Game Development Reference
And music is wonderfully subtle—even more than most emotional
triggers. Nobody ever gives it the credit it deserves because nobody con-
sciously pays attention to it during play. But even though the conscious
mind is oblivious, the unconscious is still processing the music into a
continuous flow of feeling. You can tell because music is easily separable
from the rest of the experience. Listen to a game soundtrack by itself, and
you'll feel much of what you felt during play. Play the game in silence, and
you'll be surprised at how hollow it feels.
Nonmusical sounds also create emotion. Screeching metal shoots us
full of tension and discomfort. A heartbeat accentuates anticipation. Rain
sounds serene. Party whistles are goofy. Squishing fluid suggests disgust.
Laying these sounds over other events can accentuate or contrast an emo-
tion. But be careful—when overused, such tricks can easily tip into cheesi-
ness and end up having the opposite effect.
emotion tHRougH sPeCtaCle
A Star Destroyer crashes into the Death Star! A super-soldier does a slow-
motion dive to dodge an incoming rocket! A tanker truck jackknifes, splits
in two, and explodes!
Razzle-dazzle spectacle can bring a quick emotional rise. Unfortunately,
the payoff is shallow and unsustainable. Though these effects are expen-
sive to produce, they're also creatively easy. Other emotional mechanisms
like character arcs, socializing, and learning require that we construct
interrelated networks of mechanics or characters. Spectacle only requires
that something big blow up. As a result, spectacle is often overused by
studios long on money and short on creative vigor. In the worst cases, it
is used so gratuitously that it crowds out the subtler but more profound
sources of emotion.
Spectacle works when it reinforces what's already there. When the
player has fought through a thicket of fast-moving threats and reached
his goal with knuckles white on the controller, it's probably appropriate
that something blow up nice and good. That spectacle works because it
accentuates the player's preexisting sense of relief and accomplishment at
winning the battle. The same explosion dispensed again and again outside
the context of any challenge leaves players numb.
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