Regardless of terminology and classification it all comes down to end user experience. Most kinds of media, including movies and books, communicate this experience through a linear stream of content to the user. However, the majority of games do not work in this way. Games are typically defined by the fact that they require active user-participation, having players drive the experience forward by acting upon decisions made based on the experience they have received until that point. This is of course a very general description but the main concept holds true for whatever sort of game there is, regardless if it is the movie-inspired linear action-game, the ever-repeating puzzle-games of Bejeweled or the isolated battle between players that is a game of Starcraft 2.
Active participation can amplify some emotions greatly, when done right. Horror-games are a prime example of this. While the end-user experience you seek from the players are very close to what you expect from the same genre in movies, the methods used to achieve this differs greatly.
Having users drive the experience means that games need to employ a wholly different set of tools and methods to communicate a desired general experience. So, what are these tools and methods?
Well... That question is of course too large (and ever-evolving most like) to ever answer straight up. One could perhaps isolate a limited set of experiences and try to find mechanics and such specific to games that encourages this end-goal.
It could be done through a live production with a team of students in this education, but there are some issues with this approach. The strongest one being that the production would have me as a designer developing what would most likely be a project heavily focused on delivering a completed product meant for sale/pitching, which may not be the optimal environment for experimental work. One upside would be getting additional experience in live projects, in addition to the project-work I have done in previous years.
It could also be done by me working in a completely isolated state, building simple prototypes based on the theories I set up and through having them play-tested by others draw conclusions for analysis. This of course runs several risks, one being the balance of creating prototypes that are well enough made to effectively communicate an experience while not taking up the majority of my time through their development.
So my plan for the spring is, loosely stated, that I would formulate a theory regarding user experiences communicated through game mechanics and by some channel test it out and/or propose solutions/findings. I am thinking that this would take form as either methodology or categorization, rather than hard truths. The details would have to be formed in discussion with teachers and while looking at possible opportunities in which this could take place.
From all this would emerge an increased personal knowledge of the end-user experience as a whole, a subject that is vitally important in all types of game regardless of audience. It would naturally also cross over somewhat to other forms of presentable media. Depending on the form of the research I would also gain increased experience in a more specialized area, such as game as commercial product, game as competitive tool etc.
Optimally, I would like to be able to do this research in connection with a live professional environment. While I can do this on my own through the means of quick prototyping (both digital and analog), working in connection to a professional team would give me an opportunity to test my theories “for real” and more importantly in communication with experienced developers, in design as well as other areas of production. The connections gained would certainly be useful, regardless of what I choose to do after the project is completed. As the production would most likely not depend fully on my designs, the issues of a lack of freedom could perhaps be minimized.
For this to even remotely have a chance for success I need to set up strict limits and a clear focus. Researching user experience through game mechanics can be done in a multitude of ways, even more so when considering that approach and intent may vary greatly depending on the format the research would take. I feel that this subject needs to be hacked away at over a number of studies and preferably by different researchers. This can however be done in isolated instances and does not need to be a coordinated effort.
|Aiming to be a brick in the wall. It can be a good thing.|
The primary stakeholder in this project would of course be myself. This means that I will take the primary responsibility to make sure I can perform the work needed, with support from teachers and staff at my university. This will give me a large amount of personal freedom, good and bad sides included. The major factor will be personal discipline when it comes to scheduling, planning and so on, something I have found to be challenging at times but allows for a very effective work-environment when done properly.
Looking at this short-term, I will need to have decided upon a general approach to take regarding the research before Christmas. This should give me time enough to discuss the subject with the subject responsible teacher and at least allow me to be aware of what criteria I would have on any possible opportunities that could arise.
Some time after Christmas, end of January, my theory should have taken form in a such a way that I can formulate and present a problem to be solved and what method I would use to find answers. I should ideally be set on the environment in which to do my research, be it a professional studio, student project or individual work.
At the end of spring I would have to make sure to finish the work up to the point where I can draw some conclusions and communicate these in a paper, taking in to account the time needed to do this. This would be a critical point in the planning.
Having a strong point in analysis and a high interest in how game mechanics in different forms can shape the dynamics of a game session should prepare me well for this work. My previous education have given me both tools and mindset to be able to at the very least give me a starting point. As previously mentioned I can also use the staff at the game department as an anchor, along with the connections I have made during previous project work. My motivation for doing this is mainly personal as I take a great interest in game design theory in general and game mechanics specifically. It should also be possible to use this blog documenting the work as proof of my abilities when looking for further work and new opportunities.
|These simple mechanics have carried Mega Man through a large number of games pretty much unchanged.|
To sum it up, this kind of research should have a general value for the area of games as a whole and could perhaps be a smaller part of a larger effort. As I mentioned in my previous post I do have a special interest when it comes to mechanics supporting the experience players seek from highly competitive gaming (perhaps in addition to how you attract this extremely loyal group of customers to a micro-payment model). If I choose to focus my research in this area the knowledge gained should be valuable at all levels for those looking to take part in this model or further develop their already existing product towards this goal.