CAP 203 - Computer Animation III

Chapters 8 and 9 - The Game is made for a Player; The Experience is in the Player's Mind


This lesson discusses material from chapters 8 and 9 of The Art of Game Design. Objectives important to this lesson:

  1. Empathy with your players
  2. Demographics
  3. Things players like
  4. Player types
  5. Lens of Pleasure
  6. Modeling
  7. Focus
  8. Empathy with the game
  9. Imagination

Chapter 8 begins with a story about Albert Einstein. He once was invited to give a lecture to a group. Like a good lecturer, he read the room and he decided that the lecture he was prepared to give would be boring to the people in attendance. He asked them if they would like to hear him play the violin instead. He played the violin and gave the people a better experience.

The lesson in this story is to learn something about your audience in order to make their experience one that they will like. A game designer should learn to empathize with the players, to imagine accurately how they will feel about the game experience, and to make appropriate changes to the game that will improve their experience.

Mr. Schell spends a few pages on demographics, which is the study of group characteristics. We care about this concept because we typically want to sell a game to buyers who fit into particular demographic groups. Nine age groups are described on pages 100 and 101 in terms of how people at those ages play games. Mr. Schell tells us that these groups are often used in the game industry to determine what groups a game will be desirable to.

Two very general demographic groups are male and female. Mr. Schell offers us a short list of things males like in games, and a different list of things females like in games. Remember that these are generalizations. They can help a designer think about a game in terms of elements that are or should be in the game. The lists are not meant to be exhaustive, nor are they meant to be sexually diagnostic. What the author seems to mean for us to do with this material is to use it to understand why some games are enjoyed only by some demographic groups and not by others. This leads us to lens 16, the Lens of the Player. A designer should think about the player when designing the game:

  • What do players of this game (all members of the intended demographic groups) like in games?
  • What don't they like in games?
  • What do they expect in games?
  • What will they like and dislike about our game?

The text describes a game/experience Mr. Schell developed as an attraction at a Disney park. Read this material with the Lens of the Player in mind. He added specific elements to the game for typical members of families: boys, girls, men, and women. Note that he made sure that there were elements that should please each group, and enough of them that each group could enjoy the game without being distracted by the elements that were pleasing to another group. This balance is not always achieved in games. It is easier to develop for one group instead of several, and it may make economic sense to do so.

Leaving age and sex characteristics behind, the text moves on to discuss other groups that players may fall into: dog lovers, baseball fans, and First Person Shooter (FPS) players are given as examples on page 108. It may be useful to consider this kind of grouping for a game, to develop a playtest group that fits your intended market.

Another perspective on the experience of a player is described in the discussion of Mark LeBlanc's eight primary game pleasures:

  • sensation - everything you can see, hear, touch, etc. about a game
  • fantasy - the pleasure of experiencing an imaginary place or time
  • narrative - the pleasure of being told a story, in whatever way the game provides it
  • challenge - the pleasure of solving a problem or attaining a goal
  • fellowship - the pleasure of social interaction, either with other players, or with NPCs (non-player characters)
  • discovery - the pleasure of exploring the game environment, of mapping a territory, of finding a hidden easter egg in the game
  • expression - the pleasure of contributing to the game experience (e.g. by making new levels; by designing aspects of your character)
  • submission - the pleasure of being part of the game, and not part of the real world, for a while

There are more pleasures to discuss, but first Mr. Schell presents a perspective from Richard Bartle, who believes that players can be classified into four groups by knowing where they fall on two spectrums.

  1. Does the player want to act or interact when playing the game?
  2. Does the player want to exercise the choice above with other players, or with the world of the game?

The answers to those questions place the player in one of Bartle's groups:

  • achievers - want to act upon the world, they want to attain the goals of the game. They seek the pleasure of Challenge.
  • explorers - want to interact with the world, they want to find everything in the game. They seek the pleasure of Discovery
  • socializers - want to interact with other players. They enjoy Fellowship.
  • killers - want to act upon other players. This, oddly, includes both those who want to kill other players, and those who want to help other players, which invalidates the theory for me. Maybe this can't be mapped successfully in two dimensions.

Mr. Schell offers another list of pleasures that can be found in games, each of which is important to some players. His point is that there are more things to experience and that no list should ever be considered complete:

  • anticipation - the feeling you get while waiting for a reward or outcome; think of how a gambler may feel during a game
  • delight in another's misfortune - Mr. Schell tells us that the German language calls this schadenfreude; in this case, he means the feeling you get when you see justice delivered to an evil character; follow the link above for another take on the definition, one that is not so nice
  • gift giving - the pleasure of knowing that you made someone happy
  • humor - Mr. Schell gives us a clinical definition of humor, assuming that we know what humor is and enjoy it when we see it
  • possibility - the pleasure of having choices in your experience, such as choosing different branches in a story, or choosing actions that lead to different outcomes
  • pride in accomplishment - he means a pleasure that persists after you have left the scenario or the game; sometimes you work so hard on finishing a battle or a quest that you feel this kind of pride after it is done
  • purification - this can be the simple pleasure of finishing a discrete task in the game; the pleasure of moving from one level to another in a game because you met the requirements to do so
  • surprise - this refers to any surprise in the game which is generally enjoyed by a player, as opposed to the surprise of the game locking up in the heat of battle
  • thrill - this seems to be the feeling of excitement and danger that happens in some games; Mr. Schell offers a formula: "fear minus death equals fun"
  • triumph over adversity - this is different from pride in accomplishment, in that the triumph must overcome long odds, that there must have been little chance to beat the odds (like the first time you actually kill Diablo)
  • wonder - the feeling that causes you to step back, stop playing, and just experience for a moment

The last lens in this chapter is number 17, the Lens of Pleasure.

  • What pleasures does our game give to players?
  • What pleasures are missing?
  • What can we do to add missing pleasures or improve the ones we have?

Chapter 9 introduces us to four aspects of a player's mind: modeling, focus, imagination, and empathy. These aspects are important in that without them a player cannot play a game.

Modeling is a way of perceiving reality by simplified models in the mind. The text offers a picture of Charlie Brown, and calls our attention to the fact that the Peanuts character does not look a lot like a human being, but he fits the general model in the human mind of what humans are shaped like. Mental models allow us accept the limited experience of a game as representing those real world or fantasy world concepts that they stand for.

The ability to focus on an experience or activity is also critical to being able to play a game. Without the ability to focus on the game, excluding the external real world, a player does not have the ability to enjoy the game in the way Mr. Schell intends, or to reach what Mr. Schell calls a state of flow.

Flow comes from "a sustained focus, pleasure, and enjoyment" (page 118). Think of a state of flow as how you feel when you are deeply into the game. Mr. Schell points out that you can't be in flow if you are bored with the game (not enough challenge) or frustrated by the game (too much challenge). The best situation is when the player advances in skill and is presented with new challenges.

Note the diagrams on page 121, showing a straight linear progression of skill and challenge (a good game) and a linear progression of skill with a varying progression of challenge (a better game). In the second case, the player experiences an increase in challenge that must be met with improved skill, followed by a short reprieve in challenge, followed by another increase in challenge. The player gets to relax for a short time after the increase in skill, but must continue improving soon.

This takes us to lens 18, the Lens of Flow:

  • Does the game have clear goals?
  • Are the player's goals the ones we intended?
  • Do the players get distracted from the goals? Fix this or make the distractions fit the goals (like sub-quests).
  • Are there enough challenges in the game? Are they the right level of difficulty for the player?
  • Does the player improve in skill at an acceptable rate? If not, how do we fix that?

Human beings are described in the text as being able to empathize with other humans without being aware of it. We can empathize with animals, when we take the time. We can empathize with characters in movies and stories, so it is no surprise that we can also empathize with characters in games. With respect to games, this means that the player needs to care about what happens in the game, to the characters or to the other players.

Imagination is the last aspect of the player's mind that this chapter addresses. The point is that the player will imagine details they are not given, if they are given sufficient detail. You can't just put a picture on the screen and tell the player to imagine a story. You can show a picture, and tell part of a story, and the player will imagine complementary details. Example? Did you follow the link above about animals? If you did, how did you feel watching the video? The viewer is not given any details about those animals, but the images and the text are enough to imagine a series of villains for each dog and cat shown. I think they changed the song because Angel was too evocative. You want a helpful response from the viewer, you don't want them to fall apart.

In a game, you want to provide an experience that evokes an emotional response from the player, that allows the player to focus on and to believe in the game. You want the experience to fit mental models the player already has. You want the player to add to the experience with their own knowledge and their own imagination, even if, and especially if, they are unaware they are doing it.

Mr. Schell promised us he would write about Abraham Maslow's hierarchy, which he does here. Maslow's point is that a person will not care about needs that are higher in the pyramid if needs that are lower in the pyramid are not being met. Mr. Schell asks more questions in this section than he provides information, so his point eludes me. Let's look at lens 19, the Lens of Needs:

  • What needs from Maslow's hierarchy does the game meet?
  • Can the game fulfill more basic needs?
  • Can it fulfill needs better than it does?

The last lens in the chapter has no supporting documentation. Mr. Schell informs us that people often feel a need to be judged fairly, as opposed to unfairly, and that they will work hard to be judged favorably. Perhaps this is why we care about scores in games, as opposed to just who won. The last lens for the chapter is lens 20, the Lens of Judgment:

  • What is judged in the game?
  • How does the game tell the player the judgment?
  • Do players see the judgment as fair?
  • Does the judgment matter to the players?
  • Does the judgment drive player improvement?



  1. Form groups for a project assignment if you have not already done so.
  2. Report the group membership to me.
  3. Plan a game design, using the Lenses discussed so far.
  4. Turn in a proposal for your design showcasing it through each Lens.