Emotional Design has a lot of odd definitions. “Mechanics as Metaphor”, “Arty games”, “not-games”, “pretentious crap”, “emotional games”. Clearly, the opinions of this sort of approach to game design are divisive, but all games we play and enjoy are designed with their emotional output being the core goal. Invoking the emotions of players is fundamental to game design, and every game works towards achieving their “game feel”.
Most poignant to me, was Mass Effect 3 (Bioware, 2012). Mass Effect 3 used its RPG mechanics set in a galaxy at war to tailor stories of loss, hope and the frailties of life. Being a third-person shooter at its core, the game is very much an action RPG, where your player fights against the Reapers to unite the species of the galaxy against the reapers. When you aren’t shooting, you’re playing politics or managing relationships with your friends and love interests. No matter where you are in the game, the story always points you back to its three distinct themes: Loss, Hope and Frailty. I’ll never forget Mordin giving his life to cure the genophage, because it gave the game meaning. Suddenly, I found myself fighting for something against the game’s antagonists. Beginning a relationship with an NPC in the game gave me hope, and once again, I found another thing to fight for in the universe. The endless loss of seemingly everything, as Earth, Thessia and Palaven were weakened or lost and the galaxy itself deteriorated, I saw stories of the world’s characters tying up their loose ends if they didn’t make it through the war. Once again, these characters gave me another thing to fight for. The game clearly hooked me emotionally, and more or less, every element of the game’s design leads back to the Reaper War. The emotional investment from me was immense, and I took on the roles on the world as though it was real.
Big or small games are able to utilise emotional design in this manner, to bring the player emotionally into the world. To me, emotional design is the culmination oif a game’s design to send a message or theme. Smaller games like Dys4ia and Wrong Tree demonstrate the power in designing emotional experiences foir players, and the message they send becomes even more poignant when they are interactive.
In Studio 2, Emotional Design is the core of the subject and instead of solving design problems from a design constraint, we are designing games constrained within aesthetic parameters. In the coming weeks, I want to find new and interesting ways to express themes and ideas, and to grow my library and repertoire of games and techniques. By the end, I want to have a better idea of where I can look to for inspiration, and round out my knowledge and experience with emotionally designed games – both by playing and making them.
Because, I want emotional design to be the centrepiece of my design philosophy. I regularly as myself “Why does this game matter?” when playing or making. I want to have an answer each and every time, and make that the stem of any game design.