Emotionally Rich Games

My post on GameCity7 is currently under construction, but in the meantime thanks to some thoughts, conversations and tweets during and following the festival it got me thinking. One of thoughts thought paths was to do with my Dissertation in which I am trying to discuss portraying and evoking positive emotions through game play mechanics…quite a large thought so as a warning this is a long post.

Thanks to a link on Twitter I have just read through Ten Indie Games That Will Make You Feel Things by Adrian Chmielarz where he collects together the lesser known Indie titles that are emotionally driven. Now I have heard of a few of these, either through Uni course, museum exhibits or talks at GameCity, and I have just played the few one the list that I hadn’t heard of, nearly all of them were of a sombre or of a atmospheric nature. Now I wanted to talk about some of the games there, as I found that as I made my way through the list my brain kept reminding me of my dissertation and how difficult it’s getting trying to find examples of positive emotional gameplay. I have retyped this post a few times and each time I read it back it didn’t make sense until I started talking about the games on the list, so I have gone through the list in the same order here and presented my own observations.

To start with The Call of the Fireflies was one I couldn’t play as I don’t have Crysis, but looked very sombre in the trailer and of course reminded me of Grave of the Fireflies and Firefly, a film and TV series that is not exactly brimming with happiness.

The next on the list is Every Day the Same Dream, now this was mentioned in Uni but it wasn’t until the New Walk Museum 2Player Exhibit in Leicester that I got around to playing this, and it is a very sombre take on the mortality of life and that most people go through life not doing much else that what they normally do each day. The game has some interesting results when you deviate from the set path before you.

I haven’t played the Europa Concept yet as it was very similar to a game concept I had to work on earlier this year which made me wonder…but anyway watching the video play though and reading what people thought of it is again about loneliness and the struggle for survival.

Then there is Freedom Bridge which I hadn’t heard of but had heard of it’s creator as I had played Loneliness recently and found that it was emotionally engaging on a level that may not have been intended by Jordan Magnuson. Best go have a play now of both as it won’t take long… 🙂

Screen Cap taken from Necessary Games Site

When I played Loneliness I tried to always interact with the other squares on screen, just like I do with people in real life even though I have been burned many times. My partner on the other hand stopped trying after a time fearful that he was hurting the other squares on the screen and tried to avoid everyone, much as he had done in life before. As for Freedom Bridge I didn’t find that as emotionally engaging as a game experience unlike Loneliness, mainly as it is about the subject of war and conflict so the emotional connotations are already set up before you play. Although the ending made me jump out of my seat unlike any other game I have played! These are ‘not games’ from what I am given to understand as they are more about using gaming technology to deliver interactive experiences, something the next developer is well known for.

The Graveyard by Tale of Tales is an interesting one as I first came across this in a talk at GameCity6 by where Richard Lemarchand talked to Michaël Samyn and Auriea Harvey from Tale of Tales. The theme again is very sombre and is about the mortality we all share, which appears to be the common theme for majority of games on this list.

The next game on the list is sadly out of reach being a UT2004 mod, which is a shame as it certainly sounds interesting, Hollow Moon, which according to Chmielarz little colour and sound, an experiment I would like to do to see if a game can still be emotionally engaging without those established key tools that usually create emotion in a player/viewer etc.

Then there was ImmorTall, which without spoiling too much, it is again about a common theme that is appearing here. It has to be played really to understand it, thankfully it is available to play online, go play then come back. 🙂 It also reminded me of NoFace from Spirited Away a little, but I think that was more the colour pallet and shape of the alien more than anything.

I was quite surprised to see a Half Life 2 mod which was a horror game on here, I do not have Half Life installed on my laptop, and I know I have a slight issue wanting to be a game designer/producer and not liking horror games I don’t think I want to play it. To clarify I am a big wuss when it comes to horror, I made it though most of Bioshock, I watch Devilbod playing Dark Souls and I saw most of Dead Space…but horror sticks with me and I can’t sleep, even thinking about Event Horizon makes me want to keep all the lights on in the house. I just don’t do horror well, might have something to do with an over-active imagination in the sense that I put myself in the characters position in my mind.

Then there is One Chance, if you have played Every Day the Same Dream this will be very familiar to you, but with some disturbing twists. The game also means what it says in it’s title, you only have one chance to play through it and that’s it. Seriously try to start again, there isn’t a way to do so through the game. It is a very clever use of internet technology and is also a concept I have been toying with in my head as what better way to create emotional resonance when you cannot change what happened, just like in real life?

Then just as I think that there are no games on here that aren’t designed to make you cry with despair and think about the fleetingness of life Proteus comes up. It’s sunset beach scene a stark contrast to the others on the page, and it’s content also vastly different. There is not a game here as such, I got to play it briefly at GameCity and talk to Ed Key even more briefly about it. I had not come across it until last week and I am still not sure what to make of it. It is a pixel beauty in which the sound and environment are so tightly tied and the world is a living breathing playground left for the player to explore.

Image From: Proteus Gallery

I have it downloaded now and am off for a proper explore, but so far it is the first game since Glitch that has come across as emotionally engaging in a positive way. Glitch is an odd game, that I could write even more about for an even longer space of time as I have to stop myself playing it daily or I would never get anything done! 🙂

But is it just me? Am a just drawn to these types of games? I don’t think so like with my film choices I see out the more fun games, the more light hearted and the more positive games when I am gaming for fun. I know the tag line ’emotionally driven’ games is on my radar at the moment as I am writing my Dissertation on emotion in games, and a lot of the time that tag appears to lead to games that explore the tortured side of the human condition. I am also currently working my way through how music plays a big part in creating emotion, that in fact music appears to have an all encompassing power to affect people’s emotions regardless of the medium it is presented in, so haven’t gone intentionally seeking for games yet. Yet back on topic is it that I am just missing the ’emotionally rich’ games about positive emotions? Or is it that positive emotions like happiness, love, kindness etc are harder to portray effectively in a gaming medium?

Film has a whole genre for ‘feel good films’ and I am known among my friends for always seeking out films, TV series etc that don’t contain too many depressing themes (or violence, or horror, or psychological thrillers – which means movie nights in my house are usually constrained to the selection of Pixar titles we own.)

So are games lacking that ‘feel good’ genre? I think there are some out there that fit the bill, the little that I have experienced of Proteus so far seems to fit that bill. I want to say Journey is a positive emotional game as well, but the implied story and the ending verge on aching sadness that tarnishes the pure joy of sand dune gliding and floating as a white cloak. (That and I cried bitter-sweet tears at the end…) I am currently enjoying Costume Quest, which is fun and quirky but doesn’t have emotional game play at it’s core, unlike the games Chmielarz picked out. Yet that is part of my point I can name a few console titles I have played recently that would probably not make a list like the one I have just gone over.  Ones that are purely joyful to play, the first ones that spring to mind are games from the Katamari series and of course the Little Big Planet series. Then there is NiGHTS, which I am far too bias to talk about really, but for me is the embodiment of joy and happiness in the form of flying and the story – the latter never really being fully understood unless you read the manual and watched all the cut scenes. (Another post brewing about my thoughts on that game…)


Image Originally Found On: Gimmie Gimmie Games

There is the other issue, the individual reaction to games and their emotional triggers, Papo & Yo taught me that, even though the game is about a very serious emotionally scarring event/circumstance it made me angry and sorrowful but others happy through catharsis, a way to deal with the subject matter the game cleverly portrayed.

Image From: Arstechnica

Or is the the fact that positive emotions in games come off as false? As most positive emotions such as happiness and love are evoked through interactions with other people. That simple joy is what games can always provide no matter what their content as a person who plays a game is enjoying the experience no matter the emotional triggers contained within.

I guess I could debate this for a while, and this is why my Dissertation write up is proving difficult at the moment, as there so many games out there each one catering to different tastes and expectations. That there is something for everyone if you know where to look and not everyone is going to have the same reaction to a game, that it is all individual at the end of the day.

But for once I would like to see the ’emotionally rich’ games or the ‘games that make you feel’ tag lines leading to a more positive collection of games as there is not enough chocolate in the house for the more sombre titles that are apparently quite common at the moment.

P.S. After writing this post I already have a follow up one writing itself in the back of my brain, as I forgot about Flower (not something I would normally do I blame it on the flu!) another game from TGC, as for the majority that has got to be the most emotionally positive game I have played to date without being just purely playful like LBP. But that is a post for another time. 🙂

Can I have a TARDIS please?

It is now several weeks into term and everything is full steam ahead on my and Niomi’s project, we recently took a trip to St Fagans, an open air museum just outside of Cardiff.

A very old house...

A small hint as to what we are working on at the moment. 😉

It was a really useful research trip and quite a nice day out as well, I haven’t been there in over ten years so it was nice to see that it hasn’t changed much but also expanded over the years. It’s not somewhere that can be explored in one day any more!

In regards to the final major project we are in the process of perhaps changing the technology that we are going to use to realise the idea, but we are not sure yet, it’s going to require another meeting with our course leader. After which I may be able to talk about it a bit more on this blog, as at present it is still on the private blog over on Blogger and Google Sites.

However everything is going to have to wait as I am off to GameCity7 in Nottingham tomorrow! One of the best highlights of the year and it is shaping up to be a rather fun and useful event this year as there are some developer sessions which tie into some of the Uni work we are doing now. 🙂 In any case it will also be a nice break and a chance to see friends and take some much needed time off before  the first crunch time of the year through November.

The End of the Second Year

Well as with most blogs dedicated to the chronicling of University there have been sporadic posts at best during the hectic and intense second year. I suppose the need for the first project to be a team blog and then the second major project to be under and mock NDA means that there was little that I could post about, but more often than not there was hardly time to post about things. Yet I think that is the trouble with most blogs and for most wannabe bloggers, when you have material to blog about you don’t have the time to blog! 🙂

Anyway the second project of the second year was a very insightful and interesting learning experience, and to be honest it is not one that I would like to repeat any time soon or share on such a public forum. However horrible the experience was there was some good too and it was certainly a lesson in team work that will stick with me, or at least take some time to come to terms with. It has certainly made myself and many others think about how we are to approach the tasks ahead in the third year. Despite the issues with the previous project I cannot stress how useful it was to learn by mistake and to go through unpleasant experiences with people to learn how to cope. Personally I could have done with skipping some of this learning as there were areas in my personal life that seemed to be providing the same one at the same time. Yet I am told that this particular project in the second year is designed to be like this and is always reffered to as the ‘train wreck’ as it never goes smoothly, I guess not everyone carries the curse of ‘May you live in interesting times…’ 🙂 However it is all done and dusted now, the project and the personal issues, what I do want to talk about was my results and my dissertation plan.

The not often talked about side of this certain degree is the written part, there is a lot of importance on the practical lessons and output, which makes sense as how else are you going to effectively going to showcase your game design skills? Yet it is the written side that I am equally, if not slightly more, interested in as we progress. I have always struggled with academic writing, and my unknown to me until a few years ago, dyslexia didn’t help. Yet when the opportunity arises in the past few years I have been getting very good marks for my essays, not only on this course but also while I was at Sussex before hand. After experiencing a stricter more academic University setting at Sussex, Newport couldn’t have felt more relaxed. However the expectation and the hope of the tutors seems to be the same and they certainly do encourage students to try and achieve that higher academic status that is probably not normally expected or found often on a course like this.

The dissertations of previous years are available in the library and I have skimmed through a few while desperately trying to get inspiration for my own. Two things are apparent, firstly the standard set by previous students is high secondly this highlighted to me my biggest failing when it comes to academic writing, actually getting started. I maybe able to get 70% in essays when I put my mind to it at Sussex and I maybe able to get the highest marks possible for the first essay I handed in at Newport, I still lack the motivation and inspiration to actually get started, so I always end up rushing things, not a situation I want to be in for this particular piece of writing.

This was most apparent on the first essay required in the second year, and I have to admit that I can’t even remember what it was about off the top of my head at the moment. It was rushed, not well laid out, not well researched and also got the lowest marks I have ever had, which it deserved I know that. I just wish I could switch it with my first year essay as this one counted to my overall degree grade! Anyway when it comes to the dissertation things appear to be done slightly differently at this University, the second year is when it starts and the Literature Review and Proposal make up the remaining module of study alongside the ‘train wreck’ project. Partly I think it is due to the difficultly of getting everyone in the class prepared and ready to write what seems to most artistic souls as a huge burden of stuffy writing that won’t help them much in the long run. (At least that’s the impression I get in class sometimes.) 🙂

Anyway it is now the summer and after a lot of commitments to friends and family have not been fulfilled I can now focus and actually expand on that Proposal and Literature Review already handed in. The former being quite strong the later obviously rushed, as it was. So I am going to try and avoid that pitfall this time around. It is however hard to start as without a job this summer I may have an abundance of time to work on my dissertation I am more frequently distracted as I don’t have much of routine at the moment. Even though I had little time I do sometimes prefer the stress of having a job alongside the studies as at least it eases the financial burdens but also makes you focus your time better. Yet that isn’t going to be happening around here as there is little work going in this city, and to be perfectly honest I would actually like to keep the summer off as I am aware it could possibly be the last one for some time. This also means it is a good lesson in self discipline too for me. Meanwhile though I am re-arranging things online and giving up my web-space as I can’t afford it any more, it came in handy in the last project, but I simply can’t afford it any more. I am also doing a full back-up and clean install of my laptop, it’s a little overdue. I guess it’s a belated digital spring clean!