Game Development Reference
ground landing. The events were Mario jumping, missing, hitting the
lava, bursting into flames, flying into the air, screaming, and maneuvering
back to safety. The mechanics behind these events were the jump button,
gravity, physical collision, the explosive-butt lava reaction, and my ability
to control Mario's motion in midair.
The disc of Super Mario Galaxy does not contain any of the events
described here — it only contains the mechanics. The events emerged
from the interaction between my play and the game mechanics. And those
events will never play out exactly that way ever again.
Game designers don't design events. We design systems of mechanics
that generate events. This layer of indirection is the fundamental differ-
ence between games and most other media. It is our greatest opportunity
and our toughest challenge. It is also the key reason why modes of thought
borrowed from other media break down so often in games.
The Primacy of Emotion
To be meaningful, an event must provoke emotion.
A game can't just generate any old string of events, because most events
aren't worth caring about. For a game to hold attention, those events must
provoke blood-pumping human emotion. When the generated events pro-
voke pride, hilarity, awe, or terror, the game works.
The valuable emotions of play can be very subtle. Usually, they're subtle
enough that players don't consciously detect them.
Games must provoke emotion, but this doesn't mean that every game
must make players laugh madly, scream with rage, or break down and cry.
In everyday speech, people often use the word emotion to refer only to the
most extreme forms of passion, like visible rage or grief. But most emotion
is much subtler and more pervasive than this.
For example, as you sit and read this topic, you may think you're not
feeling anything. But you're actually experiencing a barrage of tiny pulses
of emotion. Anything can cause them — a stray thought of lost love, a goofy
word on a page (snartlebarf!), or a scowl on the face of a stranger walking
by. These feelings only last a moment, and they're usually below the level
of conscious awareness. But they're always there, rising and falling in re-
sponse to every stimulus and thought.
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