A successful game designer once told me, “Making games is like making soup. Everyone will make soup in their own way, but at the end of the day soup still has a recipe.” Having a structure for your design and ideas will give form to your creation and help your development pipeline immensely. In my case, I’m a fan of what I like to call the “Emotional Method”, a method which takes a look at the fundamentals hidden behind game design. With just a few key ideas, you too can learn and start applying the Emotional Method to your own game.
“Engagement”, not Fun
First off, you don’t want your game to be fun. Okay, that’s not entirely true. “Fun” is really hard to qualify. Different people have different opinions on what is fun or not, but normally “fun” has a connotation of a lighthearted and carefree experience. Consumers are not necessarily motivated by fun though. For example, some people love tearjerkers, war dramas, and horror films. The emotions associated with those types of film are generally not “fun”, but rather, “engaging”.
The end goal is to have the consumer be emotionally engaged with your game, that is to have them find investment and emotional stimulation. Once you stop considering your game as having to be “fun”, you can open up a whole new world of opportunities and possibilities. You can still make a good game even if it isn’t necessarily “fun”.
Cause and Emotional Effect
Every decision you make while building your game will have an effect on the consumer as they are playing it. As such, you must carefully consider the effect of specific mechanics and gameplay elements and tailor them to your game properly. The end result of playing a game will be a modified state of emotion within the consumer.
If you are making a survival horror game, you want to make sure to implement mechanics and content will make the consumer feel fear, for instance. Your game does not have to rely on a specific emotion throughout the entirety of the game, but make sure that each part of the game is consistent with the emotion you want to evoke. Unpolished gameplay, bugs, or lousy writing can make consumers feel frustrated or bored, which generally should be the last emotion you want to draw out of your consumers.
Critical Analysis is Key
In order to make sure that your game is achieving the emotional engagement you want it to, ask yourself this while playing your game, “Is how I feel now what I want my consumer to feel?”. As a designer, your emotions towards your own game will be different than that of a consumer’s, but if you are bored or uninterested, don’t be quick to write it off and assume that the consumer will have more fun than you. Instead, consider, “Why do I not feel the way I intend my consumer to feel? How does each individual mechanic make me feel? What can I change about the game to achieve that feeling?”. Take your time and analyze your game in small parts, making adjustments as you go to achieve the correct emotional state.
Don’t get too attached to certain features or ideas either. Many designers will often fall in love with having a specific feature be shoehorned into their game, but if upon playtesting you realize it is at odds with the emotional engagement you want to achieve, something will have to be changed. As a designer there are certain things you can’t force, and the game will take its own course. Sometimes you need to let the game decide how it wants to be made instead of yourself deciding that.
The Emotional Method is not a hard and fast guide of “do’s and don’ts”, but rather a flexible framework. At the end of the day, it is a tool which can help you find errors in your game, and also help you figure out the correct way with which to proceed. As a designer your judgement will be needed, but utilizing the Emotional Method will help you pick up on things most other designs miss out on, and will give your game the edge it needs to survive in today’s market.
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