XEODesign, “Why We Play Games: Four Keys to More Emotion Without Story” and “Why We Play Games Together: The People Factor”

Why We Play Games

This piece opens with a statement: “To create more emotion in innovative future games, we at XEODesign want to know more about the role of emotion in games and identify ways to create emotion other than story cut-scenes” (p. 1). The authors follow this statement with a series of thought-provoking questions:

[H]ow many emotions do games create? What makes failing 80% of the time fun? Do people play to feel emotions as well as challenge? If emotions are important to play, where do they come from? Do people modify games to feel differently? Is it possible to build emotions into games by adding emotion-producing objects or actions to game play rather than cut scenes? To what extent are game developers already doing this?

Their answers to these questions are a systematic exploration, and so in a certain sense thorough, though they also (perhaps in or because of the intervening years since this articles publishing) seem like just a start.

“Why We Play”’s discussion of things like “flow” and “fiero” reminded me of Jane McGonigal’s book, Reality Is Broken, which explores a number of the issues XEODesign explores in this article at great length.

Why We Play Games Together: The People Factor

XEODesign’s consideration of the in-the-room, observational, turn-taking social aspect of gaming struck me as particularly exciting. They advise designers to

[m]ake sure the game is fun to watch so those not playing have something to do. The game will be more likely to be shared if experienced players see new things in the game when a buddy takes over the controls. Support casual play experiences for the beginning game. Make it easy to start and spectacular enough to inspire commentary. (p. 1)

The authors also advise “[offering] a range of items and features that have a different emotion attached to them” (p. 1). They further explain this notion with one of the more fascinating formulations and phrasings I’ve come across in reading about games: “Not just a bigger gun, but also one that lets players say something about themselves and about their target” (p. 1)

Sharp, “Affective aspects”

In this chapter of Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interaction, Sharp, in short, “describes various interaction mechanisms that can be used to elicit positive emotional responses in users and ways of avoiding negative ones” (p. 214). He opens his discussion by defining the notion of “affective aspects,” including a thumbnail sketch of the history of human-computer interactions and emotional response, noting that, rather than exploring ways to get a computer system “to show an emotion to a user,” this chapter will “consider how interactive systems can be designed to provoke an emotion within the user” (p. 182).

Much of Sharp’s exploration of this topic is pretty straight-forward–so much so that, to be honest, I found a fair amount of it pretty obvious (and maybe a little cranky and catty, too). I did, however, find Sharp’s consideration of the controversial debate around anthropomorphism in interaction design–which I didn’t realize existed–to be thought-provoking. I’m curious enough to start keeping an eye out for how human or non-human any device/program/etc. is “acting.” I also found helpful the brief listing of the kinds of negative responses that poor interface design can elicit in a user: “mak[ing] people look stupid, feel insulted or threatened” (p. 189).