Do I want emotions or mechanics in my game? Why not both?

by Chris F

In the feedback for my dissertation proposal, one of the points which was raised was that I had not talked about the different approaches for the game that I had considered. That was mostly because I had not considered too many things, preferring, instead, to focus on my research. In this post, I will discuss the different types of mechanics/games that I have thought about since I got the feedback for my proposal.

Game Mechanics

One of the first things that I thought about was the type of game that I could make. Would this be a quiz game, will be a territorial acquisition game, or will it be something different? I wanted to start by looking at how I could integrate the main behaviour I want for my player into the game: adding data to OpenStreetMap.

First, I thought about wild things. I don’t want just another quiz game, I want something different for my players.

Could I make a racing game? Maybe something akin to AddressHunter, where players are given a certain number of tasks in their area, and the first one to complete all of them wins that race. This would be a competitive game, with players competing against each other.

What about a puzzle game? Maybe if I give players a puzzle, something like a riddle, or tell them that something has been hidden at a certain location, and that they would have to solve the puzzle using clues from different elements around them (they would get more hints based on the more data that they add to OSM), players would be compelled to do that. I’m envisioning this as a multiplayer coop or single player game, with players either going on their own to find clues or playing with friends.

These were nice, until…

It was at around this point when I attended the first lecture on emotions in games with my tutor, Dave Pimm. A very interesting point to make, he said that all great games had emotions attached to them. He talked us through how the great writers worked with emotions and what some of their techniques were. Especially, he showed us some ways in which we could create emotions in our players in order to make our games better. A good game, he said, is one where you start designing with emotions in mind. With a compelling story. Not necessarily mechanics. Mechanics should be derived from the emotions, not the other way around. That, incidentally, is something that we briefly looked at during our first year of university, while we were studying the Mechanics, Dynamics and Aesthetics(MDA) framework of Robin Hunike and associates. According to the MDA, while a player comes in contact with the game from a Mechanics->Dynamics->Aesthetics perspective, when you design a game, the designer needs to see it first from an aesthetics(emotions) point of view and then work towards the dynamics and mechanics.

Sorry, David Cage. I had to.

Sorry, David Cage. I had to.

Since that talk, I’ve been playing around with the idea of an RPG. I thought of what setup would cause people to want to work together and add as much detail to a map as possible, while at the same time not encouraging competition, which, I believe, would lead to cheating more. It occurred to me that one of the premises which people might accept for needing to add lots and lots of detail onto a map would be that the map didn’t exist in he first place due to a disaster that happened and that changed the world. Now, people would have to work together in order to remap this new, emerging world, in order to help themselves and help other as well.

But why the RPG, you ask? All the previous examples that I gave allowed for very segmented play. People would log in, play a mission and then go home. What I loved about Ingress was its neverending-ness. I always had something to do, if I wanted to do it. I could always strive to go to another part of town or another town to capture more portals and make more fields. An RPG would allow me to add elements like level progression and quests on top of a literal open world that the players could explore. Moreover, by creating a role-playing game, it’s possible to allow the players to select their own characters and interact in the “magic circle”, that place where the make-believe is the strongest. Since the choice of what data a player could add to OSM is absolutely huge, I played around with the idea of specialized classes which would be seen as “experts” and get some extra points for adding certain elements. For example, there could be an Engineer, who would have roads, waterways and bridges as a specialty, while the Fashionist would get extra points for stores, clubs and fast-food restaurants. This could be taken even further, into adding extra points for specific details of establishments. I’m thinking that at the moment OSM is doing pretty well in Western Europe and the US, so there aren’t as many roads to add, for example, but at the same time there are still a lot of roads that need speed limits and the “lit” tag, as well as sidewalk information. We could create an Architect class who would get benefits for adding the number of level to each building and building entrances, or maybe add a perk to the Fashionist who would get more points if they also added the opening times for each store, as well as the phone number.

Those are all speculations, but seems like it could work. I’ve also thought of a system where the PoIs (points of interest) give perks and temporary boosts. I also thought of people creating farms of PoIs around their house to always keep themselves in top shape by adding fake points of interest. I’ve seen people create farms of high-level portals in Ingress, so I believe people could do that here as well. However, what if a PoI could have levels? The more people use the PoI, the higher its level is, so if I create my own fake PoIs, they would only be low-level and not give me too much of a boost. This would work more or less as a self-regulation system.

This is about it. I like each of these ideas on their own, so I believe at the moment my next step is to actually create prototypes for each and test them to see what the public reaction would be.

Chris F.