Game Development Reference
Events in a game produce these small emotions. A minor setback cre-
ates a pulse of frustration, and makes you grit your teeth for an instant.
A moment of indecision worries you, and your breath catches. Another
player acknowledges you, so you feel a faint glow of acceptance.
These tiny feelings are painted with a very fine brush. It's not enough
to say you're happy or sad or bored today. Those words describe giant shifts
in the most obvious feelings. The tiny emotions — the ones that make up
the tapestry of play — change constantly, every second. This is doubly true
when playing a good game.
Imagine playing chess against a stranger. It's your turn, and you're
losing. You don't see a good move, so you feel stress and mental strain . As
you study the board, the tension mounts. Then, you see your opening: if
you jump your knight backward, you can cover your king and threaten his
at the same time! Silent relief floods in followed by a sense of accomplishment
for solving the puzzle. You make the move, and your opponent grimaces as
he realizes what you did. Seeing this, you feel a sense of dominance . Your
opponent starts thinking. As you're enjoying your satisfied glow , you notice
a weakness in your position. If he throws his bishop across the board, he
can guarantee a capture on your knight. But it's not an obvious move. Will
he see it? Your satisfaction transforms into suspense . Time stretches out
as you try to hold your poker face. Finally, your opponent moves a pawn.
Relief floods over you again, with even greater intensity than before, as you
realize that you've got this one in the bag.
From the outside, this game doesn't look like much. Two people sat at
a table, made strained facial expressions, and quietly moved plastic pieces
across a board. Even the players didn't consciously sense everything they
were feeling. But they were experiencing the roller-coaster emotions of
competitive chess all the same. And they will come back to get that shift-
ing cocktail of emotions again and again.
Detecting and understanding subtle emotions is a designer skill.
It's hard to sense such subtle feelings. It takes effort and practice. Can
you pinpoint the exact second when you first feel bored with a game? Can
you feel your involuntary smile at a joke you assumed wasn't funny? Most
people can afford to ignore such feelings, but that's not good enough for a
game designer. Just as a skilled chef can deconstruct a complex dish into
individual flavors and a musician can pick out chords, time signatures,
and rhythms from an orchestral composition, a game designer must be
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