Game Development Reference
In a 1962 experiment, researchers gave subjects injections of a mys-
tery drug. The drug was actually adrenaline, which causes sweaty palms,
increased heart rate, and rapid breathing. These subjects were put in a
room with another subject who had also apparently received the injec-
tion. What they weren't told was that the other subject was an actor. In
some trials, the actor acted euphoric. In others, he acted angry. In all cases,
the experimental subjects reported experiencing the same feelings as the
actor was faking. In truth, all they felt was chemically induced arousal.
But the social cues from the actor caused them to relabel this state as fear,
anger, or euphoria. If subjects were told what the injection was, they re-
ported no emotional state because they had labeled their body's reaction as
a meaningless response to the chemical.
The two-factor theory illuminates a lot of emotional paradoxes. We
cry from both grief and happiness. Nightclubs create sexual attraction by
getting the heart rate up with loud music and dancing. Horror movies are
popular with couples. Dirty jokes work by using offensive or disturbing
ideas to create an emotional response, then relabeling the response as
comedic delight. We even have make-up sex, transmuting anger into lust.
In every case, we're misattributing arousal to something besides its real
cause. And this misattribution turns out to be the key to immersion.
To create an experience that mirrors that of a character, we construct
it out of three parts. First, we create flow to strip the real world out of
the player's mind. Second, we create an arousal state using threats and
challenges in the game mechanics. Finally, we use the fiction layer to
label the player's arousal to match the character's feelings.
Let's break this down.
The first ingredient is flow. The role of flow is to get the real world off
the player's mind so that he can sink into the game. It's created mostly in
the game mechanics, when the challenge is perfectly balanced against
the player's skill level. It is a prerequisite for immersion; without flow,
stray thoughts of bills or homework constantly intrude on the experience,
destroying any chance that it might mirror that of the character.
The second ingredient is raw arousal. We can invoke pure, unlabeled
arousal with nothing but game mechanics. For example, Pong , Geometry
Wars , and checkers can be arousing when play is hard and fast, decisions
are tough, and the stakes are high.
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