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You Discover You've Been Tricked

One of the first jobs I ever had was working in a phone bank, raising money for a very worthwhile charity. It wasn't the world's greatest job, but I didn't have a lot of job skills. The money was okay, and I took pride in doing a job that had tangible benefits to people in dire need.

One day, however, I skipped the morning injection of caffeine, slowed down, and did some serious math. I realized that only 5% of the money being raised in this office was actually going toward the charity. A very large percent went to the guys who ran the phone bank.

It was a very weird feeling to realize my good intentions had been preyed upon and used. I quit that day.

What if the situation was even more emotionally complex? In The Road Warrior, "Mad" Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) is "played," or used, by a peaceful group surrounded by enemies in a post-apocalyptic world.

I won't reprise the entire plot here, but suffice to say that, as a skilled driver, he ends up at the helm of a tanker truck filled with water, vital for the peaceful group's survival. Enemies continuously besiege the truck.

As Max later learns, he was just a decoy; he was really driving a truck filled with sand. He was duped, set up to draw off the enemy, while the tribe made their secretive escape with the real water.

Unlike my experience with the phone bank, the group that misled Max were good guys, and misleading him was, perhaps, the "right" thing to do. He realizes all this in the end—but he has still been used. He has been used by good people for a good cause. This is a very complex moment.

If you were playing the role of Max in a game, and this happened to you, you'd feel a complex range of feelings.

Here's a similar complex moment from another Top Cow comic, Michael Turner's Fathom.

Aspen is a woman who has seemingly magical abilities and strange links to the sea. Her own nature and history are a mystery to her.

In this illustration, Killian, whom she thought was a friend but who is actually evil, has manipulated her into using her powers. Not realizing the magnitude of the force she wields, she accidentally kills a man and is consumed with regret.

What if this scenario was transposed into the world of games? In fact, it has been. In the game Thief II, you play Garrett and run a number of missions for Victoria before you realize she's evil.

What if we made the situation even more emotionally complex? Let's say you were playing the role of Fathom, and you were tricked by someone like Killian into killing a man, just because Killian didn't like him.

Of course you'd be angry at Killian, and angry at yourself for being fooled.

But what if you then learn that the man you killed was evil and had slaughtered many helpless people? So you'd been used—tricked—into killing someone who was even more evil.

That would be a truly emotionally complex moment.

Further Thoughts

In most games, you expect to kill bad guys. So, if someone tricks you into killing the bad guys—imagine the shock of the player. It would be an emotionally complex moment.

Of course, you could be tricked not just into doing the right thing (like Max in The Road Warrior), but tricked instead into doing the wrong thing.

Or the trickery could be woven right into the gameplay itself. For example, the beginning of the game finds you carrying out a hazardous mission with great fighting and action involved (and you feel quite cocky about your abilities and power). Your motive is that a group of people in grave danger had begged and pleaded with you to carry out your mission in order to save them.

The game is designed so that the more you use a skill, the faster and more effective you become at it, thus encouraging you to specialize in certain modes of combat.

Then later in the game, you realize that there is more to the game than just shooting. For instance, there is hacking, stealing, sneaking, and using disguises. The people who asked you to carry out this mission are actually more powerful than you, and they tricked you into building up the "wrong" skills (skills that they can defend themselves against), so that later you'll pose no threat to them when they initiate their nefarious plan.

So you've been tricked not just into doing the wrong thing, but even into building up the wrong abilities. The people who tricked you are evidently quite clever.

In short, you'll realize that a lot of your first assumptions were wrong—not just about these people, but about the game itself. It would truly be an emotionally complex situation.

To now stop this group, you need other skills such as stealth, disguises, and so on. However, you've built up your shooting skills (such as accuracy), but you've done nothing to increase your stealth capabilities.

And then I'd consider adding even another layer of emotional complexity. Perhaps, after you've become certain that those who tricked you are evil, I'd put in a twist and you'd then learn they're actually good. They only tricked you because they felt they had no choice. Someone like you (someone of your order or guild, or someone wearing a uniform like yours, etc.) did great harm to them just a few days ago. So they had a legitimate reason to fear you and trick you.

This example starts pointing the way as to how Emotioneering techniques, when combined, can be used to create games that begin to have the same emotional richness we expect from some films and television shows.

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