Game Development Reference
In-Depth Information
The crazy method is dangerous and difficult. Game conventions
exist for a reason. In most cases, it's not a good idea to break them. At
the same time, there are experiences that can arise from unreasonable,
unfair threats and challenges that can't be had any other way. For example,
System Shock 2 is terrifying because it doesn't lie to the player. The game
is set in a massive, dead, monster-infested spacecraft. The fiction implies
that resources should be extremely limited, enemies numerous, and the
player shouldn't have much of a chance at survival. And all of this is the
case. The game is actually unfair. A sloppy, careless player will be whittled
down until death. There are no fail-safe mechanisms. In some sense, it
sounds like bad game design. But it's also wonderfully immersive, because
it means the mechanics mirror the fiction. The player feels starved and
trapped because he really is starved and trapped.
Decisions and Flow
The purpose of flow is to pull the player's mind into the game. When we're
not in flow, pieces of the real world constantly intrude on our conscious-
ness. We feel our fingers pushing a button. We hear the clock ticking, or
dogs barking outside. We pause to go to the bathroom, take a drink, or talk
to a friend. All this is experiential clutter. It constantly gets in the way of
the experience that the game is seeking to create.
But when we're in flow, the real world vanishes. Mind and game enter
into an unencumbered dance of action, reaction, decision, and outcome.
This means that flow is a foundation for good game experiences.
Problems that seem to arise in other areas of a design often come down to
nothing more than breaks in flow. Without flow, players feel and complain
about every annoyance. With flow, they'll accept strange fictions, chunky
graphics, or unclear interactions. The most important design mistakes are
the ones that break flow, because they weaken the link between the player's
mind and the game, interfering with every other part of the experience.
People talk about games as forms of escapism, and they are. But we
often assume that escapism is about fantasy that we want to escape our
boring life by pretending to be a sorcerer or a race car driver. But does
anyone want to be a short, fat Italian plumber, or a jumping cube of meat?
No yet Super Mario Bros. and Super Meat Boy still generate powerfully
escapist experiences. Because this form of escapism is about flow, not fic-
tion. And it's not driven by the fictional wrapping, but by the mechanics.
Earlier, we looked at how flow arises from a balance between abil-
ity and challenge. But that was the basic, simplified concept of flow. It's
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