Occasionally, interactive experiences with little to no agency will hit the video game scene, and cause uproar.
Firewatch (Campo Santo, 2016) and Danganronpa (Spike Chunsoft, 2010) is but two examples of games that many refer to as “interactive novels”, instead of “games”.
What I intend with this short essay, is not to validate certain games over others, but rather to explore the reward system in such a game.
How do designers keep hold of consumers’ attention, in an experience that has no agency?
Hallford and Hallford (2001) has defined four types of rewards. These are rewards of glory, rewards of sustenance, rewards of access, and rewards of facility.
Rewards of sustenance are defined as items found within the gameworld, that can help prolong your character’s lifespan within the game, such as extra lives or better gear. Rewards of facility, allows a character to level up or acquire new abilities in order to gain an advantage over other players or the system.
Since both Firewatch and Danganronpa follow a strict novel-like format where no harm can ever come to the main character – unless said harm is scheduled – both these categories are obsolete.
One might in that case say, that the experience of playing a strictly progressive and scripted game, is purely based on rewards of glory.
This reward system is defined by Hallford and Hallford as something that doesn’t have any direct impact on the game mechanics, but something the player gathers satisfaction from – and will later discuss in social situations – nonetheless.
Since both Firewatch, Danganronpa, and other games of the format is largely composed of scheduled events and dialogue with no branching storylines, one might say that the entire game is one long reward system of glory.
The player forms a connection with the story and certain characters, and these are the exact events he or she will later on discuss with friends.
The one other important category, is rewards of access. This category is defined as rewarding the player with a new area of the game world to explore.
Firewatch relies purely on the player’s freedom of exploration. In fact, this is the game’s only form of gameplay.
Danganronpa lets the player know far ahead of time that an entire new playing area will be opened up, when a chapter is completed.
As a result, the promise of being able to peek behind the curtains of the game world and explore further, is one of the two main features that actively keeps consumers engaged.
In conclusion, it is clear that even though these games are closer to what many would call interactive novels, the theory of reward-systems defined by Hallford and Hallford still applies, and this is very likely what helps these products overall qualify as games.
Gazzard, Alison (2011) ‘Unlocking the Gameworld: The Rewards of Space and Time in Videogames’. Game Studies, Volume 11 Issue 1.
Available at: http://gamestudies.org/1101/articles/gazzard_alison (Accessed: 15 October 2017)
Hallford, N. & Hallford, J. (2001) Swords and Circuitry: A designer’s guide to computer role playing games. Premier Press, Incorporated.
Campo Santo (2016) Firewatch [Video game] Panic.
Spike Chunsofuto (2010) Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc [Video game] Spike Chunsofuto.