Although I hadn’t planned to write another article about how playing computer and video games can be useful for writers and artists, I played a game that made me think about this topic again.
Although I’ll post a full review of it tomorrow, I ended up buying an old computer game from 2001 called “X-COM: Enforcer” the day before I wrote this article. Since I’d planned to do other stuff, I thought that I’d just quickly test it out for ten minutes after it had finished downloading. I ended up playing it for three hours.
The interesting thing is that it isn’t really a very imaginative game, but it’s still incredibly compellingly fun because of the clever way that it has been designed. Although it is the literal dictionary definition of a mindless shoot-em-up game, the game’s design ensures that the player keeps playing it.
The game’s levels are short, which encourages you to play “just one more level”. When one of the game’s monsters is defeated, they drop a bonus item that must be picked up within about ten seconds – which encourages a thrillingly fast-paced playing style. The player also often fights large numbers of relatively weak monsters, which adds suspense whilst also making the player feel more powerful at the same time.
The game’s aiming and weapon selection system is heavily simplified- which encourages the player to play quickly, spontaneously and impulsively. The game’s slightly cartoonish and unrealistic visual style prevents the constant combat from being grim or disturbing. The game frequently includes encouraging voice-overs that are designed to make the player feel like they are an expert. The game’s soundtrack is fast-paced and repetitive, which encourages fast-paced play.
I could go on for a while, but the cumulative effect of all of these “small” design decisions is to make the game a thrillingly fun experience that makes the player want to play more, even though it’s a silly shoot-em-up game that could otherwise be described as “generic” or “mindless”.
But, what does this have to do with art or writing?
Well, a lot actually. The subtle ways you “design” your story or artwork will determine how your audience experiences it.
Remember how I mentioned that a game’s short levels can encourage the player to play “one more level”?
Well, a similar principle is often used in modern thriller novels. Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” is the most famous example of this, but there’s a reason why many thriller novels often include very short chapters. This principle is also why traditional webcomics can be binge-read easily, but a proper graphic novel might be read more slowly.
Remember how I mentioned that simplifying elements of a game can make it more quick and impulsive?
Well, the style of writing that you use in a story can affect how quickly the audience reads it. Likewise, the level of detail in a piece of art can determine where the audience’s attention is focused (eg: if one part of a painting is more detailed than another, then the audience’s attention will be drawn to that area).
Remember how I mentioned that a more cartoonish style can change the emotional tone of a game?
Well, things like colour choices (eg: different colour schemes can evoke different moods) and different drawing styles can also have a similar effect on how your audience feels when they look at one of your paintings or drawings.
I could probably go on for quite a while, but “small” and subtle decisions like these have a huge impact on how your audience feels, experiences and responds to the things you create. So, yes, the small things matter – and games often contain lots of great examples of this type of thing.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂