Sometime last year I played a game called “Indigo Prophecy.” (If you haven’t played it, I highly recommend picking it up. I can vouch for the PS2 version, at least). The game had a number of really interesting mechanics about it that felt very good, but one in particular stuck in my mind, and I find that I’ve been pondering it a lot lately.
Essentially, there’s a part where you play as a character who is claustrophobic. The mission involves walking into a dimly-lit, very tight space — which obviously sets your character’s phobia off.
The interesting thing about this part of the game is how well it causes the player to feel the same way that their character is feeling.
They accomplish this by putting a gimmick in the center of your screen with a little bar that you have to keep in the center by pressing buttons on the controller. Sometimes it’ll drift to the left, and sometimes to the right. If it gets too far in one direction, your character starts breathing heavily and you suffer other ill effects until eventually you lose and have to start over.
The whole time they’re doing this, you have to be walking through the space and interacting with things. Because they force you to stare at the center of the screen like that, and because of the breathing noises and various other things they do to you, you quickly find yourself feeling VERY claustrophobic. You develop tunnel vision, your breathing starts to quicken — in other words you experience actual physical changes in yourself that leave you with an understanding of what your avatar is feeling in the game.
I found this to be extraordinary. While movies are quite adept at making you feel the way the characters onscreen are feeling, video games are only starting to develop tools to accomplish that. It’s amazing to me to think that we’re on the verge of developing this sort of thing. We even have an advantage over movies in this, in that through the interactive nature of our media we automatically get the player involved and associated with his character.
Because of thism I think this is the area where our industry is eventually going to shine. I look forward to developing new tools that we can use for this, as well as seeing what other developers come up with to accomplish this emotional merging of player and character.