Game Development Reference
the details. A photograph demands less imagination than a novel, but also
leaves less room to imagine.
Showing and telling players less creates more room for apophenia to fill
in the gaps.
More detailed graphics and higher-quality sound add something to a
game, but they also take something away. The more detailed the graphics,
sound, and dialogue of a game, the less space there is for interpretation.
The more abstract, nonspecific, and minimalistic the representation, the
more apophenia becomes possible. So sometimes it's worth deliberately
communicating less so that the player can interpret more.
The most extreme example of this is Dwarf Fortress . In this game,
there are no graphics. Dwarves, goblins, grass, rock, and hundreds of
other kinds of objects are represented by ASCII characters. When most
people look at ,, ☺☺ ~~~~ , they see gibberish. A Dwarf Fortress player sees
a dwarven husband and wife sitting in the grass by a river, sharing a moment.
But it's not necessary to push quite this far for apophenia to work. Any
gap in representation creates a space for the player's mind to fill. For ex-
ample, the loving general in Medieval could never exist if the game showed
a video of him interacting with his wife. His attitude toward his family in
the video would wipe any interpreted personality from the player's mind.
Similarly, the last two soldiers of the dead squad in Close Combat could
not develop a warriors' bond if the player could zoom in on them and
watch them play generic idling animations, oblivious to each other, as the
enemy bore down on them. An image in the eye overrides an image in the
The purest example of minimalism-driven apophenia is the toy Rory's
Story Cubes. The Story Cubes are nine dice covered with cartoon pictures
of sheep, lightning bolts, and other random images. Players roll the dice,
look at the pictures, and make up a story that links them together. At
first, it sounds absurd to try to link together pictures of a turtle, a speech
bubble, and a tree. But it's actually quite easy, especially for creative people
with weak associative barriers (like children, the toy's main target market).
The need for abstraction is why player-spun stories most often emerge
from strategy games, building games, economics sims, and pen and paper
RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons . These genres usually represent game
elements at a distance, with statistics and symbols. Close-in genres like
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