Game Development Reference
of us automatically tune them out, or even laugh at them. To create genu-
ine horror and revulsion in a modern audience, it's no longer enough to
splash guts thoughtlessly about the screen. These things can scare people,
but to really horrify players, we must craft threats that disturb them on a
emotion tHRougH sexual signals
A game can show some bare skin, a pretty face, an alluring expression, and
people will notice because we're genetically programmed to pay attention
to these things. Since these sexual signals are so effective and easy to use,
game designers, advertisers, and filmmakers alike have ruthlessly abused
them. You can put a mostly naked, attractive character in a game, and
some players will respond. As with primal threats, it's easy.
But the use of cheap sexual signals has downsides. Gratuitous sexual-
ity harms the atmosphere and believability of a serious narrative, and it
irritates large classes of potential players (typically the ones not interested
in the signals presented). In a certain kind of game made for a certain au-
dience, this is fine. For more serious or broadly targeted games, it's often
not worth being tasteless.
The Fiction Layer
There are some games that are just mechanics and nothing more. Poker,
soccer, checkers, and video games such as Geometry Wars or Bejeweled are
examples of this. In checkers, the pieces are just that: pieces. They move
based on arbitrary rules that don't relate to anything outside themselves. A
soccer ball is just a ball, and an enemy in Geometr y Wars is just a piece of
data in computer memory, represented by an abstract shape on a screen.
These kinds of games can work very well. Pure game mechanics with
abstract representations can provoke tension, doubt, puzzlement, and
triumph. They can shift values between victory and defeat, poverty and
wealth, ignorance and knowledge.
But most real games don't limit themselves to the abstract. They use
graphics and sounds to help players make believe that the mechanics are
more than an artificial system of rules.
Mechanics gain another layer of emotional meaning when they are
wrapped in FICTION.
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