Playing With Emotions: It’s Never “Just” a Game

Posted by on Aug 23, 2013 in Active Design, Featured, Featured Articles, Newsletter, Video Games

Robot Dog-334It was only a few years after I’d started in the game industry that I made something that was almost entirely *not* a game. It was called Dogz, and it was something different: a virtual pet that lived on your desktop and that you could train. It grew a pixel a day, it ran away if you didn’t feed it, and it had an artificial brain that could learn some tricks (and forget others) if you gave it treats.

It looked like a game: there were buttons, and toys, and things to do with it, but that wasn’t the *point*. It was about emotions and connection. That’s what turned players into fans. The engineers all hated it because they couldn’t ignore the smoke and mirrors. They just figured out how many pieces of content it contained, and complained that it didn’t have enough animations.

Meanwhile, sick children wrote us to tell us that it had become the pet they couldn’t have in the real world, and mothers wrote to tell us that there were tears in their eyes when they watched their children play with it.

Who do you think was right?

Entertainment is about creating a lasting impression. It should leave us feeling like we’ve done more than just completed a checklist. It should be time well spent, with our needs met, and our spirit nourished, if only a little bit.

If you’re creating interactive media of any kind you’re going to be adding in game-like elements. Play begins with the inputs and outputs that you’ve implemented. But the *goal* is to go beyond the interactions that you *choose* to give them. What captures the user’s attention is a framework that allows them to stretch their entire mind. Video isn’t interactive, but it can be captivating. Quests, level ups, and a hundred other ways we’ve created to reward our audience for continuing to play (and for doing it “right”) are conceptual. They aren’t actually gameplay, but they’re an important part of the experience.

As more and more of the world becomes overlaid with data and interface, the actual mechanics are only part of the equation for making successful interactive experiences. Adding rewards to everyday interactions is only part of the solution for making great software. But it’s an important part.

Choosing to use (or not use) the full range of tools offered by interactive entertainment opens the door to new emotions beyond those of frustration, completion, and satisfaction. It creates opportunities to connect with your audience in deeper, and more lasting ways.

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