Thursday, September 21, 2006

Rewards - Game Design Conventions

Free, morphable gameplay, opposed to clear, static, mandatory goals are clearly the game design conventions this weblog should be more inclined to discuss. However, since GregT has brilliantly done something similar in his post, I decided to take on a game convention that often puzzles me: Rewarding the player (often described as positive feedback).

Rewarding the Player

Any game design resource will tell you that you need to constantly reward your player for his good deeds and right gameplay decisions. That would reinforce his confidence and keep his interest in the game. True. As a gamer, I can see that. Sound and graphical cues inform me I'm on the right path - which is great, isn't it?

As a designer, I must say I was never concerned with rewarding as I should be. I recognise this as a personal weakness, not as an artistic statement (and maybe that's the real cause of my discontentment). Still, I feel this constant rewarding and punishment should be questioned in the name of experimental game design. The problem, as I see it, is that instant gratifications like those might lead to a conditional behaviour, much like Pavlov's dog, from the player. Maybe we should let the player investigate and decide on his actions` positives and negative effects for himself.

Maybe a more open-ended scheme should hint the player more about his possibilities, and be less judgemental. Yes, rewarding is very helpful at teaching the game basics, but the player shouldn't play all the time just to feel he is doing things right and being appreciated - he should be the one appreciating things, once in a while.

Although I can see its importance to game design (just think of most casual games - they probably wouldn't work so great without this reinforcement), I think this approach is related to the traditional win-lose scheme of games. What we might need (as I suggested here) is more ambiguity, less certainties, so games, as the art form they are, can be more freely interpreted by the players. Sure, this advice is to be taken from a minority of game genres and styles. Still, the current model of reward and punishment is something I feel could be challenged more often.


Chris said...

Is the distinction being danced around here the difference between planned rewards and fulfilling play activities (i.e. activities which are their own reward)?

When people play with a box of Lego bricks, the play is full of rewards - but the rewards are natural consequences of the play. They are not placed there by design.

Just an idle thought. :)

Chico Queiroz said...

That's pretty much the point! fulfilling play activities as rewards in themselves are much more open the player's interpretation and subject to his own desires than planned rewards.

But maybe another point would be that a broad outcome that emerges from a group of actions performed by a player after some play time is also a 'fuzzy' reward. Interpreting how his actions result in a game state, and actively reflecting about his role in the game universe, should also be a kind of reward - sure, transformations in the game should be visible, but not necessarily prejudged by the game.

Thanks for the help on this one!

Kevin Trepanier said...

Hey, interesting post.

I think simulations does the best job with the ambiguous, "user created" rewards.

Taking Simcity as an example, there is no goal nor is there any real victory condition. The player is never really told "don't do that!", so if he feels like destroying the whole town, it is a reward in itself to see it burn! While other players would consider it punishment.

Chico Queiroz said...

Hello Kevin,

True. Open-ended simulations seem to allow a greater deal of "feedback ambiguity" (whatever that means) :)

Sim City is a good example. As you say, one can happily play Nero without being recriminated by the game.

Maybe MS Flight Simulator also has something to say: it used to be one of the most complex games around (in terms of control) and it had zero cute assets to congratulate you. Still, I never felt, as a player, neglected by it.

Incidentally, have I mentioned I'm really looking forward to Kuju's Rail Sim? :)

Take care!

Chico Queiroz said...

ps: Not to mention Façade, of course...

Hum... good question.. would it fit within this discussion?

GregT said...

Hey! Thanks for the linkage!

I think there's possibly a line to be drawn within the category of "rewards", between "gratifications" and "interesting results". Sound cues and level-ups and so forth are really just gratifications - if you do X, you get Y, which in the context of the game and the human psyche is desirable.

But "interesting results" is probably a better path to go down. It's the difference between an RPG where talking to everyone in town results in about 500 variations of "We want you to kill the nearby dragon", and an RPG where talking to everyone in town lets you learn about the town's complex social network, make some friends, and maybe eventually run for mayor or open a cafe. You need to anticipate in broad strokes what kind of goals a player may wish to pursue, given the playscape, and put in some further content to be explored if those goals are pursued.

Chico Queiroz said...

Hello GregT

I probably wrote "reward" when "gratification" was a much better term for it - Thanks for reminding me of that word!

And you're right: it makes sense to use those kinds of gratifications, which is why my original criticism isn't 100% valid.

Anyway, just a thought.


André Carita said...

Um dos temas que irei futuramente abordar passa de uma certa forma por algumas questões que mencionas. Contudo tentarei abordar a questão do reward ligado à violência nos videojogos tendo em conta 2 diferentes títulos. Manhunt, que desbloqueia alguns bonus consoante o grau de violência com que se executa os inimigos, e SWAT 4, que passa pela situação inversa. em SWAT 4, ao contrário de Manhunt, o jogador consegue uma maior pontuação neutralizando os inimigos sem uso da violência!

Duas diferentes perspectivas nesta questão dos rewards...

Um abraço!

André Carita

Chico Queiroz said...

Legal, André. Aguardarei seu post para que possamos continuar a discussão.


Copyright, Chico Queiroz