So, what I should be doing is analyzing the data I collected at Bodiam last year, but what I am actually doing is reading the some of the book that yesterdays’ discussion of the Bartle Test led me to. In particular I’ve been reading Nicole Lazzaro’s contribution to Beyond Game Design: Nine Steps Towards Creating Better Videogames, Understanding Emotions.
It got me on the first page, with a quote from the designer of some of my favourite games, Sid Meier: “Games are a series of interesting choices.” But Lazzaro expands on that truism and a way that I really like:
Games create engagement by how they shape attention and motivate action. To focus player attention, games simplify the world, enhance feedback, and suspend negative consequences – this maximises the effect of emotions coming from player choices. In the simplest terms, game mechanics engage the player by offering choices and providing feedback.
She goes on to separate User Experience (understanding how to play the game, manipulate thee controls etc) from Player Experience (having fun). Obviously the two go hand in hand, you can’t have fun if it isn’t easy to understand the controls, but by conflating the two designers might concentrate more on the “how to play” side and not enough on the emotional engagement. Emotions, she says, facilitate the player’s enjoyment; focus; decision-making; performance; and, learning. I wish I could think of a way to separate out visitor experience into two terms because I fear that cultural heritage interpretation can sometime focus on the the “how to visit” side (orientation, context setting etc) at the cost of making the visit emotionally engaging.
Then she discusses the challenge of measuring emotions, and draws on the work of Paul Ekman. She explains how his research identified just six emotions, which appear to have universal facial expressions (the expression of all the other emotions being culturally, and thus to a degree geographically specific): Anger; Fear; Surprise; Sadness; Happiness; and, Disgust. Handily, she says, these six emotions can frequently be recorded when watching players of video games. To those six, she adds another, which isn’t universal, but is relatively easily recognized, and again, very frequently seen on the faces of gamers: curiousity. I wonder how often, and in what circumstances, heritage sites provoke those seven emotions? Curiousity, I hope, is a given, but Anger? Fear? Disgust? (and I don’t just mean when faced with car parking or admission charges).
Of course she also mentions flow pointing out it is more of a state of being than an emotion. What’s really interesting though is that she observed “several aspects of player behaviour not predicted by Csikszentmihalyi’s model for flow.”
Truly absorbing gameplay requires more than a balance of difficulty and skill. Players leave games for other reasons than over-exertion or lack of challenge. In players’ favorite games. The degree of difficulty rises and falls, power-ups and bonuses make challenges more interesting, and the opportunity for strategy increases engagement. The progression of challenges to beat a boss monster and the drop of challenge at the start of the next level help keep players engaged.
Of course, one might argue that she’s taking Csikszentmihalyi balence of skill and difficulty too literally here. That anyone reading Csikszentmihalyi’s account of a rock-climber in flow, for example, will see similar fluctuations of challenge in the real world. But she does on:
Intense gameplay may produce frustration when the level of challenge is too high, but it can also produce different kids of emotions, such as curiosity or wonder. Futhermore, play can also emerge from decisions wholly unrelated to the game goal.
Additionally players spend a lot of time engaged in other activities, such as waving a Wiimote, wiggle their character or create a silly avatar, that require no difficulty to complete. Players respond to various things that characterize great gameplay for them, such as reward cycles, the feeling of winning, pacing, emotions from competition and cooperation.
She and her team at XEODesign researched the moments that players most enjoyed, and recorded the emotions that were expressed, and thus identified four distinct ways that people appear to play games, each of which was associated with a different set of emotions. This doesn’t mean there were four types of players, rather that people “seemed to rotate between three or four different types of choices in the games they enjoyed, and the best selling games tended to support at least three out of these four play styles… Likewise, blockbuster games containing the four play styles outsold competing similar titles that imitated only one kind of fun.”
What players liked the most about videogames can be summarized as follows:
- The opportunity for challenge and mastery
- The inspiration of imagination and fooling around
- A ticket to relaxation and getting smarter (the means to change oneself)
- An excuse to hang out with friends
Now surely cultural heritage sites offer at least three of those four?
Lazarro argues that “each play style is a collection of mechanics that unlocks a different set of player emotions.” And lists them thus:
The emotion that the team observed here was fiero, an italian word borrowed by Eckman because decribes the personal feeling of triumph over adversity, an emotion for which there is no word in English. And the game mechanics that unlock that emotion (and possibly on the way, the emotions of frustration and boredom too) are: goals; challenge; obstacles; strategy; power ups; puzzles; score and points; bonuses; levels; and, monsters.
Curiosity is the main emotion evident in the Easy Fun style of play, though surprise, wonder and awe were observed too. The game mechanics that define this style of play are: roleplay; exploration; experimentation; fooling around; having fun with the controls; iconic situations; ambiguity; detail; fantasy; uniqueness; “Easter Eggs”; tricks; story; and, novelty.
What is the most common emotion observed with Serious Fun mechanics? Relaxation! The game mechanics that take players to that state are: rhythm; repetition; collection; completion; matching; stimulation; bright visuals; music; learning; simulation; working out; study; and real-world value. It’s this last mechanic that explains why its called “serious” fun. People playing in this mode also seem more ready to attach a value to their participation in the game outside the game itself – brain-training, physical exercise, developing skills or even a conscious effort to kill time (think of those people playing Candy Crush on the train).
Happiness comes with People Fun, Lazzaro’s team observed “amusement, schadenfreude (pleasure in other people’s misfortune) and naches (pleasure in the achievements of someone you have helped)” among players in this mode. Among the he long list of game mechanics that get people there are: cooperation; competition; communication; mentoring; leading; performing; characters; personalisation; open expression; jokes; secret meanings; nurturing; endorsements; chat; and gifting.
There’s a lot to think about here, but I’m excited by the possibilities. Here’s a challenge for cultural heritage interpretation. How many of these game mechanics are there already equivalents of in the visitor experience at heritage sites. And can we see value in creating equivalents for the mechanics that are missing?