Analysis of other games and how they promote character player empathy.
The beginners guide: the beginners guide is a walking simulator style game in which a silent protagonist is guided through a series of different games by a narrator. The narrator is telling players the story of the individual who made the games: Coda. Players care about Coda gradually. Initially he is presented as a bit unkind and introverted based on how frustrating and unrewarding his games are. Players begin identifying with him and the narrator when it is revealed Coda has depression as well as watching him grow and evolve via the games he has made and his understanding of people. Watching his obsessions and highs and lows invited players to see him for who he is, and to urge him on to success. His loneliness with the notes and the chat systems triggers players to then have sympathy for him, everyone has felt lonely once in their life. Narrator to player is the primary source of context and exposition as well as detailing Codas character arc. However the game hit an emotional peak with the big reversal at the end where players realise in fact the story is the narrator’s story, not the game developers. That the narrator is the one hurting and depressed, the one that is flawed and needs to change. We discover his flaw with him. Discovering the person’s flaw and a snapshot of their life, thoughts and feelings is the primary method of developing the player-character bond in this game. The unflinching look at the two main characters of this game resonates with people because it displays flaws we all possess: envy, selfishness, relying on others for self validation, triumph of success, loneliness and more.
One of the most successful genres of games to evoke deep responses from people are walking simulators. Often these are silent protagonists, with no face and no context. Pure ambiguity for players to put their stamp on, and yet these are some of the most thought provoking and emotionally impactful games. For those who give themselves to the experience, anyway. For many players there isn’t enough action (mechanics, not necessarily fighting) to keep them immersed, engaged and motivated to play.
During everybody’s gone to the rapture and that dragon cancer players inhabit a character. The perspective is first person, but they know who they are role playing as. These characters have emotions and challenges that players are experiencing simultaneously as the character. The player is the character, and has the context to know that character. These characters have their own personalities , beliefs and flaws. This is the traditional model of player character bonds. By making the characters believable and well designed practitioners of the arts have been able to create bonds between players and characters for decades.
The players not only identify the characters feelings but feel concern for them as they play the game together. The beginners guide however has the player playing as an empty vessel. The person you inhabit in the game is a shell, and all of the identification and concern is for an character who isn’t in the game at all, then later for the narrator themselves. The player feels what the narrator feels.
Brothers: a tale of two sons. Within moments of the game starting it introduces us to the youngest brother, showing his guilt and sadness after watching their mother die. It then goes on to get the brothers to take their father to a medicine man in order to heal him, at which point he also dies. This moment is drawing emotions because it is an event most people can relate to, and there is the added layer of emotion because the characters are children. Children trigger the innate parental concern in players. The mechanics of the game are all about the brothers working together to progress, encouraging players to identify for and with both characters simultaneously.
Now i have a comparison point between my own game and other games, i can see the techniques for creating player-player character bonds in action. I will use these comparisons to design my own game.
The more I analyse these games the more I find I can’t follow the model of two types of empathy cognitive: I am that character/identification of emotion, and emotional: I feel for that character/feel the emotion with the character. All of my research seems to be utterly counterintuitive to the game design I am witnessing, so it seems the only thing to do is strip it back to basics. Ignore the types of empathy entirely, and focus on player-character empathy in a more direct way. The way game designers, artists and writers have been for decades. From my observations I am certain that in order to elicit empathy first the player must identify with the character and their emotions, then there must be design to create concern for that character. Without identification of the character and their feelings how could an individual possibly become concerned and then reciprocate and mirror the emotions of the first individual? The identification seems to come from the character having a name, a humanoid shape, from the appearance of the character conveying the characters personality and feelings. This can be a physical display or an ambiguous one.
The concern is what propels players into sharing the characters emotions. By using cues and triggers to spark specific emotions in the character, the player will experience those emotions vicariously through the character or they will experience the emotion as if it were their own. That concern seems to be gained through:
- A believable and accessible backstory that harbours wounds(ghosts) that reveal why a character has the wound or flaw that they do. The flaw will be addressed throughout the course of the narrative.
- Actions, the characters actions and responses to a situation tell players what kind of person the character is as well as how they are feeling.
- Paul Ekman’s 9 triggers of emotion will help me fully understand how to trigger emotions, and indicate what design choices i can make in order to do so.
- Donald Norman’s visceral positive and negative conditions.
I then will use that concern to evoke sadness by using narrative design, mechanics, level design to iterate the game I currently have as explained in previous posts.