Psychologically Dynamic Gaming

A new trend has begun to emerge in gaming: psychologically dynamic gaming. What this means is that a game dynamically alters or changes its content in some way to better suit the player. The only two games that seem to have really attempted this thus far are from the Silent Hill series, primarily Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. Herein, the idea of the psychologically dynamic game will be discussed with reference to Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories as well as potentials for the future of such an approach to game design. This article may contain spoilers.

Silent Hill 2

Pyramid Head CG

Silent Hill 2 has a very limited approach to psychologically dynamic gaming in that the actions of the player only effect minor story elements, somewhat akin to a choose your own adventure book. However, it uses the actions of the player throughout the game in a number of interesting ways.

Take for example the Maria Ending of the game, in which the main character essentially falls for a manifestation of his own mind. This is achieved through actions such as spending too much time with said character in the game. In much the same way that the character is attracted to a woman who is not real, the person playing the game is as well if they actively chose to hang around her. Its a clever and disturbing attempt at using dynamically changing the course of a game based on the player’s actions.

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories

Silent Hill Shattered Memories Logo

Shattered Memories attempts to take this design approach to a much higher level by more aggressively and actively generating content based on the choices of the player. For instance, if the player focuses on suggestive posters of women when walking around then female characters begin to become more sexualized. If the character focuses on alcoholic drinks, there will be empty alcohol containers around and the game may have a specific ending related to alcohol. Furthermore, there are puzzles in the game that change the color of buildings and the like depending on how the character approaches them and their choice of colors. However, far more interestingly, the design of enemy monsters in the game reflects the player so that if they happen to make certain choices then the shape of them changes. The idea is that the player will be more scared of monsters that reflect their own fears and personality than a pre-designed creature. Shattered Memories is without doubt a game ahead of its time.

The problem is that the game’s tools for psychological analysis are just a little too blunt. The idea of creating a game that dynamically reacts to players psyches is no doubt an interesting one, but the question becomes: how can you truly know about the player? If the technology was more in-depth, or the game had more data relating to the player, they might well be able to dig into fears more effectively. As it stands, it is a great idea but a little gimmicky.

The Future

There is no doubt a future for this type of game design as concepts and technology become more refined. A game might be able to tell, based on signatures in keystroke patterns, what particular things challenge or scare the player and so generate more of those things or base what is to come in the game upon that. It will be interesting to see what developers devise to make ever more compelling game play experiences.

Controversy

However, this is not completely without problems. While it is certainly impressive, it gives rise to an important question: do we wish for games to psychoanalyze us? It is one thing when the game is not so sophisticated, but if the game inserted a character resembling a loved one would this be a step too far? Clearly, there are unsettling questions around the concept.

Reference:

Pyramid Head image taken from: http://www.geocities.jp/nobu_hill/gallery.html

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