19 November 2008

How to use players' emotions

I'm targeting a few game developers with this, but welcome input from anywhere.

Let's say that there's a technology -- a module that you can plug into your projects that allows you to access the internal emotional state of the user of your game. How would your game use that? Any game. Any kind of game. What kinds of games would use it in what ways? Are there ethical considerations? As a designer/developer/whatever, would you like to have access to that extra stream of data? And why?

In email, Patrick Dugan wrote:

I'm currently playing with relationship-focused multiplayer interaction and how imperfect information can balance that out, kinda like what Between did but from a different angle. So naturally I'd like to experiment with making that data known to the other player, as well as leaving it unknown and doing some fancy back-end stuff with it. The easiest thing to do, of course, is leave "traps" for players to express emotional extremes, like a sudden gap-up in a market, and reveal things to their counter-player and to themselves that they may not have been aware of. That's the trick, the cognitive construction of choice matrices is powerful enough to mold behaviors behavior and take metrics on it, you don't need direct B-CIs. Of course, the B-CIs would be useful, but the control grid will come in more subtle forms.

That's good stuff for me. I hadn't been thinking at all about multi-user reveals, only how to manipulate the player with adaptive algorithms.

In email, Craig Perko wrote:

The problem with a question like this is that it's a very unsatisfying
thought experiment. The answers are all too basic and uniform because
the question is too wide-base.

Anyone with an ounce of brain can see that it would allow you to make
better games, and they can imagine up the kinds of ways it can happen
for all the various kinds of games. Anyone with an ounce of brain can
also clearly see the ethical considerations.

In order to be an interesting thought experiment, it has to be about
something more specific, something that requires thought. Something
that ten different designers would come up with ten different answers

But if you really want an answer, okay. I would make games scarier,
more touching, more adrenaline-filled, obviously with an eye to player
health and privacy. You could easily develop a feedback system for
stressing the things that affect them most: if Anna makes them more
happy than Bert, you can show them more Anna, or you can strive to
make Bert more likeable. And, of course, that's a simple intro
example, it can get very complex as you apply it to level design, NPC
scripting, and variations in player capacities for emotion...

The problem is that it's a straight run: everyone will give you more
or less the same answers, perhaps flavored with different levels of
paranoia. I imagine these are the same answers you came up with.

Uh, yeah. What he said is what I'm finding.

There are little exceptions. Patrick's multiplayer thoughts are great. James Brown suggested a Rock Band game where audience appreciation matters to your score -- which is a different, easier kind of multiplayer use. He also suggested using the tech to gauge the effectiveness of product placements. That's neat.