Borderlands Zed
Basic Introduction to Game Design

Dramatic Elements of Games and Narrative Design

Welcome to the third week of class in the course: Basic Introduction to Game Design. Make sure to read the syl­labus and course infor­ma­tion before you con­tin­ue. Today, we are going to dis­cuss the dra­mat­ic ele­ments of games and the nar­ra­tive design behind games. This text fol­lows close­ly from our text­books (Game Design Workshop, Chapters 4 and Challenges for Game Designers, Chapter 13); it also takes inspi­ra­tion from the Salen and Zimmerman book Rules of Play (Chapter 26).

Otis in Monkey Island

The Secret of Monkey Island (Lucasfilm Games, 1990) cre­at­ed a wealth of mem­o­rable char­ac­ters (here the pris­on­er Otis) often with great humour.

Narrative Design

While there has been some debate on the sig­nif­i­cance of nar­ra­tive in games (the ludol­o­gy vs. nar­ra­tol­ogy debate), sto­ry can be high­ly rel­e­vant for cre­at­ing your game­play and will help give your for­mal game ele­ments nec­es­sary mean­ing. Narrative in gen­er­al helps us to process infor­ma­tion and make sense of things in our lives. Narratives are every­where and they are used for every­thing. It is obvi­ous that they can be found in the medi­um of games, whether it is a sto­ry that helps us makes sense of the game or a sto­ry told by the game. Literary the­o­rist J. Hillis Miller defines com­po­nents of a nar­ra­tive in the fol­low­ing:

  • Situation. Stories revolve around chang­ing states (going from an ini­tial state towards a sequence of chang­ing states), which are rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the events that dri­ve a sto­ry.
  • Form. Stories pro­vide com­mon anchors in them, which allow us to process them using pat­terns and rep­e­ti­tions. Every aspect of a sto­ry and a theme can have pat­terns and rep­e­ti­tions to it.
  • Character. In sto­ries, we like to per­son­i­fy events to make them rel­e­vant to us. The char­ac­ter of a sto­ry (and this can be dif­fer­ent from per­sonas in sto­ries) is cre­at­ed out of signs.

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Biometrics, Psychophysiology, Research

Caution with Biometrics, Game Evaluation and UX

My col­league Steve Fairclough recent­ly post­ed an arti­cle on in which he dis­cuss­es the poten­tial pit­falls of bio­met­ric research and how it is cur­rent­ly being sold to the game indus­try. I will present some of his ideas here.

Steve out­lines that “psy­chophys­i­o­log­i­cal meth­ods are com­bined with com­put­er games in two types of con­text: applied psy­chol­o­gy research and game eval­u­a­tion in a com­mer­cial con­text.  With respect to the for­mer, a researcher may use a com­put­er game as a plat­form to study a psy­cho­log­i­cal con­cept, such as effects of game play on aggres­sion or how play­ing against a friend or a stranger influ­ences the expe­ri­ence of the play­er.”

Similar to Mike Ambinder’s pre­sen­ta­tion of user research and game design at Valve (PDF), he makes the point that games in this con­text are analysed using prin­ci­ples of exper­i­men­tal psy­chol­o­gy.

They are used as tasks or vir­tu­al worlds with­in which a research can study the behav­ior of play­ers (you might recall John Hopson’s Gamasutra arti­cle on behav­ioral game design).

He char­ac­teris­es the exper­i­men­tal psy­chol­o­gy approach by 4 fea­tures:

  1. Comparing con­trolled con­di­tions
  2. Importance of sta­tis­ti­cal pow­er (large N)
  3. Controlled par­tic­i­pant sam­ple
  4. Counterbalanced design (remov­ing order effects)

He makes a point about the sen­si­tiv­i­ty of phys­i­o­log­i­cal data as being volatile, vari­able and dif­fi­cult to inter­pret with­out a high lev­el of exper­i­men­tal con­trol. He warns that the use of think aloud pro­to­col might influ­ence the phys­i­o­log­i­cal data being record­ed because it influ­ences heart rate and res­pi­ra­tion con­sid­er­ably.

He also warns about the over­sim­pli­fi­ca­tion regard­ing the inter­pre­ta­tion of phys­i­o­log­i­cal data (some­thing I have seen way too often), regard­ing its one-to-many rela­tion­ship to psy­cho­log­i­cal impact.

For exam­ple, gal­van­ic skin response is used too often to infer emo­tion­al qual­i­ties although it is a high­ly ambigu­ous mea­sure regard­ing emo­tion­al labels.

Steve clos­es with a dis­cus­sion of the ques­tion of how to make phys­i­o­log­i­cal data and exper­i­men­ta­tion valu­able to the game indus­try. Meaning, what ques­tions can we answer with this type of data that the game indus­try does not already know?

This sum­ma­ry was first post­ed on my Gamasutra blog.

(Please read Steve’s orig­i­nal post here, too)