Wired has a funny article about how playing certain games for too long distorts your view to reality. Examples are Katamari Damacy, Animal Crossing, Burnout, and others.

Many people at Rockstar Vienna developed symptoms like this while we were developing GTA 3 / Vice City for the Xbox in 2003. One lead programmer started noticing many ramp-like objects while driving home on his scooter at 3 AM. I just wanted to get on any motorbike I saw standing around. Also, gleaming cars, streets and raindrops became incredibly fascinating, although this falls more ‘research’ than ‘delusion’.

We had nothing to do with the series of car-thefts around our office building at the end of the project. That was a funny coincidence. Ha ha.

(Via all over the place.)

Update: Wah! I just noticed the author interviews roBin. I know a famous person!

More potentially amusing anecdotes. Once, I was having a lunch with some people from the GTA Xbox team. We were sitting around a table in a restaurant in pretty much the same configuration as our desks at work. At some point, I wanted to make a private remark to someone, and tried to send them an instant message.

Also, when I was really into Deus Ex, I came into the office, noticed an air duct grille, and tried to right-click on it.

Not surprisingly, this didn’t work, in both cases. But I felt myself doing it, not on a motoric level, but the intention was there, but without the feedback. Like a ghost limb.

I have something a bit more in-depth I want to write about the phenomenon described above. It’s half-written. More soon.


Update: ! Jurie wakes up, MGS-style. Alert! Evasion! etc. I took the tangential issue and put it in it’s own entry.

Also, Robin has written more about this. That boulder is spooky.

Update: A friend of mine told me that during development of Burnout 1, several people on the team totalled their cars in crashes and another was stopped by the police for drifting around a corner in his sports car on his way to work during crunch.

Comments 11

  1. fluffy wrote:

    A bunch of us on the Sprung team were only half-joking when we said that we couldn’t watch a drama on television without another television below it and a little selection of which lines the protagonist should say.

    Posted 12 Jan 2005 at 2:13
  2. robin wrote:

    When I first heard about Kozy’s experience, I thought to myself “This happened because there is a clear mapping between the control surface in the game and the real-world object.”

    By which I mean: In Katamari you control the ball and it rolls around – just like the car that rolls around in RL. Similarly, in the Sims you control the tiny person, giving it instructios – much like you give yourself instructions (in both the ‘grab this’ sense and the ‘do this chore’ sense).

    Sometimes you can “distort” the real world to warp it to a mapping – as in seeing cars you pass on the higway as Tetris blocks, only from the bottom. But most common remindings (it seems to me) are *not* of the above types.

    More often, they are correspondances between game objects and RL objects (a la the air vent), or an attempt to force a virtual control scheme (which you’ve been using a lot) onto a RL object or problem. Then you realize what you’re doing, and laugh. “Silly rabbit – you can’t manipualate x with y control scheme!”

    With emotional gameplay mappings – I’d assume you’d want the first type of reminding… where the control surface in-game mapped relatively cleanly to emotional events, situations, and “affordances” of those situations.

    The Urbs (GBoy/DS) does this a *little* bit. As you move around the city talking with people you can choose from standby subjects (the town, the newspaper, the weather, the supernatural, home, music, sports, etc) and based on feedback, continue these conversations over time to win points.

    Talking with a coder today in my lab (about buggy code that another person we worked with made, errors, and the debugging-over-the-shoulder experience I had as a result, with my advisor) I realized that I was basically doing the same thing. While this *did* creep me out a bit (the Sims gameplay always kind of does after a while) it wasn’t emotional, per se.

    How could you create an in-game system with control surfaces that reminded you of say, being moved to kiss another person? Or… delivering really bad news? Sure – you can write a story where the game character does these things – but can you make up *verbs* that support that feeling?

    This seems like a fundamental problem. Someone tell me I’m missing something!

    Posted 12 Jan 2005 at 3:00
  3. Nathan McKenzie wrote:


    How would this be for an experiment. Suppose you made a game where players were presented with highly nuanced human faces exhibiting all sorts of unhappiness or discomfort, and suppose that players had to dance out an impromptu dance, on a DDR pad, the contents of the dancing having to map very specifically to the subtle traits in the face of the upset person (and then the face becomes delightfully happy, and jolly squirrels dance out on the screen, elated and crying out peals of joy, and they’re all wearing Russian fur hats). And let’s further suppose that the game is actually fun and addictive and the sort of thing that people would stick with (because otherwise this wouldn’t matter).

    Would you then have people who react to in-world emotional displays (be it in movies, on TV, or in real-life) with mechanical analysis and a need to perform a goofy dance, rather than typically human empathy? Or maybe an odd conflicting mixture of both?

    I think this is kind of the reverse of what you’re getting at – this is going from real emotion as gameplay cues and mapping some sort of abstracted behavior to it, rather than having mechanics that somehow evoke emotions… right? The only thing that I wonder about, on that latter front, is that all of the effects we’re talking about (the way that, after Tony Hawk, I’m CONSTANTLY seeing lines to grind in the world, or the tetris effect) involve very heavy doses of repetition, and I think repetition has a tendency of muting emotion down, much the way it does with humor. Or maybe I’m looking at this wrong. It’s an interesting thing to think about…

    In fact… doesn’t the military make soldiers go through a huge amount of repetitions with firing on human-ish targets via simulations and such precisely to strip the act of shooting a human of its normal emotional content? I might be wrong about that…

    Posted 12 Jan 2005 at 7:01
  4. Aubrey wrote:

    “How could you create an in-game system with control surfaces that reminded you of say, being moved to kiss another person? Or… delivering really bad news? Sure – you can write a story where the game character does these things – but can you make up *verbs* that support that feeling?”

    Systemizing social constructs. Interesting. It’s funny how sometimes, the things that might provoke an emotional reaction are at odds with the common sense of good design. Now, this isn’t exactly a terrible problem until you consider that if you want to create a feeling of helplessness or frustration (intentionally, rather than as a bi product to bad design) you may actually end up with the player walking away from the experience.

    Maybe that’s a fatuous arguement – anyone is free to walk out of Schindler’s List. What keeps them in their seats?

    What I fear most about the current emotional game fixation is that we’ll be drawn down the path of propaganda and emotioneering. At the end of the day, as a player, I don’t want to submit to how the designer feels I should feel. I want the game to be a breeding ground for emotion out of its ability to react to a wide arrange of opinions that players have about a situation. Show me this true involvement, and I’ll show you emotion without emotioneering.

    Posted 12 Jan 2005 at 11:43
  5. JP wrote:

    “What I fear most about the current emotional game fixation is that we’ll be drawn down the path of propaganda and emotioneering.”

    I think that goes hand in hand with the “emotional game = MAKES YOU CRY” frame that’s always put around the issue. Extreme emotions are not the only valid emotions. I’m not moved to tears by a pretty sunset or a nice evening with my wife, but that doesn’t mean it’s not emotional and meaningful.

    Most people realize the sense in that concept once they think about it.

    Posted 13 Jan 2005 at 0:20
  6. Jurie Horneman wrote:

    There’s way more in these comments for me to, ah, comment on, but it’s bed time again. However, Aubrey, either I am missing your point or you really dislike David Freeman. ‘Emotioneering’ is not a word on dictionary.com, but check out #1 on Google:


    I only know the word from Freeman – is that what you were referring to? He has trademarked that term you know ;)

    Posted 13 Jan 2005 at 0:33
  7. JP wrote:

    I believe I can speak for Aubrey when I say,

    “I’ve got your Emotioneering(tm) right here!”

    (cryptic obscene gesture)

    Posted 13 Jan 2005 at 1:27
  8. Jurie Horneman wrote:

    OK, so you two both don’t like David Freeman huh?

    Posted 13 Jan 2005 at 9:48
  9. Aubrey wrote:

    Errm. What’s to like?

    Posted 13 Jan 2005 at 11:25
  10. Jurie Horneman wrote:

    That wasn’t my question ;) What exactly did you mean by emotioneering?

    Posted 13 Jan 2005 at 11:37
  11. Aubrey wrote:

    I was referring to Freeman’s term, yes.

    I’ve nothing against creating emotion in games. I just believe it should be a natural response to play, rather than crafted, and force fed.

    Posted 13 Jan 2005 at 11:46