Game Development Reference
fiCtion veRsus meCHaniCs
Fiction and mechanics each create different kinds of emotions.
Mechanics can generate tension, relief, triumph, and loss. They can bring
the pleasure of learning or the pride of solving a puzzle. They can create
social rewards by allowing us to defeat strangers or make friends. But
mechanics alone are also limited in their emotional range. It's hard to do
humor, awe, or immersion with mechanics alone. And without charac-
ters, the entire emotional spectrum that flows through empathy is almost
The fiction layer creates emotion through character, plot, and world.
We laugh and cry as characters frolic or struggle, and feel shocked or fas-
cinated while exploring a fictional universe. But like mechanics, fiction
alone is limited in its range. It can't do competition, triumph, and loss.
And it can't give us the pleasure of mastering a skill, or create social inter-
actions with real people.
Combining fiction and mechanics together allows us to combine emo-
tions from both sides. But there's a catch.
Fiction and mechanics can easily interfere with each other.
Games narratives are laden with clichés. The player character is an
amnesiac. Or he's a super-soldier capable of murdering thousands of
foes. Enemies are monsters or evil soldiers, and they feel neither fear nor
remorse. Princesses are captured over and over like it's going out of style.
A barrel will explode if struck. And nobody ever goes to the bathroom.
One of the worst clichés is the crate. It seems like every game you
see, whether it's a modern military shooter or a fantasy role-playing game,
takes place in a world scattered with pointless crates. The problem is so
bad that back in 2000, the humor site Old Man Murray created a game
review score system measured in Start to Crate (StC), the idea being that
the longer it took a game to show you a crate, the less lazy the developers
had been in avoiding cliché, and the better the game probably was. Of 26
games tested, only five had StC times of more than 10 seconds. A full 10
games managed StC times of zero seconds by starting the player with a
crate in view.
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