Perceivable Determinism in Social Interaction: Why you might want interactive characters to be more predictable than people. (Part 2)
In Part 1 we talked about how limiting and directing choices in interactive stories lets the storytelling shape the player’s character. The case still remains open on what players find most engaging and rewarding.
Do players want to be able to log on to a forum and find out the exact steps they should take in order to win the favor of their favorite character?
The infamous Final Fantasy VII date scene that inspired over 9000 FAQs.
Or, would a more “realistic” system that takes into account uncontrollable variables, like random character mood or attention to the weather result in a more entrancing, attractive experience? That’s how real people work, after all.
It’s a tricky coin. I would be mortified if a beloved character yelled at me the same way a mysteriously stressed out co-worker does. I immerse myself into stories for enjoyment and enrichment, not a dose of absence of control that steers me even closer towards learned helplessness. Moreover, the way we can put on hats, becoming more charismatic and socially felicitous than we manage with our own words and gestures, is undeniable soothing and rewarding. Players are able to transform from a sweatpants-wearing, couch-sitting mortal into a taciturn and eloquent monk with the help of the storyteller.
Dating simulators, experiences where players can woo digital love partners, are quite popular in Japan but have not quite caught on in America. Atlus, a Japanese gaming company, recently brought the simulator-like game Catherine http://www.catherinethegame.com/ on shore.
The protagonist of ‘Catherine’ sitting with the cute blonde love interest.
In this game, the player can chose between many actions that result in winning favor with one woman, at the expense of another, through dialogue scenes interspersed between sadistic puzzle games. The consequences of every choice rises or lowers the affection of two women, explicitly showed to the player through a “karma meter.”
The “Karma Meter” appears to the right whenever the player says something that influences which girl likes him more.
I’ll be the first to admit that I wish I had one of these in middle school. I might have been more popular if I was able to quantify how something I said affected those around me. Golly, I might have even gone on a date if I could have found a good FAQ.
In Star Wars: The Old Republic, units of character affection are shown to the bottom left after dialogue choices
Many recent games that are role-play heavy have adopted the method of displayable “units of affection”, including Dragon Age,Star Wars: The Old Republic, Harvest Moon, and .hack. Let’s be clear that this is no technical limitation: artificial intelligence techniques like Markov Chains and Machine Learning have been employed to solve related problems for decades. Moreover, these “affection unit” systems would work without displaying these numbers to the user; interactive social experiences purposefully chose controllability over immersion.