Game Development Reference
A classic example of metaphor is computer folders. Computer hard
drives are organized into a hierarchy of data structures inside other data
structures. These structures could have been called anything—turtles,
cars, data lumps. But we call them folders because the word instantly
teaches us most of what we need to know about them. A computer folder
obviously isn't a piece of creased cardboard that fits into a filing cabinet.
But it has enough of a conceptual similarity to a real folder to make the
comparison useful, because it organizes information in a similar way.
In a sense, the entire fiction layer of a game is a giant metaphor. We
set up intricate sets of game mechanics that would be maddeningly dif-
ficult to learn from scratch. Imagine learning a complex video game if it
were represented only by abstract shapes. But then we wrap them in the
appearance of a growing city or an ancient war, and every relationship and
system becomes clear. The fiction layer serves many emotional purposes
in games, but its simplest and most basic reason for existence is to help
players understand the system through metaphor.
Metaphor works by leveraging our vast reserves of preexisting common
knowledge. This knowledge can come from many sources.
Metaphors can imitate real objects.
UI designers use folders and physical-looking tabs and buttons. We
can use cars, people, airplanes, books, backpacks—any object that is rec-
ognizable to players.
Metaphors can imitate cultural archetypes and conventions.
There is no natural law that says that men who wear pointy goatees
must be evil. But we all know that goatee-stroking masterminds are evil
because the goatee is an archetypical symbol of evil in our culture.
Culture is full of symbolic associations like this. In Western societies,
men with square jaws are strong and brave. Corporate overlords are rich,
megalomaniacal, and evil. Black means death, blue means cold, and pink
means female. All of these archetypes and conventions can be imitated
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