Dr Awesome is an iPhone game where the players are put to treat virus outbreak patients in a series of mini-games that resemble Qix. Besides the fact that I’ve always regarded Qix as an ingenious game design, it is interesting how Dr Awesome taps into the emotional potential of one’s address book. This gives me a chance to explore another concept from emotion theory, namely the variables that affect the intensities of emotions.
The address book design feature in Dr Awesome basically tries to make us care more for the goals of the game, by embodying those goals into the contacts from the phone book. It’s not exactly a design solution that makes your hands shake as you are ‘operating’ on the patients, but it’s clever enough, and manages to put an inch more intensity into the gameplay and your valuation of the goal. As you can see from the screenshots, the patients and their relationship to you is addressed in the game’s rhetoric as well.
Based on the few goes I’ve had with the game, it’s mostly been distant friends or business contacts I’ve had to work on – so it seems it picks the patients out by random. Then again, I’ve not come across any close friends and relatives that I call or text the most, so there is a chance that these more emotionally resonant patients are left for the higher levels of the game. It makes me wonder how playing the game with, e.g., my mother or my girlfriend as the patient would make me feel. I will try to find out, even if the game gets quite hard pretty quickly.
How does this connect to concepts from emotion theory? Well, in Ortony, Clore & Collins’ theory on the cognitive structure of emotions – a theory I’ve found useful to adapt for game design and analysis purposes – they define a set of variables that affect the intensity of emotions. These are variables that affect the ‘baseline’ intensity of an emotion, i.e. whether it will be experienced as stronger or milder. I’ll be posting a series of analyses, focusing on each of the variables.
Dr Awesome and the case of the ‘Sense of reality’ variable
The first variable I’m discussing is called sense of reality, defined as ‘how much one believes that the emotion-inducing situation is real’. Sense of reality is obviously at work in all games that strive for an immersive experience where the player is transported into another world. You can read my post about Far Cry 2 through the lens of the variable.
Thus in many cases, sense of reality variable is addressed through audiovisual means, in effort to suspend disbelief. On the other hand, Dr Awesome hints at other techniques more familiar to ARGs and the like. Being developed for a phone, the game tries to address the sense of reality variable with another technique: by taking our real-life contacts, exposing them to sickness, and making the player operate on them, as if their lives would be dependent on her. This design solution also opens up the world of so-called ‘fortunes-of-others’ type of emotions, such as empathy.
I find that this metaphor of ‘game as saving the lives of my close ones with my expert surgeon skills’ is more of an entertaining aspect of the medical theme, and all credit to Ngmoco, the developer, it does not try to be anything more.
Nevertheless, it allows a peek into an emotional design space for games that could use more experimentation, definitely.