Can Game Mechanics Control And Influence The Player?
[03.06.12] - Roger Pedersen
Pax Tranquility testing methods and results
The problem in a game with an extensive storyline and assets such as graphics, animation, cinematic, music and sound effects which cost development in terms of money and person-hours, how does the game designer implement methods that gets game players to explore the entire landscape of the game and adventure into areas of play that they would not normally consider.
Pax Tranquility was developed (in Flash) to have players (testers) interact with the NPCs with cartoon-like animations, sound effects and easy to access selection options. Pax Tranquility tested various coercion and persuasion methods to add to the designer's mechanics such as such as propaganda, brainwashing, peer pressure, subliminal messaging pressure under time constraints and self-sacrifice.
The testing process was that each tester filled out the pre-game survey with demographic and general information.
Then, each tester viewed the Pax Tranquility introduction and played through 8 game levels where each level had an opening animation with narration testing a specific (unknown to the player) coercion and persuasion method, followed by three torture and punishment options were shown with mild, medium and harsh animations with sound effects. On each level, the torture and punishment options were in a specific order, which varied from level to level. The background color was to subliminally influence the player where the mild option had an aggressive background color and the harsh option had a calm, tranquil background color.
Each tester had to select a torture and punishment option and explain the reason behind their decision. If the tester answered with a less than excellent result, they were offered a bribe for a better rank or a better score which increased on each level. If the tester took the offered bribe, the tester had to select a different torture and punishment option and explain their reason for taking the bribe and the reason for changing their original decision. Lastly, each tester had to describe what they remembered about the level. After all 8 levels were played, the tester filled out the post-game survey.
Videos of Pax Tranquility are available on YouTube to view (these are referenced under each level's screen shot).
The test group consisted of 25 people where 21 where male and 4 female who considered themselves as game players mostly in the 18 to 25 years old range (64%), although 28% were older. The testers all owned cell phones with a camera and 17 or 68% of the test group had Internet connected cell phones.
The testers numbered 22 or 88% of the test group claimed to view films with a 'R' rating or less, played games on owned gaming platforms such as the PC, PS2, PS3, Xbox, Wii, DS and GBA of 3 systems or less were 8 or 32% of the test group, 4 or 5 systems owned were 7 or 28% of the test group and people owning 6 or more systems were 9 or 36% of the test group, Players reported watching the stated cartoons such as Beavis and Butthead, Bugs Bunny, King of the Hill, Road Runner, Shaman King, Simpsons, South Park, Sponge Bob Squarepants and Tom & Jerry as 4 or less being 3 or 12% of the test group, watched 5 to 7 cartoons were 9 or 36% of the test group and 8 to 10 cartoons were 13 or 52% of the test group and the television channel watched such as the Cartoon Network, G4, Nickelodeon, Qubo, Sci-Fi and 13 Kids were primarily Cartoon Network, G4, Nickelodeon with 80% of the test group with Sci-Fi added to these had 15 watchers or 60% of the test group.
The testers rated themselves as a gamer player were a rating of '0' defined rarely played a game to '5' plays games often: the testers reported playing games often or a rating of 5 were 9 testers or 36% of the test group, testers with a rating of 4 were 8 testers or 32% of the test group, testers with a rating of 3 were 5 testers or 20% of the test group, testers with a rating of 2 was 1 tester or 4% of the test group and testers with a rating of 1 or rarely played a game were 2 testers or 8% of the test group,
The testers favorite games varied as Madden and World of Warcraft topped the list with 2 fans each but other sports games such as FIFA had a fan as well as action/ shooters such as Mortal Kombat, Assassins' Creed 2, Grand Theft Auto, Metal Gear Solid 3, Super Street Fighter 4, Team Fortress 2, Tomb Raider 2 and Unreal as well as casual games such as SimCity, The Sims, Mahjong, and Solitaire. The testers reported their favorite violent game as 5 for Grand Theft Auto series, 3 for Gears of War, 2 each for Call of Duty, Resident Evil 5 and Duke Nukem 3D.
The introduction to Pax Tranquility reveals that the Blue bipeds and Pink quadrupeds have lived in tranquility for centuries. One dark and gloomy night, an army of giant Tan bipeds attacked and conquered the Blue and Pink species placing the Blue species in a special camp (restricted dwellings) and the Pink species in cages.
The player represents the leader of the Blue species and is delegated with various tortures and punishments placed on the Pink species which are based on Dante's Seven Deadly Sins and Levels of Hell. Each level increases the harshness and violence inflicted on the Pink quadrupeds and tests various psychological methods to motivate and control the player's actions and decisions. The first torture action will be for the Blues to cattle-brand the Pinks with triangles (similar to what the Nazis did).
On level 1, the player is confronted by the Tan Supreme Commander and his Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Oggs an expert in inter-species diseases and conditions, who explains the Pink species dilemma that will cause a plague.
The Tan Supreme Commander demands that the Blue leader (the player) brand the Pink quadrupeds who are "bacteria ridden vermin."
Mild is branding the rear of all Pinks with a red background, medium is branding the arms of the Pinks with a yellow background, harsh is branding the heads of Pinks with a pink background.
Testers playing level 1 of Pax Tranquility selected as their initial torture and punishment option the mild red with 14 votes or 56% of the test group, yellow the medium option with 3 votes or 12% of the test group and the harsh pink option with 8 votes or 32% of the test group. The reasoning for selecting the mild red option were "branding usually is on the behind," "the red color is aggressive and the rear is the proper place for branding," "a rear branding would hurt but not permanently damage the pig (Pink quadruped)," "the red option was likable, looked humane and seemed a reasonable option," "the most effective given the surface curvatures of the body location," "animals (the Pink species) are branded on the hind quarter as it's generally a fatty area being a region less susceptible to pain," "the concept stood out but the serious subject matter strikes an odd contrast with the cartoon characters and the most cruel because it looks like it would hurt the most."
The reasoning for selecting the medium yellow option was the "least harsh torture." The reasoning for selecting the harsh pink option were "the face is the most hurtful and most viewed place," "this option was the most brutal option," "the head is the most painful place for branding," "this option looked most interesting," "the creatures are branded on their forehead with a symbol which is easy to see and could mean something interesting later in the game" and "the pink option is the most unusual, fun, and torturous."
After selecting the initial level 1 torture and punishment option, testers were bribed with changing their decision for either a better rank or a better score getting 10,000 points. Eight of the testers decided to change their selection where a better rank bribed 3 testers, a better score bribed 1 tester and either option bribed 4 testers. None of the 4 females changed their initial torture and punishment option.
The torture and punishment options selected for the entire test group after the bribe was accepted had the mild red option with 17 votes or 68% of the test group which was an increase, yellow which was the medium option had 4 votes or 16% of the test group which was a slight increase and the harsh pink option with 4 votes or 16% of the test group which was a large decrease. The testers who changed their torture and punishment option had 2 testers increasing the severity of their decision while 6 testers decided to decrease the severity of their torture and punishment option.
On level 1 of Pax Tranquility, testers took away and remembered "the large number of pinks and small number of blues," "the cruelty of branding especially branding the face," "the interesting introduction of the Tans and Blues and choices of branding places on the body," "the purging of the Blue leader through the flame," "the Tan Supreme Commander and his species seemed bossy and reminiscent of North Korea," "the expert doctor is not creditable," "this level made a tester stop and consider the options and if a decision should change my mind for advancement" and "selecting the option to brand the legs so the rest of the body could still function."
Prisoners were asked to recite seemingly inconsequential mild statements praising their captors and denouncing their foes. Once these statements were complied with, more substantive, related requested statements were required. The foe was not friendly, clean or good so why weren't they that. The captors are good to us. They have a strategy and are powerful. Then, each prisoner was asked to indicate some of the ways in which they thought this was the case. Later, they might be asked to read their list in a discussion group with other prisoners. "After all, it's what you believe, isn't it?"
Still later they might be asked to write an essay expanding on their list and discussing these problems in greater detail. Suddenly they would find themselves "collaborators," having given aid to the enemy. Aware that they had written the essay without any strong threats or coercion, many times a prisoner would change their image to be consistent with the deed and with the new "collaborator" label, often resulting in even more extensive acts of collaboration.
The Tan Supreme Commander makes the entire Blue species recite a racist anti-Pink remark as though it is a fact. The Tan Supreme Commander states "the Pink creature is vile, unclean and disgusting." The leader of the Blue species agrees and explains the racist statement against the Pink species asking each blue member for their racist (anti-Pink) remark which the rest of the Blues repeat.
Mild is throw orange at Pink with a red background, medium is throw apple at Pink with a blue background, harsh is throw coconut at Pink with a brown background.
Testers playing level 2 of Pax Tranquility selected as their initial torture and punishment option the mild red with 11 votes or 44% of the test group, blue the medium option with 4 votes or 16% of the test group and the harsh brown option with 10 votes or 40% of the test group. The reasoning for selecting the mild red option were that "the pig getting hit by the orange was fun to watch," "the exploding orange looked delicious," "the orange seemed like the least harmful option and sounded most appropriate as [the tester] did not want to punish the Pinks" and "the silly noise and the red background was enjoyable."
The reasoning for selecting the medium blue option was that "throwing the apples hurt but not severely" and "an apple hitting the face makes sense and is cute." The reasoning for selecting the harsh brown option were that "this option looked painful," "more violent SFX or sound effects" and "brown background and coconut gave the tester more of a disgusting feeling," "the coconuts thrown packed more of a punch and the SFX of torturing stood out."
After selecting the level 2 torture and punishment option, testers were bribed with changing their decision for either a better rank or a better score getting 20,000 more points. Ten of the testers decided to change their selection where a better rank bribed 7 testers, a better score bribed 2 testers and either option bribed 1 tester. Only one of the 4 females changed their initial torture and punishment option to a lesser severity.
The torture and punishment options selected for the entire test group after these changes were for the mild red with 12 votes having a slight increase, blue the medium option with 5 votes having a slight increase and the harsh brown option with 8 votes having a slight decrease. The testers who changed their torture and punishment option had 6 testers increasing the severity of their decision while 7 testers decided to decrease the severity of their torture and punishment option.
On level 2 of Pax Tranquility, testers took away and remembered "the Tan leader who resembled a Nazi leader," "the funny style of punishments," "the phrase 'Hail Supreme Commander,'" "the objects thrown and their SFX" and "this level seemed like it had a racist Hitler," "the Supreme Commander's German accent," "the Tans are still jerks but now more like Nazis." One tester appreciated not letting the game become too graphic or disturbing and the goofy SFX seems to make things a bit too light hearted.