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


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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Are Loot Boxes just glorified Skinner Boxes?

Recently, there has been a popular trend in AAA games, of adding what the industry now calls loot boxes.
This introduces a system, where the player will pay real money, in exchange for the game to drop random in-game items and features.
The phenomenon has been so widespread, that Jim Sterling – a youtube content creator and journalist – even declared 2017 to be the year of the loot box. (Sterling, 2017)

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