During a great discussion about giving life value in DayZ, /u/cyb0rgmous3 writes:
Constant massacre and butchery needs to have a game changing,
negative effect on players, so that being helpful can be a reward in its
People won’t work together, ever, because it’s a video game. No
matter how much you want to imply they should. A line needs to be
drawn and the developers needs to take a stand on either side of it.
A few Redditors replied with experiences they’ve had, either themselves or through people they know, with murder, and how it doesn’t fit cleanly into this model. It’s a great discussion. I replied a few comments down, which I’m reposting here.
There are two big pitfalls designers often run into when they put insanity in games: externalization and personalization.
The worst thing a game can do is externalize what would normally be an internal experience in order to convey it to the player. If you’ve ever played a game with “sanity points,” you’ve felt this disconnect. The game tries to express encountering something unknowable or traumatic by lowering your sanity points, and nice things will raise them, but all it does is give our minds something else to weigh as a cost of our actions, not as something truly unhinging. You think of it the same way you might think of HP. It just becomes another bar to keep up.
The best ways I’ve seen games (and other designed experiences) get close to insanity or other real emotions is by simulating the triggers or outcomes of those emotions in highly distilled ways and hiding the specific mechanics. A counter-example: a FitBit, a pedometer that’s part of a suite of products to help you get fit, will wake you up in the morning with a little motivational phrase and a smile. It’ll tell you it loves you, or it’ll ask you to walk it. It creates an emotional bond that is, although extremely ephemeral, absolutely real, and it helps motivate people to use it.
Another example is the horror game Amnesia. It does some of the sanity points bit with light (if you’re outside of light too long, your vision and other aspects of control start to falter), but much of the feeling of fear is conveyed through the environment and the situations. I played the demo, so I haven’t had the full experience of the game, but I was in a corridor covered with random organic extrusions, chased through water by some invisible thing where I could only see its footsteps, vigorously, frantically turning a hand-crank (with circular mouse motions) to get through a gate to the other side before the thing caught me. I really did feel fear. But that brings me to the second pitfall.
Not everyone experiences everything the same way, and by reducing sanity or mental state to a mechanic, it becomes homogeneous and you reduce the effects of personality. This is what I think /u/Bite_It_You_Scum and /u/whitebalverine were getting at: people react to unsettling acts differently, and their reactions change over time. These two pitfalls are related, because I think if a designer can convey the act well and convey the triggers and outcomes in a highly distilled way, the game will create the feeling in the player rather than just affect the person’s sanity points. I’m not saying you can’t have a game where your hands get shakey or your vision goes blurry, but the remorse or feeling of regret has to be real. In the same way that the FitBit creates this artificially, and you know it’s artificial but buy into it anyway, I think it’s possible to create that artificially in a game like DayZ.
If the designers were going to tackle it, that’s how I’d love to see it done: make the murder act feel as real as possible to the player, let the player react the way he or she would already, and don’t try to capture it strictly in game mechanics.