21 October 2010

Partners in...

I’ve been thinking about the partner effect recently. No, not the partner effects or the partner effect. The effect i'm thinking of is one you may have encountered in your every day lives - it's when someone who has an emotional tie to someone else backs up the other person's point of view no matter how stupid or ridiculous it is and in fact may go against what they themselves would normally think in a certain situation.

Example 1: A husband states that something is stupid because of some silly reason.... Person C does not agree and states their reasons why. Wife (or partner) of Husband comes in and echoes Husband's opinion despite it being a bit stupid.

Example 2: Programmer 1 questions programmer 2 as to why a piece of software is written the way it is when this other way could be more advantageous. Programmer 2 responds that it's better this way for some dubious reason however, it later becomes apparent that programmer 3 wrote the software and has been good friends with programmer 2 for a long time.

In both these hypothetical situations the 'partner' takes the position of their partner despite obvious flaws in the reasoning or whatever.

Now, personally, i find this annoying and, as far as i'm aware, i do not do it. In fact, i was once told by my mother that i shouldn't undermine my partner despite me not agreeing with what they said. This is all a bit by-the-by and is more of a starting-off point in this thought process.

We talk about emotional investment and involvement with our characters in games and for those of the NPC or AI partners that we engage with. So..... can we evoke this same behavioural response for a gamer and their computer controlled friends? I think, on some levels, this has already been accomplished. Many people talk about their minions in Fallout (1-3) like they were long-lost family members. Similarly, Fable 2's dog evoked a lot of emotional attachment for some players. However, that emotional attachment is different than the one i'm going for. What i want to be able to do is make a player like a character so much that they're willing to change the way they play the game at that moment in time - and not necessarily for the better.

Say you've got a companion who accompanies you throughout the game - they're useful, not annoying or helpless - and you converse with them and learn about them and the world through those conversations. One of the game mechanics is that you're able to eat these pods that grow on grass-like stalks in certain places throughout the world to regain health. Maybe it becomes apparent that these are the babies of a race of beings and your friend is really for continuing to eat them? A lot of people would probably stop eating those foetal beings and take the hit in health or power though some people would continue on anyway due to it just being a game mechanic..... But could we influence those players who would turn away from power to instead embrace it?

I guess the way i'd try and do it is by slowly influencing the gamer's play through insertion of partner opinions. Start off small with suggestions like "Jump when the enemy attacks you and you will have a greater probability of dodging their attack" to "if you combine these potions/items you'll get this really cool thing" and "this guy looks evil, we shouldn't trust him" (he then turns out to be evil).... Doing this is basically offering small cheats and hints to the players but it might also engender trust between the player(character) and the partner through repeated links in the brain of the player to their partner being 'correct'.

I suppose another possible way you could help with this is have the partner completely voiceless and non-interactive during testing and having a person sitting there with the player. Telling them how to play and offering advice on characters within the game. Record these sessions and take the most effective lines and put them into the game for the character to use (and don't have them as 'set' interactions, make it random which ones the player gets). It might work sort of like a sales pitch when journalists are playing the games for the first time - the very action of reinforcing the game's strengths can make them appear stronger and its weaknesses less significant.

It's partly how salespeople perform their pitches too; use positive framing and whatnot.... then, when the trap is honeyed, you reel them in by applying the 'false' logic you've built up around the situation or product along with the positive framing to close the deal.

Perhaps i should rename this post "What gaming could learn from selling..."?

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