Game Development Reference
A great video game example of early emotional life support is BioShock .
The game begins with a title card: “Mid-Atlantic, 1960.” The screen fades
to the first-person view of the player character sitting in an airplane seat.
After a few words, the screen goes black, and we hear a plane crash. Eyes
open up, and we're underwater. The hero struggles to the surface, gasp-
ing for breath, and ends up floating in the ocean, surrounded by burning
airplane parts. In the distance, he sees a ghostly lighthouse with an angel
statue on the top.
The game has hooked the player's interest. Who am I? How am I
going to get out of the water? What is that lighthouse doing in the mid-
Atlantic, and why the exotic decoration? And since this whole sequence
was noninteractive, it required no skill whatsoever.
Now the player gains control. But without items or weapons, the only
controls are looking and moving. And since there are no threats, the player
is free to take his time as he explores the scene. The game is demanding
skill, but very little.
He swims up to the lighthouse. Climbing a staircase out of the water,
he is confronted with an ornate set of copper doors. With nowhere else
to go, he enters. The doors slam shut, leaving the player in darkness. A
moment later, the lights snap on, and an old-time tune from the 1930s revs
up. The player finds himself inside a giant chamber constructed in the art
deco style. In front of him is a huge copper bust of a scowling man. Below
it hangs a blood-red banner. “No god or kings,” it reads, “Only man.”
The music, the art deco style, the plane crash, and the hints at a larger
philosophical idea flood the player with experience. And all the while, the
player is navigating the space, learning the basic movement controls. What
could have been a tortuous training sequence (“Press forward to walk!”)
becomes an unforgettable experience.
BioShock goes on like this. It presents one gripping artistic or narra-
tive experience after another, while quietly adding interactive complexity
in the background. Soon, the player gets a weapon. Then, he gets the first
of the game's spell-like plasmid powers. Later, he's introduced to more
weapons and plasmids, upgrades, audio logs, inventing, hacking, and
more. Within a few hours, the player is a pro, combining multiple tools to
solve complex puzzles and defeat fearsome enemies. And he learned it all
without noticing, because he was too busy experiencing the art and the
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