Why bother with Emergence? – Exploring player motivation in emergent games

Introduction

Traditionally, games were progressive. You, the player, would start at the beginning of a scripted story, and move through environments designed to only revolve around you. When you interacted with the system, something else happened. If you didn’t act, the world would never move or change. Like the protagonist in a play, the antagonists and props are pointless without the hero.
But in recent years of game development, a new trend of emergence has surfaced.
This essay looks at the the characteristics of emergent, complex systems, and the role of the player within them.
The game Don’t Starve, by Klei Entertainment will be used as an example of a complex system, in which the world is designed in a way that nearly ignore the player’s existence entirely.
The essay then goes on to explore, what might attract players to engage with a game world such as this one.
If the game you play pays no mind to you, and if the game gives you nothing for free – if there is no reward system and goal structure – what is fun about playing it?

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The reward systems of almost-games

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?

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Is Nostalgia a Danger to Video Games?

Video games have come an immense way since the birth of the industry. The technology used to create the original Spacewar! in the early 1960s seems to be of a completely different world from the current AAA games with their hyper-realistic graphics and incredible virtual worlds. But despite the technological advancements, the modern gamer still tend to keep their distance from new titles, in order to look back on a time of games past.
Is this nostalgia a tendency obstructing the development of the medium?

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What are Game Mechanics?

Despite “game mechanics” being one of the most mentioned phrases of game production and consuming alike, as I entered the Games Design course at LCC, it occurred to me that I – or any of my classmates – did not actually have a clear definition of what they are.

So I entered on a journey, attempting to find out what exactly game mechanics are, and if they are definable at all.

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