Spoiling Emergence

Emergent game play, where the mechanics behave in some non-trivial, unexpected, and beneficial way, is quite fun when it happens. One of my favorite moments in Deus Ex was getting past a turret by holding a crate in front me, effectively using it as a shield. This is something that many designers strive for in their systems. When the player stumbles upon such a moment, they get the joy of discovery, creativity, and pride. They want to tell their friends and the internet about it. It’s good for the experience, it’s good for PR.

However, these days with the internet and PR practices, such moments can often be “spoiled.” One example that comes to mind is BioShock. Before the game came out, the PR campaign talked a lot about how you could electrocute enemies in a puddle of water by shooting lightning into it. The NPCs even told you this in the game. Was this the best thing to do?

What if they had just let players discover that on their own? I think that would have been better for the game experience. By spoiling it all in the PR campaign and then in the NPC chatter, they robbed players of the joy of discovery. It’s simply fun to discover and figure things out on your own, and it’s one of the most unique aspects of games. Imagine if, during a heated battle, you just happen to notice that lightning travels through water. You may have thought, “Oh wow that’s so cool that they made that work! Neat! I’m gonna tell all my friends about this cool moment!”

Of course, BioShock was plenty successful anyway, but I think keeping things a bit more mysterious would have been beneficial. This is part of the reason why I’m not watching any of the PR media for BioShock: Infinite. I am totally pumped for the game, and I want to discover it all on my own – story and game play.

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