Making an Emotional Investment

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Part 1 of 1, by Jos Hendriks

Perhaps this only grew on me recently, or perhaps it has been present ever since I started playing videogames. Quite possibly this is different for each and every person out there who enjoys to pick up the occasional game, but I recently became consciously aware that games have slowly become harder for me to enjoy.

Part of this is because I make games for a living. Being busy working on stuff at the various companies I’ve worked at made me go from playing a game to analyzing it more than anything. Instead of seeing that huge spaceship disintegrate with an awesome explosion I see particle effects, interpolation (better known as keyframing), and animation tracks come together well*. But with good games that immerse me and that I want to play that is not the main reason for me to find real enjoyment in games.

The main reason I play games these days is to establish some sort of emotional connection with them. Games have evolved a lot over the years and simply sitting down with an arcade shooter is something that I did a lot about 10 years ago, but is gradually fading from my gaming pattern. I have asked myself why this is, and time and time again I refer to the games that I do very much enjoy these days and compare them to the games that I should be liking, but somehow cannot find a connection with. What I discovered from these comparisons is that my personal taste for games is shifting. This is true for any gamer if they play games long enough, but I found the most singular and powerful reason for this shift to be that I want to be part of the games I played and I want to be able to care about what happens in the game.

Making an emotional investment has become an important part of why I play games, instead of analyze them. Sure, I still enjoy the occasional pickup game of Guitar Hero, or XBLA games like Braid and 1942, but when I want to sit down for a proper session of being curled up on the couch, drink and snacks within arm’s reach and just lose track of time I have to defer to something more immersive, and something more emotional.

For instance, this last weekend I finally wrapped up playing through Fable 2, a game that kept me hooked for the last few weeks. I found it amazing how I found myself caring when my lovable little dog (Brutus) got himself hurt in combat and I had to heal him. I was shocked when at the end of the game I had to make that awful, awful choice. I just love it when games make me feel emotional in some way over the choices I make. For that same reason I picked up Mass Effect again over the holidays. I really wanted to see the renegade part of the game and since I’m usually some sort of freakishly unholy paragon of justice in this type of game I found myself aghasted at some of the terrible things I ended up doing to become a complete renegade (and get that achievement!).

At the end of my thought process I really hope that I won’t get tired of the smaller pick-up and play games, but at the same time I do hope that the future will be seeing a lot more games that I can curl up on the couch with and play well into the night.

*In essence, Interpolation actors are objects that interpolate, or keyframe, on an animation track. For example, a spaceship flies into a hangar bay. The spaceship would be the interpolation actor, and its movement would be on an animation track. Interpolation actor is a specific term, I’m only familiar with it because Unreal Engine uses it. Here is a link to the animation track editor called Matinee, which is part of Unreal… I think it would not be a good read for people who aren’t into this sort of thing though.

Jos Hendriks first learned about video games at age 5 and it has been impossible for anyone to keep him away from them since. Although his early university English studies have led him in the complete opposite direction of videogames, a longtime passion for spare time level design has led Jos to eventually sneak into the industry when nobody was looking. He was last seen having fun designing levels for BioWare’s Mass Effect franchise.