The time to evolve emotional game content is now, developers say

Video game content is ready to evolve emotionally, and it is up to game developers to take responsibility for that change, according freelance game writer Susan O'Connor and Electronic Arts' Chuck Beaver.

Speaking at a session at the Game Developer's Conference in San Francisco titled "Evolving the emotional content of games," O'Connor and Beaver ran through some of the ways game developers can evolve the emotional content of games beyond predictable and clichéd experiences.

"I know so many game developers, and so many of them are wonderful, smart, creative, considerate and adult, and somehow those personalities are not always reflected in the games that we make," O'Connor said.

In the talk, both O'Connor and Beaver outlined some of the ways developers can grow the emotional content of their games so that they can reach players on a "human level."

"I know so many game developers, and so many of them are wonderful, smart, creative, considerate and adult, and somehow those personalities are not always reflected in the games that we make."

Chief among the advice they gave was for studios to consider the emotional core of their game at the concept stage. Rather than only focusing on the business model and making a game that will fill a gap in the market, O'Connor said developers need to have a vision that matters, and that vision needs to be introduced early on and championed by a creative who is in a position of power. This person needs to "set the North Star and create a unique vision," O'Connor said.

Once a vision is created, development teams then need to value the emotional journey they are creating for the player over the plot. O'Connor explains that if a studio only focuses on plot, then if a level is removed from a game or if anything is changed around, the plot could fall apart. But if a studio focuses on the emotional journey of the player, then that gives them room to be flexible, which is paramount in game development.

"Focus on the emotional journey instead."

"Plots are not earthquake-proof," she said. "Focus on the emotional journey instead."

O'Connor added that emotional journeys like a story of redemption or a story of heartbreak do not fall apart when things are inevitably moved around.

One of the final points addressed by O'Connor and Beaver is the importance of involving a writer in multiple facets of game development — from level design to mission and quest designs to determining the pacing of the game.

"Story isn't just cinematics and voiceover," O'Connor said. "It includes level design. Story is what the player does. It's where the player will get emotionally attached and engaged. The speed in which they do things affects how they feel."

The developers ended their talk by reminding the audience that the moment to initiate change is now, and that the secret of games isn't in graphic technology or guns, it's in the way developers make players feel. "And once we harness that power, we'll be unstoppable," O'Connor said.

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