Chapter 5.3. Gatherings
The inner workings of an Emotioneer.
is a small collection of thoughts, reflections, speculations, and journeys. If you're seeking logic and coherence, look elsewhere in the book. This chapter leaps from stone to stone, across the river of the mind. If, at times, a few points are made, they're accidental.
If the picture on the front of the book was truly representative of a game, there'd be two challenges. The first is, how can you, the man, actually hold the woman's hand? We don't, as in Ico, want to create a hand-holding mechanic, for there wouldn't be enough occasions in the game to use it. Therefore, we'd need some kind of pick-things-up mechanic that could be adapted to different uses, and this would be just one of them.
The second, more difficult challenge involves the branching story-line. One branch begins if you let her fall; the other branch begins if you save her. But a branching story-line like this probably costs too much to build. So how can we do it affordably?
The solution would be, if you let her fall, she doesn't die but you won't know that until later in the game. So you'd feel her loss. The way to minimize expenses would be that, even if you rescue her, the plot would force you and she to part company a few minutes later anyway. This way you only have to build new assets covering those few extra minutes if you save her.
If you let her fall, you think she's dead. The loss could be heightened by the use of a symbol. Let's say that, earlier in the game, she tells you she loves white cats. Later in this mission, after she's dead (so you think), a white cat walks near you and looks at you. You'd think of her or maybe even believe that, in some ways, it is her. (After all, you don't know the extent of her powers and you did see her spirit almost leave her body on the bridge.)
If the cat is too hard or expensive to model and animate, we could go for a less-expensive symbol. She could have earlier told you that she likes lightning. At the end of this level, when you're victorious, off in the distance, lightning flashes from a large cumulus cloud. You'll think of her or wonder if perhaps she, in some way, caused it.
The cat or the lightning would be scripted to occur only if you let her fall from the bridge. In the branch where you save her, they wouldn't be seen.
At first, Alex hated the fact that he had been transformed into a field mouse. He envied people and passionately wished he could be one again. With morose envy, he would watch them drive their cars, shop, and go home to their families.
His life was one of terror in the beginning, and adapting was hard. Finally he learned to survive the predators owls and hawks. Plenty of other animals were friendly, from geese to groundhogs. As he started to ease into his new existence, he realized that he could sense their life forces and those of other animals, just as they could sense his. It was a kind of communication, deeper than words.
One night, he looked into a small, crystalline puddle. He saw the reflection of the full moon. He looked up and saw the stars. Could there possibly be that many? As a man, he had never taken the time to notice. And as he looked at them, he felt the life forces of all the other animals, extending miles away. They too were enthralled by the full moon and the summer night.
He was moved. This was a beauty and connection he never experienced when he was a human. Suddenly his former life was forgotten, and he was glad that he had been transformed into a field mouse.
And that's the exact point where his body began changing once again. Another transformation had begun….
He played flute under the high mountain ridge. It sounded as sweet as vanilla. If I had heard it, I would have listened all day.
Both Judo and Japanese brush painting create great effects with small movements. In the world of language, you find often find this in proverbs. For instance, consider these Arab proverbs:
Perhaps I like these proverbs because, as in the part of Emotioneering called Dialogue Deepening, there's a focus on communicating a tremendous amount with few words.
The method here is interesting. Almost all the proverbs do three, and sometimes even four, things at once:
Let's deconstruct the layers of "A tree that affords you shade do not order it to be cut down":
With all these layers going on, no wonder proverbs become wonderful examples of Dialogue Deepening. I think that some people loved the film Shakespeare in Love because so much of the dialogue functioned the way these proverbs do.
What if, in a game, you have a player who has made a number of thoughtful decisions based on some kind of moral standards. The game is designed to then route him through a mission exposing him to a greater number of emotional and moral decisions than a player who's been a gung-ho destruction machine up until then.
I suspect few publishers would feel it was worth the money to build the extra assets, but it's an intriguing idea building up a personality profile of the player and catering the game experience to that personality.
Quite a bit of emotion and intrigue can come from the building or landscape the player explores. For instance, you wander in a pastoral environment…and then find the severed arm of an alien laying among the flowers.
500 million years ago, in the Cambrian era, the world flashed from blackness into visibility. That's because, seemingly spontaneously, animals attained sight for the first time. No one knows the reason; it's shrouded in the secrecy of the spectacular.
In 2084, another evolutionary leap occurred. That's the year that mankind worldwide spontaneously developed another new sense their first new sense since Homo Erectus took a first, tentative step on a world that someday would obey him.
Across the planet, men and women awoke to discover that they could look at a person, or even a person's image in a photo or on TV, and instantly know that individual's intentions. Did this person secretly intend good or harm?
Now, finally, people across the globe could know the real intentions of their leaders.
Every government across the world fell within the next two weeks.
A First-Person Deepening game experience: You are asked to rescue someone who once tried to kill you, but he did so under the mistaken notion that you were trying to kill him.
Another First-Person Deepening game experience: You love the girl, but her father is the tyrant who rules the land and who has killed many innocents. If you kill him, you lose the girl's love.
Botanist Dr. Simon Knoll was a humble man, getting on in years. He was no use to the university, so they labeled him "Emeritus," honored him at a low-cost farewell dinner, shoved a silver watch in his hands, and showed him the door.
His obsession with vanishing plant species, and his crusade to save them, had grown wearisome to the regents. They were positioning the university to prepare its grads for the technologies of the future, not the plants of the past.
Simon, in his meek way, tried to explain that plants were time-travelers, loaded with vital information. Encoded within their DNA is the secret of how they adapted and survived. You never could know which one held keys we might someday need. And so all species must be saved.
His argument fell on deaf ears. When he left his office of 37 years, a single box of papers in his arms, he took with him, in a jar, the last remaining Adiuvo mushroom known to man. Its ancestors had once been near ground zero when the asteroid that collided with Earth wiped out the dinosaurs, but these mushrooms somehow didn't perish. Simon thought this last little mushroom of their species could teach us how to survive some future calamity.
The university couldn't get rid of Simon and his mushroom fast enough.
The residents of the poor block of apartments and row houses around Simon had a different opinion. They felt that having a man of Simon's intellectual stature living amongst them raised the entire status of the neighborhood. They called him "the Professor" and treated him deferentially, honored that he had spent his life gracing their meager and forgotten corner of the city.
After the nuclear winter was over, and mankind was eliminated from the planet, only Simon and the people of his neighborhood remained behind saved by lessons stored in a lowly and near-extinct mushroom.
And fifteen thousand years later, when the Earth was repopulated with their descendants, people still fell silent when they walked past the statues of Simon and his mushroom that were erected in every city center.
This book started quite a lively series of discussions with game designers around America and even around the world who read chapters, as they were being written, and sent me their thoughts.
My friend Anand Rajan emailed me:
Anand opens up many intriguing possibilities with his comment or perhaps I should say that the crafty interactive story sorcerers at Ion Storm (who made Deus Ex) do. Among other thoughts prompted by this discussion…
The experience of time is related to the quantity of events that have passed, and the differences (in terms of type, location, emotion, etc.) of these events. When many different types of events happen quickly, and they're events in which you're emotionally invested, there can be a sense that a substantial amount of time has passed.
How could you use this to screw around with a player's sense of time? It seems to me that a sci-fi game about time might be a fertile springboard to subvert, distort, and bend a player's time sense through gameplay. Short time periods could be experientially elongated (as with Deus Ex), and visa versa.
Ratcheting my mental clutch into a different gear…I've always been interested in the fact that we often operate concurrently in different time frames. In a game, what if, simultaneously:
Now we've got you, the player, experiencing and operating in three different time frames simultaneously, each with their own emotion.
To truly emotionally deepen the experience, however, these would need to be layered on top of one another simultaneously. (Whenever there are concurrent layers of feeling, a sense of emotional depth is ignited.) Thus, all three time frames, with their different goals and different emotional flavors, would need to be present to you, the player.
However, accomplishing this is much easier said than done, since usually one time frame, with its goal and its attendant emotions, rises to the foreground of experience. In doing so, it partially or completely eclipses any others. Here's an example of how, perhaps, all three time frames could be kept in balance and therefore simultaneously experienced by you, the player:
As you battle the gathered enemy, you can see, from where you fight, Liam imprisoned in his cage, about to be transformed into something hideous (and you'll remember it's your fault he's there). We can increase the guilt you'd feel if the enemies you're fighting are beings who've taken over the bodies of Liam's slain family. Liam, in some kind of delusional denial of what has happened, watches the battle from his cell and plaintively calls out their names.
So you're operating within a short-term time frame (freaked out as you fight the superior enemy); a medium-term time frame (worried if you can save Liam, and worried about his sanity); and a long-term time frame (trying to overcome your guilt by somehow winning his forgiveness).
These three time frames with their three emotional colorations are stacked on top of each other as part of a single, layered game experience. If the gameplay is designed correctly, you should feel, simultaneously, freak-out over the battle, worry about Liam, and guilt. In short, three emotionally charged time frames will intersect in this one stretch of gameplay.
Thus, time, in this example, is no longer merely a passage of measurable units of duration. Instead, we seize it and use it as a tool for Emotioneering that is, for sculpting interlocking, complex emotional experiences.
There is the main road, but that road shows you only the sights that everyone else has already seen.
There are sights to be seen that aren't on the map. There is an entire world under the fallen leaf. Sometimes we're a million miles away, sitting on the edge of a cliff, the cool wind caressing us with the smell of tangerines.
Later, blue flames float down the river under the full moon.
I was brought on board to help with a game based on a well-known animated film. The game was directed at pre-teens and young teens.
The film, filled with off-beat humor, had the message: What matters is who you are inside, not how you look. However, the development team had been given the freedom to introduce new situations and characters into the game something that makes working on a film franchise game a great deal more fun than if you're just creating a game that allows players to reenact a movie.
The team told me they wanted me on board so I could bring more emotion into the game. I said that the essence of what was emotional about the film was its message, so we'd need to convey that message in the game.
The team was skeptical. "How can you put a message in the game?" As the movie was known for its edgy, fantasy humor, I gave them an example: Our heroes come into a city like a fantasy version of Los Angeles. All the people there are consumed by status symbols, and they all have suntans. They deride our band of wandering heroes for not being tanned.
The way you get a suntan in this city is that you go to a tanning salon, and lay down under a hot dog. Now, a hot dog is literally that: a wiener dog with electricity surging through him until he crackles with energy, UV light, and heat.
When our heroes won't leave town, some of the townspeople go to war with them, but only with a variety of (funny) weapons made by high-status companies. (Various status brands of cars, shoes, purses, and neighborhoods would be slightly altered and parodied.) In short, the weapons are status symbols to the people.
And so the fight begins….
However, our heroes discover that the entire tanning trend was created by a conspiracy of the hot dogs themselves, as a ploy to become fabulously wealthy.
The people, realizing they've been had, now join our heroes in doing battle with the hot dogs. The city folk also discover that our heroes' weapons are more effective than the status weapons they'd previously been using.
In the end, they thank our heroes for freeing them from the need for suntans and status weapons.
The preceding type of humor is completely in keeping within the tone of the film. And, while creating new situations and characters who don't appear in the film (which the developer had permission to do), this mission would have carried forth the exact message of the film: Who you are on the outside isn't as important as who you are on the inside.
The development team liked both the idea in specific and the notion of keeping the film's message alive in the game. But the deadlines were too severe, and there was no time to incorporate this type of thinking. In the end, these deadlines limited my role to writing funny dialogue.
An Emotionally Complex Moment in a game: You come upon a small band of nomads who earlier saved you. Now they're starving and you have no food to give them.
An Emotionally Complex Situation in a game: You need to make a temporary alliance with an evil warlord to rescue someone you care about. He'll use his warriors to ensure you safe passage through another enemy's terrain, but you'll owe him a big favor. To ensure you honor your moral debt, he injects a liquid explosive into your blood that he can detonate any time he wishes. You don't know when, in the game, he'll call upon you for help. Nor do you know what he'll ask you to do. However, it will definitely be something morally questionable or reprehensible to you.
An Emotionally Complex Situation in a game: You're given ESP and you realize your best friend is a liar.
Another Emotionally Complex Situation in a game: You have to destroy a locket given to you by someone you love, because of a poison that an enemy has put on it.
"We are the technicians of wonder."
Terinne wrote this in log entry in her journal, and also sent it digitally through trans-space. It was to be her last transmission, ever.
The high command on Ramidor, a planet circling Sirus, was not pleased. In their minds, the galaxy was divided into species. Earthlings were just some upstarts that needed to be watched. Thus Terinne's mission: to blend in and observe.
Terinne had begun with their viewpoint, but she had changed her thinking. She no longer divided up higher life forms in terms of species. Instead, she divided them according to their willingness and ability to contribute to their worlds. To her mind, the most creative life forms on Earth, the artists, had much in common with the artists on Ramidor.
She took up violin. She became far beyond good. The human eye, they say, can see more than seven million colors. But with her music, Terinne could evoke emotions that had previously never been experienced. If angels did exist, they would surely bend heaven to hear her play. She had made her heart a landing pad of inspiration. She had, with incalculable work and practice, made her hands those of a master technician. She was a technician of wonder.
The high command was not pleased. But Terinne no longer cared. She had given herself a new mission. If Earth was to be her abode, she would contribute. There was so much to do, and so much fulfillment in the doing.
Night had fallen. Terinne had always enjoyed the fact that this planet rotated, unlike Ramidor, and that the colors of day give way to the secrets of night in endless succession.
She opened her door and walked out upon a river of stars.
An NPC's language, when not a cliché snuggly fit to a situation, can create both a deepened character and an emotionally complex moment. For instance, in a game set in Roman times, a towering gladiator enters the Coliseum to slaughter the two prisoners. One of the prisoners says to the other, "I knew him as a child. He had a small dog. It was the color of sand."
It's a use of incongruence between an emotionally resonant image (the prisoners' impending deaths) and words (about the warrior's childhood dog) to create an Emotionally Complex Moment.
Regarding art direction: A pond will convey one feeling if it contains a single white swan. It will evoke a different feeling if an old soda can is floating in it. Its feeling will be altered yet again if it contains a mother duck followed by five cute ducklings. When it comes to creating moods in game environments, this has many implications. One is that there's just about nothing that isn't changed by the introduction of a duck.
In high school, one of my best friends was named Quinn. We used to call him "Quinn the Eskimo," from a song by Bob Dylan, but popularized in a rendition laden with fun, off-beat sincerity by Manfred Mann.
Although we ended up at the same university, we drifted apart. While I studied cultural anthropology and spent a year in Ghana, Quinn the Eskimo majored in physics, heading for a Ph.D., a job with DuPont, and eventually, making major contributions to the creation of stain-resistant carpet.
A few years ago we reestablished our friendship, and Quinn the Eskimo read, with interest, much of this book as it was being written. While it's far afield from his own specialty covering the living rooms of America with synthetic fur he enjoyed the logical approach to creativity the book embodies.
But he had one major problem with Chapter 1.5 ("Why Game Designers Often Find Writing to Be So Challenging"). That's where I said that the game industry needs a new kind of hybrid game designer/writer, just the way an alpaca is a hybrid, or cross, between a camel and a llama.
This comment distressed Quinn the Eskimo. He emailed me that, though these animals belong to the same family, alpacas aren't part camel. In fact, he informed me, some experts in the field have come to the conclusion that alpacas might just be long-domesticated llamas, living amongst us in disguise and masquerading as a distinct species. His email went on, full of scientific detail, as he tried to narrow in on exactly what constituted the true essence of an alpaca.
These observations by Quinn the Eskimo pry open the door to many difficult issues involving alpacas, science, and the role of the artist.
Sure, my comment that alpacas are a cross between a camel and a llama might slash and burn its way through animal taxonomy, and declare a scorched-earth policy on science in general, but that isn't the point.
I was working in the area of metaphorically stated insights and emotional truth, which is what artists do: reveal emotional truths. If scientific truth needs to bleed a little bit, so be it. Emotional truths are much harder won, and are much more valuable when it comes to enriching the human spirit and making life worth living.
It's my opinion that science should be used to uplift mankind by engineering such marvels as bicycles, Christmas lights, and pockets. Science should never use the bulldozer of logic to flatten all the wonder, depth, and humor out of our world. If you see a scientist coming your way without Christmas lights in his pockets, run.
There were so many things I wanted to tell Quinn the Eskimo, but I dared not share with him the ancient secrets that had been entrusted to me. I feared his entire world-view would shatter, and he'd end up wandering the desolate streets at night, broken and insane, with twisted voices swirling like a tempest in his head.
But you, dear reader, I trust to be made of stouter stuff and, I believe, can take the truth head on:
An alpaca is indeed a cross between a camel and a llama. A hamburger is a cross between a cow and a flying saucer. Ping-Pong is a cross between tennis and fly-swatting. Geometry is a cross between algebra and doodling. A zucchini is a cross between a cucumber and wood. Shaving is a cross between skin care and lawn-mowing. Peanut butter is a cross between peanuts and adhesive. And kissing? Kissing is a cross between artificial respiration and non-artificial exhilaration.
My friend Jason doesn't believe in atheists.
Better to be an outlaw than an in-law.
Look what we found
in the park
in the dark.
We will take him home.
We will call him Clark.
NPC dialogue and action can be used to:
An Emotionally Complex Situation in a game: You play a cop and discover that your partner, who just saved your life, is dirty. You've got to bring him down. You know, though, that in doing so, you'll shatter the lives of his wife and two kids, whom you've met and like.
An Emotionally Complex Situation in a WWII game: You play an American soldier of German ancestry and with a German last name. On the battlefield, you find yourself squared off against a German soldier with a last name identical to your own. Between gunshots, this information comes to you through a brief conversation you have with a captured German. In fact, you learn that you and the soldier you've been firing at might even be related.
When you kill the soldier you've been fighting and thus can finally get close, you see that his face looks almost identical to yours.
An Emotionally Complex Situation in a WWII game: You've got to retrieve a German soldier who has gotten a secret communication to American HQ that he wants to defect. HQ plans to have him infiltrate the German army, and then assassinate a high-ranking German general.
You rendezvous with the German soldier. However, as you escort him back through the battle zone, it turns out that there's been a breakdown in communication on the American side. The American soldiers haven't been briefed, and they believe you've defected and have joined the Germans. They begin firing on you, including a soldier named Nate (an NPC) who has been your best buddy.
You've got a strange task on your hands: You need to blow up ammo stockpiles and take other actions that cause the American soldiers to fall back, but without killing any of them.
Later, when you rejoin your side and the confusion is straightened out, Nate is consumed with guilt for having tried to kill you.
On your next mission, you and Nate, who's still depressed and evidences self-loathing, are teamed up to rescue an American pilot who has been taken prisoner. When you finally locate and reach the prisoner, he's being guarded by a German soldier who's a superlative, mean fighter.
Here you have a choice (a First-Person Deepening Experience: If you hold back and let Nate kill the German, his self-hatred and depression will lift. He'll feel that once again he has worth. On the other hand, if you make the kill, you'll feel the emotional surge that comes from victory.
However, in this scenario, the game will end with Nate feeling despondent and going AWOL, leaving a note behind that he's no good to anyone and that your squad is better off without him. His departure will weave a bittersweet overtone into the thrilling and triumphant finale.
Beneath the silver cloud cover of Venus, a civilization grew. The trans-dimensional mineral Korenth in the rocks and soil put all life forms on the planet out of phase with Earth. And so the cultures of Earth and Venus evolved unaware of each other, as it was meant to be, free to create or stumble into their own separate destinies.
Boredom and a lazy addiction to superficiality eventually slow the river of time of all worlds, and so it was on Venus. They eventually dug for themselves deep and stagnant grooves of behavior and thought.
Some Venusians, dissatisfied with their lives, moved to the Plains of Turan a zone that was commonly thought to exist only in fables. Here the settlers witnessed many strange things. The following are excerpts from some of their diaries.
Dulak (a man) Age 37
I met a band of 43 travelers who called themselves "The Measurers." One measured everything in terms of beauty. Another measured everything in terms of size. Another measured everything in terms of how essential it was for living. Each one had a different system of measuring. I asked them if measuring everything gave them happiness. They were intrigued they had no measurement for happiness, but they quickly devised one. The first thing they measured was themselves, and they learned they weren't happy at all being Measurers. The band broke up and never reunited again.
Isala (a woman) Age 24
I was walking along the lip of the Deneyb Plateau and the wind wrapped around me. I realized it was alive. I asked it what it wanted. It said it wanted to have a body, like mine. It asked me what I wanted. I said I wanted to be free, like it. This is the last thing I will ever write, for at sunset we're making the trade.
Rinelle (a woman) Age 31
I met a paranoid woman. She'd point to a cloud and said that its shape was a sign there was a baby in the town of Ulik and it would fall gravely ill. She'd point to some stones on the ground and say that their configuration was a sign that there would be flood in Vekoran. Suddenly she gripped her chest, sunk to her knees, and died. I felt sad, but I wasn't surprised. Earlier that day I had seen, in the shape of a tree limb, a sign that this was going to happen.
Pako (a boy) Age 12
My parents liked the open desert and we lived far away from civilization. I couldn't stand it, so one day I secretly packed some things and ran away. I'm a good runner so I ran fast and far. I passed another boy my age running in the other direction. We both stopped and I asked him where he was going. He told me that he was an orphan and that he never had a real family. Living by his instincts had made him develop his telepathic abilities. He sensed some parents grieving because they had just lost their son. He hoped that maybe they'd want him. And with that, he took off. I stood there a long time and watched him as he ran in the direction of my house, until he became just a small speck on the horizon.
In the Plains of Turan, all signs have been banned. Signs only help you find those places you're already seeking. All those who settle in Turan are seeking places that they can't even envision.
Some NPC behavior in games is just weird. You walk up to someone, and they start talking to you. I'll tell you, that doesn't always happen to me in real life. Sometimes I have to start talking first. When NPCs always turn toward me and start talking when I approach, I get a case of the surrealistic heebie-jeebies. And surrealistic heebie-jeebies are only one step below dental heebie-jeebies.
Why, in a game, can't you walk into an office where a clerk works behind the desk he looks up from his work, takes note of you and then goes back to his job. Or why, using Self Auto-Talk, why can't you ask him a question first? Why does your approach always have to turn him into an instant, talking robot?
Places I've touched, and, to my amazement, they touched me back….
Greece, where my feet walked on warm alabaster stones down to the Mediterranean, and she knew my name.
Ghana, where the summer night sweats music.
Scotland, where Druids, long forgotten, still cry, hiding in their secret chamber the beating heart of all Europe was meant to be.
Tibet. After the flute Buddha played was silenced, the pure notes settled there, like a dove landing on a pearl.
Consider the following statements:
How can the word "mercy" be used in so many ways, and yet all of them, on some level, make sense?
It brings up the most fundamental questions of art. Do artists:
The answer is #2. By using language like the above set of statements about mercy, new ways of seeing and experiencing new realities to inhabit are created.
We live on an island comprised of what's real to us, and we can experience only what's on the island. But the artist expands the island, or even creates new islands for us to inhabit. The artist literally creates realities for us to dwell in. Art provides the most important function for making life livable, but is consistently under-appreciated in our culture.
In high school I had a book entitled, If We Know Where Poems Come From, Why Don't We Just Go There?. To me, it's the most basic question we can ask.
Near the beginning of this book, I mentioned a friend of mine who said he would never play games because he wanted his entertainment experiences to have meaning. But what is the meaning of "meaning?"
I think by an "experience with meaning," he was implying that:
If games are to have meaning and lure people like my friend, then they'll need to do most or all of the preceding.
And here is the miracle of miracle, friends:
That you can use logical tools (like the ones in this book) to create something that is wondrous, moving, and wise something that can never be fully explained or understood with logic. For an aesthetic experience operates on a different wavelength than logic, and therefore logic can't touch it. You can use building blocks forged by logic to create something that can only be apprehended by the heart and spirit.
When I was young, I was given the impression that maturity had some relationship to being serious. This is, by far, the biggest sham ever foisted onto children, and the most destructive.
Maturity has nothing at all to do with seriousness. It has to do with:
Not included is seriousness. Of course there are times where seriousness might be appropriate, but they comprise only about a tenth or twentieth of the times when most people are serious.
Perhaps what I like most about people in both game publishing and development is that so many know the difference between maturity and seriousness. Many are wise, responsible, capable, and empathetic but not serious.
And, because I get to work around such people, I have the best of all possible jobs.