Game Development Reference
emotion tHRougH Beauty
A sunset over the ocean. A healthy, giggling baby. A masterpiece painting.
On the surface, these things have nothing in common. But all of them are
beautiful. Because beauty isn't in any particular feature of a thing—it is in
how something affects us. Something is beautiful when just perceiving it
Games are full of opportunities for beauty. A character can be ren-
dered in perfect detail and move with preternatural grace. A world can
be painted in just the right color composition. And beauty isn't limited to
video games either—think of the beauty of a well-made chess set, or the
painted illustrations on Magic cards.
But like spectacle, beauty isn't free, and not just because of the time
and artistic skill it requires. The emotions of beauty don't always it with
the rest of the game. Especially in game about ugly things—depression,
horror, or unease—beauty will clash with the rest of the aesthetic. And
beautiful art can add audiovisual noise that makes a game harder to un-
derstand and interact with.
As with spectacle, there is a tendency in modern game design to re-
flexively inject as much beauty into every situation as possible. But usually,
beauty works best when it is channeled toward a specific purpose, not
when it is thoughtlessly larded over everything.
emotion tHRougH enviRonment
Lightly wooded grassland feels different from steamy, claustrophobic
jungle, which feels different from arctic tundra. And these feelings shift
with time and season—winter feels different from summer, night differ-
ent from day, rain different from shine.
There's evidence that these responses are partly innate. Psychology re-
searchers have found that American children shown photographs of vari-
ous environments say they would prefer to live in savannas, even though
they've never been to one. These emotions may reflect an evolutionary
imperative to seek out places where a tribe can thrive: fertile, not too hot or
cold, not too open or overgrown. The perfect environment for prehistoric
humans is open grassland with patches of woods and running water. So
when we find a place like this, we feel satisfied and at ease. This emotional
reaction draws us into these places where we can reproduce best.
People also have acquired environmental preferences. We prefer the
landscape we grew up in. So, while American children like savannas,
American adults also like coniferous and deciduous forests, because those
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