Friday, September 01, 2006

Game Pathologies

A Pathology is a disfunction within a game. A Pathology happens when the game designer intended one effect to happen, but something else did that significantly changes the progression of the game.

Note that a true Pathology is one that is fundamental to the game, built into the game design. As such, under the Situation Model, a Pathology only ever arises from things born of either the Game Input or the Results of some prior input.

A Faux Pathology is not a true Pathology. Because analysing a game's design is virtually impossible without considering some player's involvement, it is possible for a player to consider something a Pathology that isn't. For example, it might simply be a puzzle that the player lacks sufficient Reason to solve, but feels to that player like there is a critical piece of Knowledge missing. The line between a Faux Pathology and a real Pathology is somewhat blury.

A Critical Pathology is a Pathology that causes the game to no longer be functional at all. A non-critical Pathology may allow the game to still be interesting or fullfill its goal; a Cricial Pathology does not. Note that the game can still be progressable, but the intent of the game design is drastically damaged if not destroyed. Typically, this happens in one of the following ways:

  • The game does not allow the player to progress, thus frustrating the player and eventually forcing the player to stop playing.

  • The game forces the player to engage in unreasonable activity in order to progress. The player may continue playing, but the player will lose a significant quantity of enjoyment for the game.

  • The game becomes incredibly easy for the player, thus stripping out all challenge from the game.

  • The player is forced to use external aids (online FAQs, asking someone, etc) in order to progress.

  • A Knowledge Pathology is a Pathology in a game based on the Knowledge domain of the Situation Model. The game's design provides certain expectations about the player's Knowledge base, for later Situations will test those expectations. A Pathology develops if the player's body of Knowledge differs significantly from what the game expects the player to have at that particular Situation.

    There are two forms of this Pathology. A Negative Knowledge Pathology is merely when the game has not provided the player with a certain piece of Knowledge. Because the player's Comprehension is also a factor, it can inspire a Faux Pathology whereby the player simply lacks the comprehension necessary to deduce the Knowledge. The true form of the Pathology is when the game does not provide any Result that has some form of logical consequence that leads from that Result to Knowledge.

    A slightly alternate form of this Pathology is when the game provides a result, but it requires a Game Input that the player is not likely to provide. This is often due to a Knowledge Pathology that has already occurred, however, and is rarely encountered in the absense of other errors.

    The second form of Knowledge Pathology is the False Knowledge Pathology. False Knowledge happens as a true Pathology when the game expects the player to reason one thing, but given what the player knows, some other thing that is actually untrue seems more reasonable based on that Result. The Faux Pathology analog of this is when one's Comprehension is simply erronous, or otherwise different from what the game expects, and the player's logical deduction came to the wrong conclusion.

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