with strong feedback. Creating good decision-based games requires three abilities: The ability to recognize a decision point, the ability to evaluate how fun a decision is, and the ability to design fun decision-making play without compromising other aspects of the game (i.e. without requiring lots of new assets or making the game too complex and difficult to learn).
The first step is to recognize all the decision points. This is not as easy as it sounds, especially in a well-designed game which presents decisions very frequently. When reading a design document, try to imagine playing the game. You are essentially emulating the gameplay in a very inaccurate way using your brain. Think about what’s going on, what you know, what you don’t know, the challenges being presented, and the rewards sought. Go through the gameplay, step-by-step, instead of imagining the gameplay in an abstract way, or only considering the most interesting parts. Skip nothing; what you skip will most likely be a boring decision void. Get a feel for how much real time everything is taking. Finally, while doing all of this, you must recognize the decision points as the design presents them. Develop a feel for how often decision points come up. If your game is based on gameplay, but isn’t presenting a lot of decisions, you have a problem and you need to re-evaluate some aspects of your design.
Once you have an idea of how many decisions the player is making, and what they are, you can begin by evaluating those decisions. Consider each decision point separately, and determine how difficult each decision is, and how likely it is to recur. If the decision is easy it is worth little. If it recurs a lot, it becomes easy and thus is worth little.
Each decision must also be evaluated in terms of cost of implementation. To implement a decision system takes a certain amount of time spent by members of the development team. Many decision-creating systems also suck up CPU cycles. Another very important cost that can be associated with a decision system is the complexity that it adds to the game. A game element that requires the player to know something, or have some skill, or at worst, bind and memorize a key or virtual button, is a game element that is costing something.
Designing decisions is the trickiest part of the process, because the very nature of good decisions is that they cannot be directly defined. Decisions placed directly in the game will either recur too often and become non-decisions, or will only be seen a small number of times. An example of a directly-placed decision would be a situation where a player is presented with two separate attack routes which were both explicitly designed. One route will inevitably be more advantageous for any given player’s playing style. Once the player tries both routes, he learns which route is better. Thus, if the exact same routes are presented to him again, this becomes a non-decision, and the player’s brain becomes disengaged. All explicitly-designed decision points have this problem of staticity. The solution, of course, is to create a gameplay system that dynamically generates emergent decision points.
The goal with emergent decisions is to avoid explicitly defined decisions, and instead create a set of rules, characters, elements, and interaction rules, with a defined goal, such that interesting decisions will emerge from the system. Let me make this very clear: Game designers should rarely be designing decisions directly. The job of the game designer is to develop gameplay systems that present emergent decisions. Only emergent decisions can be unique over a long period of time. Static decisions cannot be relied on to provide gameplay interest, though it should be noted that they cannot be eliminated altogether.
If decisions aren’t part of your game, you should be making a movie.
Michael, D. and Chen, S. (2005) Proof of Learning: Assessment in Serious Games Gamasutra (2433) Retrieved June 7th, 2008 from http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/2433/proof_of_learning_assessment_in_.php
(Multiple choice questions) MCQs are not always the best choice, though. While MCQs can accurately gauge memorization and retention of a set of facts, they are hardly the best way to gauge whether the student is following a process correctly. This is a notable shortcoming because some disciplines, such as advanced math, are more about the processes used to reach the answer and less about the answer itself. Multiple choice math tests can only provide a list of possible answers and have no easy mechanism for determining whether the student figured the answer out properly or merely guessed well.
While a review of any collection of edutainment software reveals that MCQs can be easily tacked on to a video game, doing so does not take advantage of any of the features that make serious games compelling: engagement of the player, self-motivated progress through the material, and fun. Serious games represent an opportunity to move past this simplistic, narrowly focused type of testing. In fact, they can do so by combining other forms of traditional assessment with methods modern video games now use on a regular basis.
…even video games designed for nothing more serious than hour upon hour of mindless entertainment have a learning objective, at least at the beginning: teach the player how to play the game. These games also employ pass/fail mechanisms no less rigorous than many college entrance exams.
Tutorials present the player with the basics of how to control and interact with the game and then test the player on this information with a series of levels or missions. Tutorial missions often introduce only a few new game features or play elements at a time to avoid overwhelming the player. By the time the player has completed these first few missions, he or she has “learned” the essentials of the game and can be bombarded with ever greater in-game challenges. This process even continues past the tutorial, as later levels and missions in the game become more and more difficult.
Another form of assessment in entertainment games is scoring. Many games even offer comparisons between players with high score lists. These high scores can be a source of bragging rights for the player, but, more importantly, the scoring system teaches the player what is important within the game. A positive score indicates a good choice, a negative score a bad choice, and no score at all indicates that the attached action is probably unimportant. Though few classrooms stress the level of competition seen in most video games, the similarity to the posted test grades is unmistakable. In the same way, the education strategy of “teaching to the test” clearly identifies to the student what is important to learn and what can be ignored just like in-game scores do in entertainment games.
Both the medium of serious games itself and its newness create certain challenges that can make assessment difficult:
- With less emphasis on rote memorization of facts, the assessment obtained from traditional methods may not accurately reflect the learning gained from serious games.
- Open-ended simulations can support a wide range of possible solutions. Which one is more correct?
- When teaching abstract skills such as teamwork and leadership, how do you measure learning and/or improvements?
- What is “cheating” in the context of serious games?
According to Ferguson, too many people assume that any game will teach and be helpful regardless of the software’s actual capability. The core questions to ponder, he says, are:
- How do you show that the students are learning what you claim they are learning?
- How do you know that what you are measuring is what you think you are measuring?
Because serious games have such challenges, serious game developers have turned to more sophisticated assessment methods. Of note, there are three main types of assessment used in serious games:
- Completion Assessment – Did the player complete the lesson or pass the test?
- In-Process Assessment – How did the player choose his or her actions? Did he or she change their mind? If so, at what point? And so on.
- Teacher Evaluation – Based on observations of the student, does the teacher think the student now knows/understands the material?
In-process assessment is analogous to teacher observations of the student as the student performs the task or takes the test. In advanced math and science courses, for example, students are required to write out each step of the process they followed. Erasures are often disallowed in favor of drawing a line through incorrect steps and conclusions so that errors in the process can be more easily seen by the teachers. This is because the errors and corrections can be valuable indicators, sometimes more so than just giving the correct answer.
Serious games, or more specifically serious video games, offer logging and tracking potential that has seldom been available or even possible in traditional classrooms. Video games have long had logging features that allow players to replay their performance in the games. Modern games have even begun to learn from the player’s actions within the game, adjusting storylines, strategies, monster strength, and other variables to adjust to what the player has done and is doing. Serious games can take advantage of these features. For instance, Offshore Safety Initiative, located in Houston, Texas, performs detailed logging in its safety simulation software, tracking such data as:
- Time required to complete the lesson;
- Number of mistakes made;
- Number of self-corrections made; and more.
Kane, B. (2003) 34 Ways to put emotion into games Gamasutra (2884) Retrieved June 7th, 2008 from http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/2884/34_ways_to_put_emotions_into_games.php
The key, says Freeman, is to recognize that emotional power is not simply a matter of writing good dialogue, but comes from integrating emotional content throughout the structure of a game
Emotioneering involves what he phrased “the artful application of exact techniques,” and said that being aware of these techniques early in the development process would enable writers, producers, and game designers alike to inveigh their games with the emotional complexity that is currently missing in the industry.
1. NPC Interesting Techniques. These are techniques which make (major) NPCs dimensional and fresh, and thus interesting. The key here is to give each major NPC between three and five distinguishing inner traits which define the ways in which they see, speak, think, or act.
2. NPC Deepening Techniques. These are techniques that give major NPCs emotional depth and complexity. Many of Freeman’s techniques are divided along this Interesting/Deepening dichotomy – a split that Freeman basically equated to “breadth vs. depth.” Breadth comes from having a diversity of traits; depth comes from the degree to which those traits are emotionally penetrating. Examples for this category included deep regret, hidden secrets, and inner wisdom.
7. NPC to NPC Chemistry Techniques. Techniques which, with very little reliance on dialogue, make it feel like two NPCs have “chemistry” – that is, that they belong together as friends or lovers. For instance, two characters might think the same way, get into little spats, or talk about each other fondly when the other isn’t around.
10. NPC Rooting Interest Techniques. These are techniques which make us “root for,” or identify with, a given character. Examples: NPCs that find themselves in danger, that perform acts of self-sacrifice, or that are members of the player’s own group, team, or party.
15. Emotionally Complex Moments and Situations. Ways to put the player in the middle of situations that are emotionally complex. (Example: you’ve created an outlawed robot killing machine, knowing you may have to fight your own creation later in the game.)
21. First-Person Deepening Techniques. Techniques which actually give the player more emotional depth by the end of the game. Branching pathways and multiple viewpoints have this effect.
Freeman, D. (2002) Four ways to use symbols to add emotional depth to games Gamasutra (20020724) Retrieved June 7th, 2008 from http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20020724/freeman_01.htm
Remember in Braveheart when Mel Gibson charged into battle holding a handkerchief his wife gave him before she was murdered? That handkerchief is a symbol. This article will explore four different ways to use symbols to evoke emotional response from an audience.
A big part of successful communication between a writer and his or her audience is writing outside of the audience’s conscious awareness. No one expects the game player to pick out every sound used in a game’s sound design, nor every instrument utilized in a piece of music, nor every tiny shadow. So too, an extraordinary amount of what a writer does is designed to affect a game player emotionally but not be consciously noticed. This article will focus on the use of symbols, which are almost always employed in a way so that they’re just on the edge, or preferably just outside, of a game player’s conscious awareness. A workable rule of thumb is that no more than 25 percent of the players who come upon a symbol should be consciously aware that it actually is a symbol.
Symbol Type #1: Symbol of a Character ’s Condition or Change in Condition
This use of symbols is what I call a scene-deepening technique, because you use it in a specific scene and might never use the same symbol again. Its use can be either visual or verbal, meaning that there must be either something visual on screen or something said by one of the characters that reflects what an on-screen character is going through emotionally.
Hypothetical game example #1
Let’s say we have a sword-and-sorcery game in which, during a fight to save some villagers, the wisest and most beloved village elder is killed. The villagers are stunned. A cloud could pass in front of the sun at that point, throwing a shad-ow over the village (during either a cinematic sequence or gameplay). The shadow would symbolize the villagers’ sadness — and perhaps yours as well, if you had found the old man endearing (and you would have, if the character was rich enough and the dialogue was compelling).
After great effort and many struggles and bat-tles, you have attained the highest rank a warrior can attain. At that moment, an eagle flies diagonally overhead in the sky. It’s a symbol of your lofty achievement. It’s important to reiterate here that it doesn’t matter if no one consciously notices the impact of these symbols. They deepen the experience nonetheless.
A character’s path of growth through his or her FLBW is a rocky one; quite often the character resists growing. A character’s path of growth through the FLBW is called a character arc.
Some writers insert a symbol into the story that represents the character’s arc. That is, as the character changes and grows, the symbol changes right along with the character. Therefore, a symbolic subplot is a plot-deepening technique because it continues throughout all or most of the plot (unlike the symbol of the character’s condition or change in condition, which occurs in a single scene or a small part of the plot).
Using this Technique in Games
Trying to build in a character arc for your player opens up a can of worms, because in a symbolic subplot, the changes in the symbol reflect the changes that your character undergoes as he or she progresses through the rocky path of his or her character arc. And how do you manage how a character goes through a character arc when that character is controlled by the game player?
This question takes us right to the cut-ting edge of story-based games. To explore all the ways in which game designers are tackling or could tackle this problem would be an article in itself, if not several.
Furthermore, it opens up another problem. On one hand, how do you tempt players into seeing themselves in a role and making decisions appropri-ate to that role? On the other hand, how do you allow players to play the game the way they want to play?
Symbol Type #4: A Symbol That Takes on More and More Emotional Associations
This is another plot-deepening technique, as it too tends to extend throughout an entire plot. It can be either a visual object or a verbal phrase. One symbol of this type is a very familiar one: the American flag. What does the flag mean? It means a lot of things: democracy; courage; the right to live the life you choose; freedom of speech and religion; a nation ruled by law; Yankee ingenuity; and more. Yet when we look at the flag, we don’t consciously think of all these things, we just experience the emotions that these associations evoke in us.
When a symbol reappears over and over again during emotionally charged moments, some of the emotion rubs off on the symbol, and the symbol thus takes on more and more emotional associations as the plot advances.
At the start of a game, we can make some basic assumptions about what the player knows. These assumptions can be based on everything from movies, books, and other games, to the way things work in reality. When a player hits a button to call an elevator, they expect the elevator to come to them so they can get on. If they jump off a high building they may take damage or die. If they stay underwater too long they may drown. The player comes to your game with a vast amount of knowledge that you can use.
As designers, we can carefully build a vocabulary of game mechanics and shape what the player knows about the environment, and when they know it. For example, when the player pushes a button to call an elevator, they simply expect the elevator to come to them so they can get on. This would be normal. However, you could imagine their surprise when the elevator suddenly comes crashing down with a group of screaming scientists on board. We get the element of surprise mixed in with a bit of humor creating a memorable experience for the player. More importantly, we’ve expanded the player’s understanding of what can happen in this environment.
Think of this little scenario: In one part of the game we introduce a simple hallway. In a section just after the hallway, we introduce monsters that drop down from certain types of ceiling tiles. Later, we introduce monsters that can break through closed doors. Now, can you imagine the feeling the player will have when they arrive at a long hallway that has the same grates on the floor, the same ceiling tiles that monsters have been known to drop from, and some doors where monster may be waiting to bash through? Think of the suspense that can be created in the player’s every step. This ability to manage and manipulate the player’s expectations is a powerful tool for a designer.
NPCs can commonly be used to provide player direction/goals, open doors, provide clues, develop the story, heal the player, serve as a hostage or an escort, join the player in combat, and even, at times, provide a good bit of comic relief. Each of these examples can be used on its own or in combination with other functionality to create interesting game scenarios.
Establishing numerous forms of resolution can also be a valuable part of the player’s vocabulary. Resolution can provide a sense of closure that can be used to let the player know when they are ready to move forward or when they’ve accomplished a certain goal.
If we place a complete set of objects (let’s use a set of armor as an example) in each thematic region of a level or game, the player will feel as though they have achieved a certain sense of resolution when they find each part of the set. Not only can this be used as a way of rewarding the player for exploring the areas thoroughly, but it also implies that they are ready to progress forward. The player has been taught that if they are missing a certain part of a set, there may be other parts of the world that they have not explored. We can further elaborate on the player’s expectations by providing some extra bonus that comes with having a complete set. It could be a good thing, a bad thing, or perhaps even a humorous thing. It’s up to the designer to make the choice and carefully craft the experience.
IGDA (2006) International Game Developers Association 2006 Casual Games White Paper retrieved June 8th, 2008 from http://www.igda.org/casual/IGDA_CasualGames_Whitepaper_2006.pdf
Casual Games: Games that generally involve less complicated game controls and overall complexity in
terms of gameplay or investment required to get through game.
Hardcore, Core (Traditiona) Games: Games developed for and delivered on a dedicated game console
(set-top or handheld) as well as CD-ROM or DVD that generally involve more complicated game controls
When you are in the business of casual games, you are reaching virtually all demographic
sectors. Women in their forties comprise the typical casual game player – but so do men,
teens, kids, college students, seniors and international audiences. Even hard core game
players take a break every now and then to play free online poker games and online pool.
The term “casual games” is used to describe games that are easy to learn, utilize simple
controls and aspire to forgiving gameplay. Without a doubt, the term “casual games” is
sometimes an awkward and ill-fitting term – perhaps best described as games for everyone.
Additionally, the term “casual” doesn’t accurately depict that these games can be quite
addictive, often delivering hours of entertainment similar to that provided by more
traditional console games. To be sure, there is nothing “casual” about the level of loyalty,
commitment and enjoyment displayed by many avid casual game players – just as there is
nothing “casual” about the market opportunity and market demand for these games.
Generally skews older (35+), though casual game players can be found among college
students, teens, school-aged children as well as seniors.
While the gender break-down of casual game players can vary greatly from genre-to-genre
and even from game-to-game, the largest audience remains women aged thirty-five to fifty.
The proliferation and popularity of casual games has greatly contributed to an explosion of
women on the video game scene. Women comprise forty-three percent of all video gamers,
according to a 2005 survey conducted by the Entertainment Software Association, up from thirty-eight percent in 2003 (Source: Pioneer
Press (www.twincities.com/mld/twincities/living/14502122.htm), May 7, 2006).
Furthermore, a recent study conducted by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) puts
forth that there are more women gamers than males in the twenty-five to thirty-four age
range, with the average age being around thirty years. In this age bracket they say sixty-
five per cent of women play video games compared to only thirty-five percent of men.
(Source: New York
ae89714ecea&ei=5070), April 17, 2006.)
While the typical core gaming audience is male and aged eighteen to thirty-four, casual
gamers tend to be both women and men between the ages of thirty-five and sixty-five, with
a slight demographic skew towards women.
Gradually, the number of men playing casual games is increasing, but today’s market reality
requires a focus on female players.
Women represent the largest category of consumers for these games, although they may
also be buying these games for their husband, children, household or even as gifts.
Typical Gaming Patterns
The play patterns of each audience segment vary dramatically, with some female players
over the age of forty spending upwards of nine hours per week playing online games. These
long online play periods are often divided into small game sessions. (Males spend 6.1 hours per week on average)
Pick up and drop games multiple times per day.
Relaxation, diversion, socialization and community are key drivers for casual game play as
opposed to overt competition.
This average play time is much lower than hardcore gamers’ title play commitment near
release, but is much higher than the mass-market retail gamers’ average play time.
• Puzzle Games
• Card or Solitaire
• Light System Management
• Casual Action
Primary Points of Access
• Downloadable PC & Mac versions to play offline
• Online play
• Increasingly other gaming platforms (e.g., mobile, console)
• A wide variety of users now see the Internet as a primary entertainment medium,
and casual games comprise a main staple of the entertainment value of the Internet.
As the audience for online content grows, so does the amount of money spent in the
Keeping the play and consumption patterns of this worldwide mass audience in mind,
successful casual games must:
• Seem accessible to players with varying levels of familiarity and dexterity with
• Engage players who may not be familiar with various game genres
• Attract players by offering easy-to-learn games that are inviting and generally non-
• Interact with players who are accustomed to user interface conventions from the
traditional retail market
3. Characteristics of Successful Games
Features that are typically associated with community-based gaming include: chat, points
based rewards systems, prizing, persistence features, tournaments, ladders, message
boards and friend/buddy lists.
1. Key Design Elements of Casual Games
1.1 Simple and Meaningful Play with Transparent Rules
At the heart of game design is the idea of meaningful play, the idea that players interact
with a game in ways that produce clear and purposeful results. What differentiates games
from other forms of media is that players engage the game’s system to change it in
meaningful ways. This idea of meaningful play is manifested in a number of ways in casual
games. First, there is the importance of understanding basic gameplay; players’ actions
must elicit clear and understandable responses. In a similar vein, it is important that the
rules of a game be transparent. Just as the basic interactivity needs to be entirely
comprehensible, so the rules of the game should also be at best intuitive and at worst easily
grasped by players. In even the most complex computer games, rulebooks are used only for
reference; most of the play is learned through experimentation and in-game instruction.
Similarly, a casual game’s rules should be intuitive and require no more than a one-screen
help or simple tutorial to thoroughly understand.
1.2 User Interaction
Many times in casual games much attention and focus has been shifted towards making
sure the game is attractive to the eye and utilizing animations and particle effects, however
it is essential that users are able to play the games by utilizing visual and audio cues within
Casual gamers will rarely go through a lengthy tutorial, and as we all know manuals are
useless, even for videogames. So as a developer don’t be discouraged if your game is
complex. First try to figure out if you can explain the game through various levels,
rewarding the user enough to keep them interested in the game. If you can’t break your
game into small chunks of interaction, then there could be something wrong in your design
for a casual audience.
This is what makes interface design so important. The concept can be summed up as – “The
user should always know what the next step is by just looking at the screen or know what is
happening by watching/listening to the game.” It is important to make a game attractive to
the eye, but if people cannot figure out how to play – they will stop.
Every game is different, so how to implement the visual and audio cues will always be
different. Visually – anything that is important to progressing in the game, such as the “next
logical step” should always “pop” in some way, especially if it is something outside of the
normal mode of play. If a game is designed correctly, users will quickly become accustomed
to how the game should be played. If a user needs to click something additional, they
should be prompted in some way. Blinking, throbbing, hi-lights and even an arrow pointing
at what to do next are easy visual clues as to what is happening. One trick some developers
use is to look away from the screen. When you look back, the first thing that catches your
eye should be the next thing you should do (i.e., click on).
Another good feature that developers have used is a “waiting user” prompt. If the user
should spend a period of time not doing anything, or not making progress, the game will
prompt the user in some way of what to do next.
The interaction between the user and the game should be limited to the computer mouse.
The use of the keyboard in a casual game is a big obstacle for users. Since the pace of the
casual game is usually relaxed, and the gameplay is easy, adding more than one device to
control the game makes people react negatively since having to remember and coordinate
keystrokes with mouse movements is something that is hard to do for those who are above
Use of buttons, where possible, should be limited to the left-mouse button. Use of the right-
mouse button is actually possible in casual games, but ideally it should be used for an action
that is not absolutely necessary. An example is the use of the right-mouse button occurs in
Zuma, where players can swap their current ball for another ball of a different color. Some
players will never use it, whereas advanced players will have that ”expert”_option.
While designing the game, designers must combinesimple controls and and an easy-to-read
interface that simplifies the number of clicks that the player has to accomplish an action. A
good example is the contextual interface in Plantasia: where when the player hovers over a
bug the cursor icon turns into an insecticide can.
1.3 Depth & Complexity
An important issue is the complexity of games. Considering the normal play periods of
casual games (short) and the game experience of the average players (limited), it is not
appropriate for casual games to have wildly complex systems that require careful, constant
attention and deep strategic thinking. A real-time strategy game with hundreds of units to
choose from, or a 3D world with miles of virtual space to explore presents an experience
designed to captivate a dedicated user for hours of intense play. However, many people
play casual games to take a relaxing break from work or to pass the time with something
engaging. This means that casual games should be based on simple core activity that leads
to emergent complexity. Initial access to the game should be easy, and the difficulty and
engagement of the game should come from doing that same basic activity in increasingly
challenging environments. In other words, the game should give the player a simple way of
interacting that becomes a rich experience in the game’s context.
More complex forms of interactivity, as the real-time strategy game mentioned above, often
have steep learning curves that run against the casual interests of the audience. This desire
for simple core interactivity has a number of implications. First, a casual audience is
generally not interested in memorizing complex macros or commands to understand a
game. Thus, casual games are predominately mouse-based, either exclusively or with
wholly optional hotkeys. When casual games do use the keyboard, it is almost always
limited to arrow keys and a single action key. Thus, the core activity of the game is also
fairly simple: clicking on a pair of grid squares to switch two objects, moving the mouse
over a deck to reveal a card, or dragging an item from a palette to a specific spot on a
game field. The complexity of the game comes from the way that simple interactivity
mechanic is used in the context of new levels and available resources (new things to swap,
new cards to see, new terrain on the field to negotiate).
In addition, the game should require very limited help to understand. Even more than other
kinds of games, casual games should not require players to read detailed instructions or
experiment extensively to grasp basic game concepts. Anything that is so complicated that
it requires more than a single page of simple help or (at most) a tutorial first level is most
likely too complicated for the market. It is also important to keep in mind that many of the
tropes that hardcore gamers have internalized are not part of many casual players’
vocabularies. This means that what may seem standard conventions to gamers (e.g. WASD
for movement, smashing crates to get health) will be lost on a large part of the casual
games audience. This is all the more reason why the basic gameplay must provide clear and
1.4 Rewarding Players
As part of the experience, a rich and varied reward system is very important to casual
gamers. The player’s main reason to play casual games is to get away from the worries and
frustrations of everyday life. Being constantly rewarded is a way to make the player feel
good about what they are doing.
Of course, the casual game designer shouldn’t confuse rewards with simplicity of play. The
game challenge should still be there, but the player should be notified of their good deeds
as the progress through any game challenges. Bonus points for specific actions, awarding
combos, and themed player ranks have been common reward resources in casual games.
Rewards are also related to the optional depth that can be added into the game (see the
Optional Depth section for more info).
Overall, increased rewards for successful actions and reduced penalties for early mistakes
are key components to making a successful game for the casual games market. The
consumers driving this market generally do not see themselves as “gamers” looking for a
deep challenge. Often, they are looking for an immediately fun and positively rewarding
entertainment experience similar to the benefit one receives when tuning into a trusted
primetime TV show that provides a mental escape with a minimal learning curve.
1.5 Showing Progress
Rewards will not be relevant if there is no place in the game where progress is represented.
Probably one of the most important elements of any game is the score as this is a key
motivation factor for many games. If the game is score-centric, anything that either adds to
or takes away from the users score should be point blank obvious. Users should
immediately know when they have done something good and their score increases, or when
something bad happens. Even if the game is not score-centric or there is some other kind of
task that is necessary for a user to complete to move ahead in the game, accolades should
always be represented with some kind of positive audio cue.
.6 Forgiving Game Play
Casual games should be very forgiving, particularly in the early part of the game. The game
should not punish players too harshly for initial mistakes, and should give new players time
(whether it be in early levels or beginner’s modes) to learn the core interactivity. The grace
period can last quite far into the game, with the difficulty only ramping up well into the
experience. Consider that the majority of this audience prefers games such as Bejeweled
Easy Mode, which is very difficult to lose unintentionally. Difficulty should be less of an
obstacle that players must struggle to overcome than a natural growth that matches the
player’s increasing expertise of the game. 1.7 Visuals and Themes
Keeping the audience in mind, the visual design in a casual game could vary depending on
the target audience. The game designer should ask first who is going to play the game
before deciding on a particular theme or visual style.
Successful casual games have historically relied
on themes that that players are familiar with.
Games that are based in real life environments
(e.g., Cinema Tycoon) give players a sensation of
a familiar environment. Other themes that casual
players are familiar with have been portrayed
successfully in popular Hollywood films – magic
(Lord of the Rings) or exotic places (Indiana
Jones) are some examples. Contrary to popular
belief, sci-fi movies are not as popular across
mass audiences. Casual Game designers should
stay away from sci-fi themes in their games.
Many downloadable, single-player games take the path of a “realistic” look. But some have
started to have cartoon-like looks (e.g., Diner Dash). The key is to not make the player feel
they are playing a game for kids. Contrary to puzzle games in arcade machines in the 80s
(e.g., Pengo), since most downloads get purchased by an older audience players in general
get put off by “cute” characters or visual elements that make the sensation of watching a
Saturday morning cartoon. Exceptions to this case tend to gravitate towards those games
who have a realistic theme (e.g., Cake Mania) or have UI and supporting graphics with a
mature look (e.g., Chuzzle).
When it comes to online web games, the choice of themes and visuals tend to be different.
Since the age range of web game players goes across the board, there are all kinds of visual
themes used successfully. It will depend on the web site’s audience mostly. Sites like
Cartoon Network, Nick.com, and to a big extent NeoPets target younger players and hence
cartoon like visuals are the norm and work very successfully.
Use of bright and shiny colors, appropriately used, is a plus. Even some special effects (i.e.:
the use of particle systems to create an explosion of stars when an award is given) have
worked well in some games.
1.8 Narrative and Characters
Any discourse on story and character (and by extension, narrative and metaphor) in casual
games, ought to probably be prefaced by a brief acknowledgement of the challenges our
larger industry faces in brokering the thus-far awkward marriage between interactive
entertainment (including console or “core” video games) and compelling narrative (including
story telling and character development).
There are numerous books and courses available on story-telling, character development
and approaches to narrative structure. Many of these focus on writing for film, television
and fiction. There are some on comic book writing, a few for games, but next to none on
casual games. When folks do discuss storytelling’s dance with video game design, inevitably
they bemoan the lackluster job we as game designers have done (to date) of seamlessly
integrating story and interactive play. But the common wisdom is that, as a relatively new
medium, video games are still getting their sea legs when it comes to sophisticated
approaches to story telling, defining a compelling character or, more famously, of moving a
player to tears.
The question is, where do Casual Games fit into this larger polemic? Do we operate under
the same rules and are we wading through the same challenges as core game designers?
Or, are the idiosyncrasies of casual games and their non-hard-core-gamer audience going to
liberate the casual game designer and give him or her a uniquely advantageous position at
the cutting edge of elegantly interpolating story and interactivity?
i Does a Casual Game Even Need a Story?
Not all successful casual games have needed story and character. After all, isn’t gameplay
everything? Who cares about story? Why add characters? Why add story? It costs more,
right? And it’s hard!
Sure, a game has to have good gameplay or you’re sunk. But here are some reasons it may
just be worth the effort:
• Artistic merit. If video game-making is an artistic medium, we should be able to use
it for all kinds of self expression, especially story telling.
• Story and character are tools for entertaining, for touching people’s hearts, for
making an emotional impact beyond the mechanics of the game, beyond a high
score, a game’s interactivity or its puzzle.
• The value of character IP. Additionally, as our industry matures the opportunity to
build character I.P. has obvious financial upside. i.e. Lara Croft, Tomb Raider.
• Great Narratives create strong brands. From Charles Dickens’ Victorian masterpieces,
to today’s Sopranos or Lost, serialized fiction is infamous for sucking in its audience
and keeping them coming back to find out what happens next. For Casual Games
especially, where a thirty to sixty-minute free trial often stands as an obstacle to a
purchase, the use of story might just be the holy grail of conversion, motivating
users to keep playing.
Casual Gamers love Aztec themes, right?
A rich game metaphor provides back-story, defines the play environment, adds a compelling
motive to the player’s game goals, and gives the user a deeper feeling of immersion into
the experience. What’s different here about the casual game audience? The story goes that
as video games first began to explore narrative themes, the game-making community chose
themes that appealed to game makers. Thus the over-saturation of spaceships, robots,
archeological tomb hunters, elves and dragons that blast, shoot, swing or roar their way
through the game players’ imaginative landscape.
Casual games have for the most part
trodden the same narrow territory – space
ships, aliens, and elves all make their way
to the casual game landscape. When you
throw in ancient archeological lost city
themes like Mesoamerican (Incan, Mayan
or Aztec) and ancient Egyptian, you’ve
covered about half the casual games out
there. But over the last two years we’ve
seen games emerge that explore broader
narrative themes and more everyday
characters. We’ve seen successful games
like Insaniquarium, Huntsville Mystery
Case Files, Diner Dash, QBeez2 and
Granny in Paradise, all borrowing from
popular themes in prime-time television.
Will your casual game’s story and
characters appeal to the casual game
market (many of whom are adult women)?
If you’re thinking about a game with
dungeons, bloody battles, spaceships and
robots, you might be going down the
iii Rules for creating a compelling story
It’s worth noting that a good deal of the following may be subjective. Not all stories work by
the same rules. Not all stories will benefit from the same approaches. This section therefore
may prove more subjective than say, the section on publishing or distribution models, but
here goes. As a game designer there are a host of rules to follow or break as you see fit
when telling a story in a casual game.
What’s so different about casual games? The main difference is the audience. Whereas in a
core game, the audience may forgive bad dialogue, poor character development or no story
at all in exchange for super cool graphics and hi-tech themes like shooting rampages,
battling droids or half-clothed bikini elves, the audience of casual games is made up of
many non-hard-core gamers and the bar for entertainment quality is set not by other
games, but by television and film.
Here are some often cited oft maligned rules of thumb for story telling in casual game
• Immersion. Create the illusion that the player is in the story world. Take care not to
shatter that illusion.
• Keep the technology invisible. Don’t remind players they are on a computer.
Immerse the user in the narrative world.
• Don’t break the fourth wall. Try to avoid breaking the fourth wall (the wall between
the characters on stage and the audience – thus avoid lines like “Hello there player!
Use the mouse and click and drag that item over here!” – or “type on your
• Respect the player’s imagination. You don’t need to tell the user every detail. They
will enjoy the interaction more if you let them participate in how the story emerges.
• Allow for closure. Visual theorists call it “closure” when an artist lets a viewer fill in
the gaps of a broken circle or on what happens between panels of a comic book. As a
story teller, you don’t need to tell every detail of your whole story. Allow the user to
fill in the blanks with his or her imagination.
• Start as deep in as possible. Start the story as deep into the narrative as you can,
allowing the player to fill in the blanks.
• Waste not, want not. With small file sizes and small budgets, typically you can’t
afford extensively animated cut scenes or tons of casted and recorded character
dialogue. But big budgets and big file sizes don’t always mean good story telling.
• Less is more. Brutally edit your dialogue. Write a script for scene, then cut it in half –
then take a breath and cut it in half again. It’s cheaper and it’s likely that your story
will be more interesting if less is revealed. Most players don’t want to read. If your
game has a comic book page, can the player get the gist of the story just by looking
at the artwork and not reading any text?
• Naturalism. Save time in writing and casting. Go for naturalism in your casting,
dialogue writing and directing. People are used to standards set by television and
film. No one wants to listen to an overacted set of affected lines read in a deep
hoarse throaty manner. No matter how evil it makes your character sound.
• Action is key. Never tell when you can show. Avoid talking heads with lots of
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you convey it within a dialogue as the players are scaling a wall, or climbing a tree
or…? Animation is expensive, can you use comic strips instead of animated cut
scenes? If you’re going to animate make sure it’s interesting – ask yourself if it’s
really worth animating?
• Rely on Audio. Audio is typically cheaper than animation as a tool for storytelling.
Sometimes music, voice and audio sound effects to help immerse, set a mood tell
the story. A story is different from a list. If you’re going to tell a story in your game,
keep in mind that a good story is not just, “first this happened, then that happened,
next a third cool thing happened.”
• Foreshadow. A good story has narrative structure, offers thoughtful foreshadowing
during early stages of the narrative to set up expectations.
• Use a “Third act twist”. A good story then plays with or twists those expectations
(usually in the “third act” or final act of the game).
• Seamless integration. Maybe the hardest part: Can you weave interactivity and story
around each other without making the story feel contrived or tacked on as an
afterthought? Playing the game should feel like you’re making the story unfold
further. Can the story change depending on the player’s choices?
iv Defining Characters: Some starting points.
Do you know who your character is? Knowing who your character is will make it much
easier to write natural dialogue and compelling stories. Take the time to define your
characters’ back story, their likes and dislikes, family history, strengths and flaws. Their pet
peeves. Their quirks and catch phrases. If you do this right, you will know much more about
your character than you ever will be able to tell in a small file game but it will make the
dialogue flow freely if you can really channel your character and see into their inner world.
Ways to evaluate the strength of a character:
• Do you care about you character? A lot? If you don’t care about who your character
is, then don’t expect the player to care who he or she is!
• Draw on what you know. Don’t just add a character because you think you need one.
• Draw on your own experiences and your own world to create more believable
characters that people will care about and understand.
• Is your character someone with whom players can identify?
• Is your character aspirational? Someone players might identify with or aspire to be?
• Work with your artist. The character artwork should tell you as much as possible
about that character (while avoiding stereotypes).
• Test it! What we think is appealing may not be appealing to our audience. Draw out
multiple versions of your characters and run them by potential players.
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constraints provided by a casual audience for new play styles, both as modifications of tried-
and-true genres or as more dramatic experimentation.2006 Casual Games White Paper
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2.9 Other Arcade Variants
This genre includes a variety of traditional arcade-style gameplay.
• Cosmic Bugs (Retro64)
• Gold Miner Vegas Edition (Intermix Media)
• Tropix (Super Robot Brain)
Popular Other Arcade Variants:
Gold Miner Vegas Edition (Intermix Media)
Cosmic Bugs (Retro64)
While this list is by no means exhaustive, even a glance at the games available in the casual games
marketplace reveals a preponderance of games that fit within this handful of categories. There is also a
strong degree of overlap among the games within a single category, such that many games have nearly
identical mechanics and are only differentiated by narrative context and visual style. In fact, there is a
deluge of derivative games in the casual game market that seek to capitalize on the success of a proven
mechanic. As the casual game industry grows, new game play, design and genres will emerge and
evolve to the next level.
2.10 Innovation beyond the Tried-and-True
Innovation in the casual games field must still adhere to the principles of user interactivity
and audience expectations as described in the previous sections. The casual gamer is simply
a different user group than the hardcore gamer, and the kinds of experimentation and
approaches that appeal to the latter may not be successful with the former. Of course, there
have been examples of games that have provided different gameplay styles that have also
been successful in the casual game market. “Diner Dash” and “Tradewinds” are both games
that have previously unseen gameplay for casual games. They both have been commercially
successful. Web-only games have seen even more radical experimentation. Games such as
Grow (www.eyezmaze.com/grow/v3/index.html), Samarost
(nlp.fi.muni.cz/~xsvobod4/amanita/samorost/intro.html), and Squares 2
(www.albinoblacksheep.com/flash/squares2.php) all demonstrate the ways Web-only games
can push the boundaries of typical play patterns. Thus, there are possibilities with the 2006 Casual Games White Paper
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Popular Examples of Card & Parlor Games:
Ancient TriPeaks (ToyBox Games)
Mahjong Garden to Go (Pogo) 2006 Casual Games White Paper
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2.7 Casual Sports Games
Simple sports games that are very forgiving and generally accessible to the widest
audience possible in terms of game controls and game objectives.
• Backspin Billiards (Pixelstorm)
• Redline Rumble 2: Detonator (Atom Entertainment/Richard Smith)
• Saints & Sinners Bowling (Large Animal Games/Oberon Media)
Popular Examples of Casual Sports Games:
Redline Rumble 2: Detonator (Atom Entertainment/Richard
aints & Sinners Bowling (Large Animal Games/Oberon
2.8 Card & Parlor Games
This genre includes a variety of traditional playing-card games and parlor game
• Ancient TriPeaks (ToyBox Games)
• Mah Jong Escape: Ancient China (Playtime)
• Mahjong Garden to Go (Pogo)
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Popular Examples of System Management:
Cake Mania (Sandlot Games)
Fish Tycoon (Big Fish Games)
2.6 Break-Out Variants
The player controls a paddle, and uses the paddle to ricochet a ball into a set of
blocks. The goal is to clear the screen of blocks. Power-ups alter the core game in a
few ways including speeding up and slowing down the ball, making the paddle sticky,
or increasing the number of balls on the screen.
• Bricks of Atlantis (ArcadeLab)
• Magic Ball 2: New Worlds (Alawar Entertainment)
• Shattera (Alexey Saenko)
Popular Examples of Break-Out Variants:
Bricks of Atlantis (ArcadeLab)
Shattera (Alexey Saenko) 2006 Casual Games White Paper
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2.4 Shape Manipulation
Players are presented with a empty container divided into different shapes, and a
series of pieces that can fit into that container. The player’s goal is to fill up the
container by picking up, rotating, and placing pieces inside the contact so that no
pieces overlap and no empty spaces remain.
• Mosaic: Tomb of Mystery (Reflexive)
• Puzzle Express (Hipsoft)
• Runic One (Puzzle Lab)
Popular Examples of Shape Manipulation:
Mosaic Tomb of Mystery (Reflexive)
Runic One (Puzzle Lab)
2.5 System Management
The player is put in charge of a small ecosystem of objects that interact in a variety
of ways. The player may add, remove, or alter objects in the system to create
particular effects and thus earn points.
• Cake Mania (Sandlot Games)
• Plantasia (gameLab)
• Fish Tycoon (Big Fish Games)
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Magic Match (Codeminion/Oberon)
QBeez 2 (Skunk Studios)
2.3 Finding Subsets II (Word Games)
A notable specific case in this genre is the word game. In this case, the rules of the
game’s language determine a correct set. Points are often given for correctly spelled
words, with greater rewards being credited to players who spell longer words and/or
words with rarer letters.
• Acropolis (Gamehouse)
• Babel Deluxe (Zylom)
• Pat Sajak’s Lucky Letters (U-Click/Playtonium)
Popular Examples of Finding Subsets II (Word Games):
Babel Deluxe (Zylom) 2006 Casual Games White Paper
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• Shape Manipulation
• Casual Sports Games
• Break-Out Variants
• Card and Parlor Games
2.1 Matching Games
Players are faced with a grid of a limited variety of objects. The objective of the game
is to swap, drag, shoot, or transform these objects to create sets of two or more,
which then disappear for points. These games often contain “power-up” objects that
clear larger parts of the grid or award bonus points for sets including them.
• Chuzzle (PopCap Games)
• Luxor (MumboJumbo)
• The Da Vinci Code (Sony)
Popular Examples of Matching Games:
Chuzzle (PopCap Games)
The Davinci Code (Sony)
2.2 Finding Subsets I (Puzzle Games)
Players are given a number of objects, a timed end point manifested as a clock, and
sometimes a steady increase in the number of objects. The player’s role is to find
sets within the field objects based on a particular criterion (similar color, shape, etc.).
Correctly finding and selecting these sets earns the player points and either delays
the end point or advances the user to the goal.
• 10 Talismans (NevoSoft)
• Magic Match (Codeminion/Oberon)
• QBeez 2 (Skunk Studios)
Popular Examples of Finding Subsets I (Puzzle Games): 2006 Casual Games White Paper
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Another musical adaptive technique when the music is split
out (i.e. melody, rhythm, chords) is to add and remove parts
directly based on gameplay.
SFX Customization Another unique way to deliver personalized gameplay
experience is to use things like dialog synthesis to relay the
persons score in real time.
With randomization it’s important to remember that randomization should be placed in
areas where the user expectation is low. Many events need a specific sound effect that
never changes because it’s so integral to the game experience and to do so would confuse
the player. Usage of randomization in key places might confuse the player.
The unique nature of the casual market also
allows composers and sound designers with
break boundaries with their approach to
themes and genres. Since there is typically a
shorter chain of approvals in casual game
development, it’s easy to push though new
and interesting genres of music that have
never been heard in a game before.
Unexpected genres are commonplace in the
industry including music from the 50’s
golden age of TV, modern, abstract,
cartoony, early 80s, Star Trek, therimins,
whatever. The ability to break out of the
normalcy allows a game to find an audience
because it is unique and unusual.
Luxor: Amun Rising (MumboJumbo) uses a musical
score appropriate to the Egyptian theme of the
As with the other areas of game development, technology and size will inform and
sometimes limit the amount of things that are possible with audio. Many technologies and
middleware have specific constraints as to what is possible with music. See the technology
section of this white paper for additional notes on sound technologies.
2. Game Mechanics
The contributing factors of distribution, technology, and audience have shaped the current
casual content offering. It is for these reasons that the casual gaming industry does not
consist primarily of first-person shooters and tactical simulations. Instead, genres have
emerged that address the needs of the casual games market.
As mentioned in the introduction, casual games have been largely dominated by a
surprisingly small number of game play styles. Puzzle games make up the largest single
group, followed closely by a variety of simple arcade games, word games, and classic card
and board games. Within these larger genres, most casual games segment further into a
handful of specific types.
The following game mechanics are discussed in this section:
• Matching Games
• Finding Subsets I (Puzzle Games)
• Finding Subsets II (Word Games) 2006 Casual Games White Paper
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The following table illustrates the many areas where sound adds value to a game.
Use of Sound Description
and Narrative Context
Similar to a visual backdrop, music and sound effects can
add emotional and contextual elements to the game. Usually
this is done through music, but sometimes through sound
User Interface Typically these are just simple rollover, navigation, and click
feedback events that are in line with the overall theme of the
Game Interface These are similar to the UI but are in game event related.
This is a good place for some elements of randomization if
Sound effects usually accompany scoring and reward events,
as well as any negative feedback in the game.
Easter Eggs and
These elements help to engage users over the long term.
Surprises with the audio can be an inventive way to keep the
game fresh and new with content.
Music as a Gameplay
Occasionally the music itself is a gameplay element; this is
most obvious in a rhythm-action game, but also could mean
that at the end of a level the music branches to warn the
Largely due to size and budgetary constraints, the biggest challenge of audio is avoiding
repetition in gameplay. Randomization techniques and other adaptive strategies should be
used to increase replay ability.
The following table illustrates some examples of additional audio techniques used in casual
Random Music and
Music is usually broken into small two- to eight-bar chunks
that are placed end to end randomly or in some strategy
that fits the gameplay. These branches can be tied to
gameplay elements, when you move on to the second part in
a level branch to this music seamlessly.
Sound Effects (SFX)
SFX that either cycle through a playlist or randomly pick
from a list is sometimes used for game and UI events.
Split Track Music
Music can sometimes be broken down in a way that allows
the game to change one part while the other continues. For
instance having the rhythm split out from the melody might
allow you to save not only space but allow the parts to
change randomly for more variation in your game.
Real Time Tempo
Increasing the tempo during parts of the game might be an
effective way to increase emotional tension, and add
excitement to the game. 1.7 Using Sound and Interactive Audio to Enhance Gameplay
Sound can make a powerful addition and perceived added value among casual game
consumers. Audio can add emotional context for a player to excite and involve them in the
game. Because of the repetitive nature of casual game play as well as typically less
narrative content than a console title, audio is an area that allows developers to keep the
gameplay fresh and interesting as the game progresses. Audio is typically broken down into
• Sound Effects
Most games in the casual game space have at least some basic set of sound effects and