Game Development Reference
one on the right. When asked why, they cited color or texture. But in re-
ality, the stockings were identical. They chose that particular stocking
because of how it was positioned, and rationalized why afterward. They
weren't lying intentionally, and they had no idea that they were rational-
izing. But they were.
This is why players almost always report game experiences by explain-
ing the causes of their feelings, not the feelings themselves. They'll say,
“I liked that it was fast,” or “It wasn't fun because the wizard staff was
boring.” The true parts of these statements are the raw emotions behind “I
liked it,” and “It wasn't fun.” But the players have automatically appended
reasons why they felt these things. The players don't have a direct line to
their emotional mechanisms, so they don't know why they felt what they
did. But they do have the human ability to instantly rationalize nearly any
behavior or opinion.
Emotional misattribution makes it hard to understand how games
A game presents a hundred different stimuli and decisions, and pro-
vokes a multilayered emotional response. But which parts of the game
triggered which emotion? There's no easy way to know.
Imagine playing a fighting game against a friend in a local tourna-
ment. It's the last round and you're neck and neck. Your foe dodges your
energy blasts as he advances toward you. Reaching striking distance, he
feints, hoping you'll block. You call his bluff and knock him out with a
devastating uppercut. It's obvious what you feel: a tapestry of exhilaration
and suspense, heart pounding, white knuckles on the controller, shouting
audience members, eyes widening, a rush of victory. But why? What, ex-
actly, caused each of those feelings? Was it the exotic fighting characters?
Cool-looking moves? Beautiful environmental art? Was it the the competi-
tion with your friend, changing your relationship with him? Was it the
threat of losing face in front of him? Or perhaps it was just the raw sensory
overload of incendiary light flashing on the screen. There was a fast techno
song playing in the background—did that make a difference? Was the
game's overwrought backstory a factor?
In fact, every aspect of that situation contributed something to the
emotions it produced. But as humans, we don't have a mental circuit that
tells us which cause led to which effect. It's just not something we can do.
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