I am still in the early portion of the game, Okami. I think I beat the first two bosses, and I only cast doubt, because I’m unsure of how bad these opponents are and whether they would be considered bosses in the gamer community. I’d rather not look it up so I wouldn’t accidentally stumble on guides or anything like that.
Below are a few themes I fund during this game thus far:
Automation: How Much is Enough?
Gamers shouldn’t really do monotonous, boring things in game. My example is that if your character had to eat every 4 hours, then sleep every 8 hours of game play, that would be somewhat boring, right? So, the solution may be to cut boring tasks out. The game uses automation in that all I need to do is deliver objects to NPC’s, or non-playable characters. After I deliver, they do something with the object. As an example, while my character had to help the sake lady make sake, I as the player didn’t do anything. It was much appreciated!
Thinking about automation also made me think about a trade-off between making boring actions more automatic, and thus, more fun, and yet, lose educational value into it. How can we design games that are accurate, and help students learn, yet fun enough that even boring tasks may be performed? I think other factors will influence how much can you automate, such as animation costs, and time. A designer can’t infinitely cut everything, there’s just not enough time! But this trade-off is important to consider.
The Power of Visuals
No matter what discipline you’re from, everyone can learn from visual design, taken from cognitive psychology. Guiding users to learn about the game is a very difficult task. How does the designer communicate to go to a specific place? Or show power-ups?
In following with the aesthetics, Okami did a masterful use of animations, colors and images to convey these things. Without any previous idea of what a hidden item looked like in this game, I was attracted to an animated glow in a specific spot, tried interacting with it, and received a power-up item! This use of subtle animation, and light, bright colors was really well made to show these hidden power-up items. In showing happy birds, there’s a simple heart symbol above their heads.
In other words, learning games does not necessarily need to be text in a tutorial. Oreven an explicit tutorial in general. A wll crafted game with careful use of visual design can help with this.
Implications in Design
Culturally, there are various aspects of the game that gamers are educated on.
One value in the culture is a culture of humility. One example is that I’m a sun god, yet I must help this lazy man, who has illusions of being a hero, but has not done the proper work for them, to appear strong and masterful of the sword.
Another cultural value is the acceptance of sake, or alcoholic beverages. My character needed to help the sake brewer make her sake so that I can give the lazy man. The lazy man claimed that he could start training after he got some sake. I don’t remember many games before where I help a character who produces alcoholic beverages, and some American parents may be critical about this value.
Another cultural implication is how I interact with nature. As my character runs, a trail of flowers and grass bloom right behind me. I helped make a withering tree bloom with flowers. I interact with living animals and give them food for them to give me a reward in the form of power ups. The enemies curse the land in darkness, where even the strongest, most beautiful meadows in Japan can appear to be wastelands. These actions help gear the gamer towards an environmentally conscious mindset.
Games as a Cultural Probe?
Cameras, technologies, even note cards have been used as probes, or as Bohener et. al. define in their paper “How HCI Interprets the Probes”, as a way to engage an audience for reflection, explore the design space or a problem, or as a way or researchers and users to have a dialogue, without tying it to a specific, contrived context in a hidden manner. These probes can be useful for uncovering values about a target audience, design differently, and generally engaging a target audience.
Then, this makes me think of using games as a tool for this sort of probes. Could we use a game to engage the audience in a meaningful way to explore how we would design games differently? Can a well crafted game be used as a research tool, without biasing towards one design solution over another? Can I even use a game to probe the audience that made the game?
These questions arose probably because I’m taking Computer Supported Collaborative Work and I read about cultural probes there, but given the implications in the game, it made me think about cultural probes. For now, I will leave these questions unanswered for further reflection.