Monday, February 09, 2009

Troubled Avatars

While reading Ian McEwan's novel Saturday, I was very impressed by a chapter narrating a squash match between the protagonist (a middle-aged neurosurgeon from London) and his friend and colleague. Here's an excerpt:

"Half a dozen times the ball travels up and down the left-hand wall, until Perowne finds the space on his backhand to lift it high into the right-hand corner.They play that wall in hard straight drives, dancing in and out of each other's path, then they're chasing shots all over the court, with the advantage passing between them.
They've had this kind of rally before - desperate, mad, but also hilarious, as if the real contest is to see who will break down laughing first."

From: Saturday, by Ian McEwan.

McEwan does an amazing job describing the psychological state of his character during play: the lack of focus from out-of-court worries, that "flow" feeling after prolonged rallies, the balance between competitiveness and camaraderie, etc..

In my last contribution to the round table, I've suggested ways of designing for the player's, say, lateral thinking (in a desirable way). But why not extend this mental state to the characters - and then to the player?

Let's keep the rackets and think of a videogame of Tennis, for instance. Suppose you're playing with Roger Federer against a CPU-controlled Rafael Nadal. Now, usually the only match-unrelated concerns of between the player and full control of the game are the (real world) player's concerns. Federer's avatar might be more or less capable in game fundaments (serving, backhanding, forehanding, lobbing, etc.), but his psychological state is neutral.

Now let's remember the last Federer Vs. Nadal match, when they were playing for the Australian Open. Judging from Federer's reaction, visibly upset to the point of crying during the prize ceremony, there should be some psychological unbalance going on. Was his mind somewhere else during the match? I don't know, but that's a hypothesis.

So, how could this kind of mental state be reflected in the game (and gameplay)? Overlapping images? Unresponsive control pads? There's a number of options that could be tested.

Sport games might not be the best example of use for that. RPGs, 1st and 3rd persons could benefit from this kind of "troubled avatars" to add depth to the story and gameplay. It could be a way of levelling the character's and player's experiences.

(Note: I remember a football videogame where the controller rumbled, as to indicate mental distress, during penalty shootouts. Was it one of FIFA series?)
Copyright, Chico Queiroz