Game Development Reference
The last ingredient is fiction. Without fiction, the arousal generated
by the mechanics is labeled as a generalized kind of excitement, like what
you feel when playing Geometr y Wars . But with fiction, we can relabel the
raw arousal state however we like. For example, arousal might be relabeled
as terror in a horror game full of scary zombies. Or it might become gritty
determination in a military game. Even if the game mechanics creating
those experiences are very similar, the cognitive label suggested by the
fiction changes how players perceive their experience.
With that delicate mix in place, the experience transcends simple
engagement and transports the player into another time and place.
The mechanics-driven experience of flow peels away the player's self-
consciousness, erases his awareness of the real world, and creates a basic
state of physiological arousal. The fictional experience draws his identity
into a character in a make-believe world. The player sees and hears what
the character sees and hears, and feels what the character feels. The player
is the character.
For example, one of the most popular early immersive games was
Doom . The game has very well-crafted action game mechanics. During an
intense fight, the player tenses up, his palms sweat, his mind forgets the
outside world. By themselves, these things aren't exceptional. They would
happen even if the game had no fiction at all— Geometry Wars players
show these same symptoms.
But in Doom , the player sees through the eyes of a space marine
trapped in a demon-infested colony on a Martian moon. The moaning
zombies and bloodstained world signal the player's mind that the arousal
he is feeling isn't just excitement—it's fear. And that changes everything.
The fact that the marine is aroused because demons are trying to kill
him, and the player is aroused because of Doom is well-designed combat,
doesn't matter. In the two-factor theory of emotion, one source of arousal
is interchangeable with another.
Now Doom isn't just about exciting shooting. It's about the experience
of being a space marine fighting zombies in a Martian base, because the
player's experience mirrors that of the character. Fictionally, the marine is
terrified since he is fighting for his life. In real life, the player feels aroused
because of Doom 's fast action mechanics, and labels that arousal as terror
because of the fiction. Those separate experiences merge into one in the
player's mind. The player and the marine see, hear, and feel the same, so
the player feels he is the marine, and the game is immersive.
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