Game Development Reference
knuckle action of competitive Street Fighter II , the starving dread of System
Shock 2 , and the contemplative mourning of DEFCON are all emotionally
gripping—but none of them are fun.
Game mechanics interact to generate events, which in turn provoke emo-
tions in players. But how, exactly, do events create emotion? What is the
link between something happening in a game and that pulse of joy or
sorrow that appears in response?
Your unconscious mind constantly analyzes your situation. When certain
conditions are met, the unconscious triggers an emotional response.
For example, when you stand next to a cliff, a genetically encoded
instinct senses the situation and triggers a fear response. When you look
at a prospective mate, your unconscious mind analyzes everything about
that person, from physical features to reputation to their history with you,
and produces an appropriate feeling of attraction, neutrality, or disgust.
Each of these emotion-causing aspects of a situation is an emotional trigger .
An EMOTIONAL TRIGGER is some thing or observation that causes
We have countless different emotional triggers. Physical danger,
changes in relationship or social status, learning, strengthening, acquisi-
tion of possessions, signs of sexual opportunity, family and safety, and cer-
tain types of natural environments are the most obvious, but they're not
the only ones. Humans also respond to music, philosophical ideas, humor
and wit, and countless forms of art. Some of these triggers are fixed in our
genes. Others can be learned. Most involve complex interactions between
conditioning and human nature.
Emotional triggers can be extraordinarily complex. Consider, for ex-
ample, a detective's hunch. A hunch happens when the emotional uncon-
scious has solved the case and is desperately trying to signal its findings.
On the surface, the detective is struck with a feeling that something is
wrong, but he isn't sure why. Underneath that, his unconscious mind is
working through a maddeningly complex set of inferences and associa-
tions—so complex that his unconscious understands the case better than
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