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Article - 'Mind Tricks' by Angroth

An item about Game Design posted on Jan 14, 2004


How to get the minor theings of your game affecting the player on a subconscious level.


"Mind Tricks, what's that? Sounds like a bit too much skullduggery for me!"
Mind tricks are bluntly the best thing you can do to make someone like your game whether it is a truly good game or just a moderately good one. Noteably you will need to have a relatively good game for mind tricks to work but even if your game is shoddy then mind tricks aren't going to harm your game! Below I shall describe how they work and give examples which you can use and how to avoid bad mind tricks which will hinder your game.

How Mind Tricks Work:
Mind tricks are merely subconscious mind manipulation techniques which you can use to make a player bias for the game. By using them in a variety of ways a player is being pushed towards favouring your game without even knowing it. It works in both ways, for and against your games; it is a double edged weapon. A clear example of this is if you are playing a game and see some spelling mistakes, you may personally not think too much of this but your mind is being slowly dissuaded from the game. Admittedly if I see too many minor things going wrong in a game, by the time certain good elements come through in the game I will be so badly against the game that I probably won't think much of them. Obviously these minor things are not quite as significant as major flaws or good things within a game but you might be suprised just how much of an effect these little things have on a persons mind!

Mind Tricks To Use:
Maps: You can make people biased towards your maps in a number of ways. Firstly you could try making it so that the players path is constantly being altered, by not moving directly forward on every map a players mind is being stimulated more so, they have to think. Whether people are in the way or you are blocking a path with a fallen tree, variation in which way the player has to move will get them thinking more and will make the map more interesting. If you do this without making it too obvious with what you are doing, the movement will not become laborious and shall sink into the subconscious with a good effect.

General: Make people feel like they are in control of where they are going and what they are doing. This can be done in a manner of ways. You should give the character choices throughout the game, too many and the player will become overwhelmed but just a few and the player will think that they are choosing their destiny. You can make it so that these choices have no effect but it feels like they do. Another way to seem like someone is free is to make people know exactly where to go in a town or on the world map but make openings for a little exploration, the more you can wander off a little, the more you feel like you are in control. Once again, this is definately a hard thing to grasp and add as an element but the general freedom factor has been implemented in a few games I have seen and also its antithesis in other games.

Characters: This one may seem obvious but you need to make it so that the player gets a really good feel of who they are playing as (no, not like that!). I found it with Final Fantasy VII, whether you did or not doesn't matter, some games manage it, others don't. A good dialogue and character development will go really far, a player usually won't notice its effects until later on in the game when someone dies or the game is due to end. In FF7 when the game was about to end (I was entering the final cave) I almost cried at the thought I would never be journeying with the characters anymore and would never be with them. It sounds pissy sad; they're not my friends and such but I felt like I knew them so well it was as if they were. Even in the film Lord of the Rings, I was sad when Gandalf died, despite knowing he died before watching the film. If you try and kill someone off without developing the characters and having some quality conversations and background building, it will seem more humourous than sad. So what can you do here? Creep up on the player with good dialogue and background etc. Before they know it they will be immersed into the lives of the characters!

History: If a game has more depth with a historical background then a player is liable to be more interested and the game won't seem as shallow. Past events such as wars, alliances, colinisations, discoveries and the like will add well needed depth and aidful references which you will be able to make. A player won't really notice the history if you blend it in and don't just randomly spurt out historical facts. Once the game is completed and a player actually thinks about the game, they are likely to realise that the game had history. Most games, now I think about it, have history and background information but at the time I wasn't really thinking about that too much, I was thinking and concentrating on the game itself. So subliminally you can make a player engrossed into your games depth and bulk. This isn't a hard thing to include in a game but also has a suprising impact upon a plaers thinking for the game. But this can easily be messed up by including too much information at any one given time.

Consistancy: Your game should also generally flow together quite well. You shouldn't do anything like follow your heros very closely for about 2 hours through the game and then skip a few months or a year. Increasing and decreasing the speed of which your game is going must be done gradually or not at all. If some things are faster than others the game will seem rushed and the player will get the feeling that the player couldn't be bothered. It will honestly effect the overall outcome!

Graphics: One major mind trick will be the good blend of graphics. The quality is a major thing which won't be particularly picked up by the subconscious but the way they blend together with a monostyle of graphic or very similar style is a much more subtle thing. An example would be, using cartoon and realistic enemies, which is out of the question. It should be either cartoon styled or realistic theme.

You should get the general idea of what might work to convice a player your game is good. All of the little points will ultimately aid your games overall professional look.

Mind Tricks To Avoid:
Grammar: Spelling mistakes, punctuation problems, all of that kind of dialogue error will ultimately effect what the player generally thinks of your game. If the game begins with 'Onse upon a time, long long ago.' it won't go down too well. Due to the 'onse' a player is likely to take more notice of this than the 'long long' which should be 'long, long' (I believe!). However minor they may seem they destract from the game itself and will detatch a player briefly from your game, this will give an overall bias opinion against your game, which isn't what we want!

General Consistancy: Whether it be consistancy of game speed or graphic types, the game should be equally similar from start to finish. As already discussed, if the game speed is increased and decreased rapidly then the game will feel rushed and very novice-like, not that its bad to be a novice but people won't be as interested in your game as they could. And as for graphics, if things are blending it will also look rushed and poor in quality. The rate at which a game plays seems quite pathetic but if out of the blue a year passes with little explanation then I'm sure people will get frustrated.

Ending Note:
Obviously all of the Mind Tricks To Use can be reversed for Mind Tricks To Avoid to I won't bother writing anymore down. If there's one thing you should remember from this it is:
Even the minor things have an impact; everything a game has and is will have an effect.
But also remember:
Everything is perfect in its imperfections.