Often times we hear the term "gamification" used to refer to in-game/in-product reward systems. The application of game mechanics has become a significant trend and will continue to be so in the near future. Although it can be a value-add to some products, it cannot be blindly applied; especially when information products are involved. There are other things we can learn from the gaming industry that I believe to be much more valuable, specifically that of creating immersive user experiences.
Immersive experiences are hard to build, they are both separate from the context they’re delivered in and agnostic of their audiences. So, how do you create something that powerful and abstract? The answer, I believe, lies in tapping into our ever-complex world of emotions.
In Aaron Walter’s book, Designing for Emotion, he quotes a molecular biologist named John Medina, about emotion and memory, “Emotionally charged events persist much longer in our memories and are recalled with greater accuracy than neutral memories.”
Humans are attracted to emotion. While seemingly an obvious statement, we are still learning how we can make use of this as technology progresses. What we do know is that the most successful immersive experiences exploit our emotional selves to draw users completely into their worlds.
One of my most recent and favourite experiences of just that was a survival horror PC game by Frictional Games called, “Amnesia: The Dark Descent”. This game was the first game I could remember in a long time that made me completely forget where I was. As a long-time avid gamer, this was both a shocking and delightful discovery. The creators of Amnesia understood how to make me feel.
In the game, you play the role of Daniel, a character with Amnesia, who wakes up in a dark castle at the start of the game. The first thing you notice as a player is that the game is missing some of the most common gaming conventions – no obvious UI elements, leveling systems or weapons. Instead, it makes use of a sanity meter. Any unsettling event frightens your character and saps sanity away but so does standing in darkness.
You find that losing sanity comes at a price; your vision becomes blurred and your character breathes harder and louder which only adds to the unsettling adventure. These seemingly simple mechanics make it difficult to run quickly through the game; especially when you’re frozen in place yet horribly afraid to be inactive.
Through its visuals, sounds, physics engine, and impressive focus on immersion, Amnesia is arguably among one of the best horror games I’ve ever played. However, its biggest achievement is not the game itself (it’s not a very tough game), its biggest achievement was how it made its players feel both during and after they shut it off.
Amnesia created a lasting impression on me and it had nothing at all to do with reward systems or what’s traditionally referred to as “gamification”. While web and mobile products probably should never be horrifying and fear-inducing, creating an immersive user experiences does call for emotional design. Keeping in mind the feelings a product evokes in a user is one of the surest ways to create lasting memories, especially when it comes to the web, a medium constantly in flux.