Game Development Reference
In-Depth Information
Metaphors can imitate game clichés and conventions.
Every experienced game player knows that food instantly heals gun-
shot wounds, golden armor is stronger than steel armor, and it's safe to
approach lava as long as you don't touch it. These conventions don't make
sense, but they have been established and reinforced by generations of
games. Such nonsensical conventions are useful for communicating sys-
tems that have no clear real-life or cultural counterpart.
We can also borrow conventions from UI or film. For example, every-
one knows that a small X button in the top corner of a window will close
it, because most operating systems work this way. And when the game's
screen slowly fades to black, we know that the scene is over, and we're
about to start something new.
The trouble with these clichés is that they're indecipherable to anyone
without the right cultural priming. Game clichés are especially dangerous
this way. For example, I once watched a player get stuck in one room in
the original Legend of Zelda . He ran round and round, looking for an exit.
It was so painful that I eventually stepped in to tell him that he could
use bombs to blow open cracked walls. If I hadn't been there, he might
have just given up and walked away because of that one unclear metaphor.
Because nothing about a crack in a wall necessarily means a bomb will
open it—it's an arbitrary convention.
Metaphors can imitate logical systems.
Metaphor need not limit itself to physical objects or cultural symbols.
We can also imitate abstract systems and relationships, if people under-
stand them.
For example, systems like Newtonian physics, electricity, and fire are
common in games. But this isn't because these systems are somehow supe-
rior to anything else we could design. We could easily make a game where
gravity repels instead of attracts, or physics works through five twisted
dimensions. And we might unlock interesting new kinds of play by doing
that. But such games would be extremely hard to understand. Real physics
is a very complex system, but everyone already knows it. Imitating it is an
elegant way of creating a powerful systemic foundation for a game with
almost no learning burden.
 
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