Game Development Reference
In-Depth Information
be very limited: the player character is trapped in a zombie-filled castle or
an alien-infested spaceship. In such a place, one would expect to go long
periods without finding a first-aid kit or ammunition. The fiction is claim-
ing that it is going to starve the player. It threatens the player with unfair,
arbitrary death to make him feel afraid.
But is the game really as unfair as the fiction suggests? Usually not.
And the player's unconscious knows it. The player knows that there will
never be an extremely long gap during which he won't find any resources,
because that would break convention and feel unfair. He knows the game
won't do something so mean because it was created for his entertainment.
This metagame information twists his mental process of thinking
about resource management. Now, instead of thinking in the terms de-
fined by the game fiction, he's thinking about designer habits and genre
conventions. He can guess when the next resource will appear because
he knows what's fair, and he knows the game will play fair because it is a
game. This reduces tension and weakens immersion.
Metagame information problems are hard to see because their effects
are mostly internal. Like most information glut problems, they don't break
the game entirely they weaken it by distorting players' internal thought
processes.
Different players have different metagame information. A game jour-
nalist has a massive vault of metagame information. A young child has
much less. Most players are somewhere in between. But even the most
naïve player will still know quite a bit. He knows that the game is played
with a certain interface, on a certain type of machine. It is confined to a
television screen or a game board. It was made by people from a certain
culture, who designed for the purposes of entertainment.
There are two basic ways to handle metagame information. One is
standard. The other is a little bit crazy.
The standard solution is to accept that it's there and design systems
that still create the desired experience even given metagame information.
This means not trying to make the player be afraid of something he knows
can't happen, or hope for something he knows is impossible. Threaten the
player with justifiable, fair, gamelike threats. Give him explicitly balanced,
attainable goals. Flex the fiction to work within the player's metagame
information. Treat it as one more design constraint.
The crazy method is to call his bluff. Show the player that you're not a
normal designer; that the rules don't apply to you. Be unfair. Be arbitrary.
Break established technical limits.
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