I was playing Minecraft with my son the other day and we were exploring a cave. As always there is the anxious advance-n-light process of posting torches around vacant spaces while you try to be prepared for a lurking creeper or skely. But at one point we turned a corner and found our first abandoned mineshaft…and I froze.
As a game designer I’m really interested in the craft of generating an emotional response in a game and it isn’t easy, especially if you want to do so in a non-manipulative way. So in this moment I was struck by a powerful sense of unspecified fear…an incredibly difficult emotion to generate. Way to go Notch!
One of the most visceral lizard-brain things I can think of is the “I thought I was alone” response. It’s what happens when you’re at home late and hear something go bump in the next room. Or when you’re just settling down to sleep on a camping trip and hear something that for all the world sounds like a twig breaking under someone’s foot. It’s exactly the same feeling I had watching Blair Witch Project at various moments like the discovery of the weird stick figures in the woods. It’s like a primordial survival response and finding torches I didn’t light really brought that gut response up like so much acid reflux.
This is game design at it’s best – way to go Mojang…though I’m sure you get that all the time.