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Happy = game?

Happy = game?
« on: February 11, 2013, 09:16:45 am »

It makes sense to reject activities that lead to feelings of triumph when the content of a piece is contemplative or sad. Otherwise one has to somehow subvert those feelings (as happens in Shadow of the Colossus and to some extent The Path).

This also works the other way around: if players fail to interact playfully with the game, they will conclude that the content is sad or scary.

But what if the content is happy? Is optimistic content automatically served by a more conventional game structure? Or is the feeling of triumph that a game structure generates too shallow compared to what the content could evoke?
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Re: Happy = game?
« Reply #1 on: February 11, 2013, 02:39:06 pm »

Video games are traditionally about offering the player a sense of satisfaction, not only by means of a challenge tailored for that effect, but also by manipulating the player into believing that the overcoming of its obstacles is valorous in itself - at which content has been known to lend a helping hand. Content, again traditionally, follows that lead alone, as superficial elements of drama or comedy are repeatedly borrowed for the purpose of heightening that satisfaction; by making it more engaging and meaningful if under that dominant, functional basis. I would argue that Jumpman doesn't vault over barrels and climbs ladders because he wishes to save his girlfriend from the claws of a goofy primate - he does it because cheating death in a record time is good fun, not to mention addictive.

A best seller like Call of Duty strikes me as a telling example, given its two distinct game modes: one built around a film-like experience with a context, a plot with its own little twists and stereotyped Hollywood characters, id est content; another, a pure game of aiming and shooting in closed arenas, possessing no narrative or setting, only pure gun combat fantasy. Content-oriented gameplay and, on the other hand, the sheer thrill of competing, provide players with satisfaction in different ways, as two ice cream flavors can be equally pleasing though stimulating different parts of the palate.

Devoid of form and content, Shadow of the Colossus would be, merely, another Donkey Kong; and The Path would amount to nearly nothing. Optimistic content doesn't necessarily mean lighthearted or frivolous, despite that other tradition which tend to see dark as promisingly complex and white as predictably straightforward.
« Last Edit: February 11, 2013, 03:33:25 pm by Bruno de Figueiredo »
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Re: Happy = game?
« Reply #2 on: February 11, 2013, 06:45:05 pm »

This is not a theoretical contemplation but a practical question for me. And it has nothing to do with depth or frivolity -I don't worry about that as either seems to be beyond my control as a creator.

It's a simple question: is optimistic content served by the traditionally uplifting structure of games?
Is such a structure helpful for generatic positive emotions in the player?

Or is it always distracting? And would the positive emotions brought on by playing the game clash with those in the content?
« Last Edit: February 11, 2013, 06:46:36 pm by Michaël Samyn »
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Re: Happy = game?
« Reply #3 on: February 11, 2013, 08:47:26 pm »

I'm afraid I'm out of my depth here.
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Re: Happy = game?
« Reply #4 on: February 12, 2013, 06:56:40 pm »

I would say your last concern is probably  the most accurate. If you really sought a thoroughly positive emotional experience, it might dangerous to introduce a game element, as it might easily frustrate the player -- of course, this relates to the question of accessibility. If you want supreme elation, it is possible (though I certainly doubt it) that this is only achievable through a game structure that, like an inscrutable novel, would simply have to alienate part of its audience to satisfy the rest.

Personally, Thirty Flights of Loving[\i] made me feel pretty good at times (but also of course kind of down at other times). There was something so charming about watching Anita stumble down the stairs and lie, insensible but seductive, on the bed -- which is impressive, considering how abhorrent I find drunkenness in real life.

So to answer your exact original question: no, I don't think feelings of happiness need to be evoked by a traditional game structure. I can see why a person might worry about this, though, given, as it has been observed, that morose ambience is the most commonly sought emotion in notgames. Of course, due to that very reason it's difficult to say for sure which way it goes -- is it form or content? -- since there is such a match between the form and the content at the moment; however, my gut tells me that  notgames can makes as many emotions as any other artform -- the difference is that you can go to art school to learn (guidelines for) how to make a happy painting or a sad sculpture or an angry film. Instead of learning those tools, we have to create them.
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"Wonder had gone away, and he had forgotten that all life is only a set of pictures in the brain, among which there is no difference betwixt those born of real things and those born of inward dreamings, and no cause to value the one above the other."
--H.P. Lovecraft

Call me Dale Smiley
Re: Happy = game?
« Reply #5 on: February 13, 2013, 12:31:31 am »

And would the positive emotions brought on by playing the game clash with those in the content?
I think they would cheapen them.

I find that the capacity of the medium to make you feel present in a world is enough to amplify the positive emotions of the content, as much as the "negative" ones like fear or sadness.

As a home made case history the happiest, more joyful moments I remember of my wife playing a game are:
- chasing the jumping rabbit-like animal in Proteus
- watching the girl in white dress in the Path play with one of the younger sisters
- approaching the best points of view from which to watch the scenery in Dear Esther
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Re: Happy = game?
« Reply #6 on: February 13, 2013, 08:39:46 pm »

It depends on what form of happiness you're going for.
I think the happiness brought on by game structures is a prideful happiness. Games make you happy when you "beat" them, you proved yourself to be better than system and you become proud of yourself. Nothing wrong with that of course, if that's what you're going for. Shadow of the Colossus for example turns this pride on its head, for a compelling effect. And I think straight puzzle games certainly have their worth.

The happiness of chasing around animals in Proteus is a totally different type of happiness. It manages to put you into a child-like frame of mind, where every new thing you discover is a delight. Or sitting on the bench in Bientot l'ete, it's a sublime happiness, but that's where I'm happiest in the game. To me these kinds of happiness are more lasting and "real" than the pride at having beaten a system. It's a poetic happiness rather than an intellectual happiness, and to me it's much more memorable and touching.
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Re: Happy = game?
« Reply #7 on: February 14, 2013, 10:02:22 pm »

I'm with Tyler. I think it depends on what you're going for more specifically. Fiero is clearly the triumphant sort of happiness that comes from beating a hard game.

To me, the Landscape prototype posted here depicted happiness very well. I thought that depicted a sense of wonder of systems without requiring you to actually defeat them. If Proteus is about exploring a happy place, Landscape is about exploring a happy logic.
Re: Happy = game?
« Reply #8 on: February 16, 2013, 09:07:47 am »

Thank you for your insights.

I don't think all games pay off in fiero. Match 3 games, for instance, are easy and yet make you feel good when you match colors. But I wouldn't call that fiero, or even triumph, because the challenge wasn't very hard.

And I wonder to what extent the examples mentioned by Tyler, of other types of happiness in games, might be supported by similar structures anyway, underneath. Not so much a triumph over adversity, but a punctuation after an activity: I do A, B and C and I am rewarded with D. Sitting on a bench in Bientôt l'été happens in contrast with walking and as a result of finding the bench and the decision to sit down. If the game consisted only of sitting, the feeling would probably be less intense.
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