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Blog: Exploring the 'what' of bittersweet game design

The next weblog submit, until another way famous, was once written via a member of Gamasutra’s neighborhood.
The ideas and critiques expressed are the ones of the author and now not Gamasutra or its father or mother corporate.


This text is according to a chat I introduced at the Tehran Recreation Conference. Slides are to be had right here. It is usually to be had in my private weblog, if you happen to desire a unique studying situation. 

“Videogames are meant to be a laugh”

We pat ourselves within the again in figuring out. In the end, some excellent previous sense was once spurred on this mad dialog. Tic tac toe involves thoughts, duck duck goose, remembrances of the better occasions once we came upon ourselves enjoying. What a joyous distraction this present day have been.

As we grew older, the video games we performed modified in persona and chance, however something assists in keeping us going, one thing fun and gleeful. One thing we discovered to spot as a laugh. And, for the ones folks trustworthy sufficient to this entity of a laugh, it was our business of selection.

We input this task with many doubts, bewildered via the tech, via our friends and even via our personal creations. The doubts fade once we immerse ourselves on this playful bliss, drip via drip. We by no means query why we have interaction it within the first position, will we? That is all too transparent, wondering that may be equivalent to question the truthiness of our holy scriptures.


That is why we create video games, proper? To create that stunning, beautiful endorphin rush. 

In all seriousness, are they?

In case you think about maximum of what is regarded as as educational analysis on video games and videogames, surely. All theories researching the avid gamers’ engagement center of attention on a laugh or different sure feelings, which inspire the participant to move on. Principle of a laugh, from Koster, and even Nick Yee’s Motivation of Play, are all according to the sure comments avid gamers stumble upon in video games.

Some of these researches can also be summarized in behavioral psychology’ sure reinforcement. If the topic receives a good stimulus whilst doing the motion, each issues transform intertwined to some degree when the motion itself turns into the present, even with out the stimulus.

If, whilst you transfer your avatar to collide to with a yellow round object, we come up with imaginary issues and play a nice sounding impact, one day the sound itself turns into sure. In the similar method, if a now not so delightful sound performs each time one thing now not so excellent occurs, the sound itself turns into entangled with dangerous emotions.

Reinforcement is the foundation of the core loop idea that we use on an on a regular basis foundation to speak about recreation design. The core loop is the one, maximum used collection of movements carried out in a recreation. That is the essence of a recreation core loop:

Relying at the recreation, the movements trade. As an example, in a match-three recreation, the motion could be shifting the items, the outcome could be forming a block or now not, the present will depend on the sport however most often comes to the weblog of an identical items being destroyed. A majority of these video games should not have harsh punishments for error, however they could have an oblique punishment similar to having an motion restrict or a timer, thus a mistaken transfer makes the participant lose an motion or time. 

Behaviour science could be very complicated within the of the use and result of reward-based reinforcement.

However science isn’t an independent bystander of human wisdom. Science is question-driven and we generally tend the ask the questions about topics we’re extra conscious about. It’s not by accident Huizinga learn about seemed within the 1930’s, when the Olympics was once changing into a cultural (and political) phenomenon, making video games and sports activities standing on society skyrocket. It is usually now not by accident that we learn about extra regularly delightful and successful (as in: habit led to via sure reinforcement) spaces.

For the reason that business established order of videogames as leisure, within the overdue 1970s, video games are related to a laugh and delight. That is a memory in their origins, being first centered at kids as house consoles or as a bar interest as penny-operated machines later known as arcades.

Discovering the feels (they all)

However we’re well beyond this present day of advent. Videogames are a thriving business, at the succeed in of each human on the planet that has any get right of entry to to the web.

As a complete new medium, video games can and must impress all rage of human feelings and reactions and query the limits of its language in each alternative. And but, videogames began as a laugh studies and it’s arduous to damage via this stigma.

However human psyche is a lot more than a number and satisfied studies, how about disappointment, guilt, apathy, grief, sorrow, feel sorry about or angst? Do they’ve a spot in videogames?

Some video games have already portrayed unfavorable emotions in compelling techniques, techniques which I suggest a brand new categorization.

Sour Finishing

That is when a recreation items unfavorable emotions in opposition to the top whilst depending on established sure reinforcing recreation mechanics. Most often, those unfavorable emotions are a plot-twist, this means that they’re a lot more content material comparable than gameplay comparable. Braid is an instance of this construction, the participant is result in consider they’re progressing towards saving the princess, knowing handiest in any case that the princess does now not need to be stored (a minimum of, now not via the protagonist). You’re the creep she needs to break out from, boo hoo.

There are lots of many different video games that do this, however I do not need to come up with spoilers if you have not performed them. If you do not thoughts, here’s a to hand checklist of a few of them.

Wonder Bitterness

That is when designers need to spotlight the aggravating or unhealthy content material of a selected second in a recreation. The principle mechanics and gameplay are crafted as delightful and tasty as supposed all through the sport. Alternatively, in a selected second or area within the recreation, mechanics are subverted to power the participant to really feel the protagonist’s misery or the thickening of the plot.

As an example, at the torture scene in Steel Tools Cast when the participant’s actions are limited, conveying Snake’s precarious state of affairs. This restriction is an opposition to the entire gameplay, ahead of and after, and exists only to put across Snake’s misery to the participant. The participant is now not a bystander, they’re section and sufferer of this damage at the Geneva conference.

Wonder ou dramatic bitterness is an overly efficient method to attract participant’s consideration to this actual second within the recreation whilst now not being too dangerous for the reason that major is unbroken throughout the recreation.


Bittersweet is when the sport could make the participant really feel unfavorable emotions whilst they’re engaged within the recreation itself. This isn’t a very simple balancing to do, particularly since we have now so little research round it and only some video games to make use of as examples.

Some video games, alternatively, do that seamlessly. 

  • Papers, Please – The participant has to come to a decision the destiny of many candidates in each game-day. This comes to blended emotions as a result of whilst the mechanic is compelling and engaging, the context of every applicant’s narrative and hopes weights within the participant resolution. Additionally, on the finish of each game-day, the participant is confronted with the have an effect on in their possible choices each in his circle of relatives (“ranking” display) and nation (newspaper and warnings from their bosses) contexts. Advanced gameplay emerges from a easy mechanic interweaved with very unfavorable context and tough ethical possible choices.
  • This Struggle of Mine – The loss aversion mechanic in This Struggle of Mine that repeatedly reminds the participant of the shortage and seriousness of the characters’ state of affairs. 
  • Bury me, my love – Although it makes use of an easy mechanic of emulating a talk between two other people, the topics and the script take the participant to the next move of being concerned. You and your spouse are living in Syria (sure, civil conflict Syria) and also you two in combination had been saving cash to break out from the war. Because you what you place in combination isn’t that a lot and in economies razed via conflict issues generally tend to price greater than they must, you two come to a decision it’s higher to Nour, your spouse, to move by myself. Nour is making her adventure, however she trusts your judgment and can all the time ask your opinion when she comes upon a crossroad. She won’t all the time practice your judgment however she all the time check-in to grasp what you will have been as much as. The result’s each gut-wrenching and heartwarming.
  • Dys4ia – Anna Anthropy took her on a regular basis frustrations and the sensation of being an interloper and displayed in a sequence of discomforting and but fascinating mechanics. Although this recreation will now not give the participant the entire enjoy of what it method to be a transgender lady in our society, this is a honest advent.
  • Wet Day – I do not really feel like speaking about this recreation once more, please confer with this newsletter.

Each design and content material are utilized in those video games to succeed in the bittersweet consequence, alternatively, the core loop is the foundation of the whole lot.

Coming near doubtful and compounded subject matters (similar to ethical dilemmas or social eventualities) in a multifaceted method provides to the complexity of the loop, however with out the bittersweet loop, you can not succeed in the paradox that’s the middle and essence of a bittersweet recreation design. 

Let’s discuss every those spaces one at a time, in a long run textual content.

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