Over the weekend I read an interesting post by Dan Cook over at Lost Garden: Shadow Emotions and Primary Emotions. In it, Cook coins the phrase “shadow emotions” to indicate emotions that we experience second-hand, while “primary emotions” are emotions that impact us directly. Using Cook’s examples, feeling sad after reading a news story about a mother dying is a shadow emotion, while feeling sad because your own mother died is a primary emotion.
Cook says AAA game developers work hard to deliver shadow emotion experiences in much the same way that books and movies do. But, he suggests, game developers can do more and that games are one of the few art forms that can let us feel primary emotions. When your character dies in a permadeath game the feeling of sadness you feel is a primary emotion, for instance. (Still using his examples.) When a spawn camper takes you out several times in a row, the rage you feel is a primary emotion.
I think Cook makes some really interesting points, but I don’t want to follow him down this path. The basic premise of the essay seems to me that primary emotions are a goal game devs should reach for. My problem with this theory is that most of his examples are of negative emotions. Sadness and anger. His positive example (elation) revolves around hitting a goal in a game.
The problem, for me at least, is that as much as I gain satisfaction from reaching a goal in a game, that emotion is fairly fleeting. But if another player pisses me off to the point where I feel rage, I can carry that baggage into my real life far too easily. I’ll be in a bad mood for the rest of the day, sometimes. Maybe this is why I generally play solo?
I think, when I come home from a long, tiring day at work, that ‘shadow emotions’ are plenty for me. I’m not sure I want my games invoking powerful primary emotions, either good or bad. I play to relax. I might be swayed if someone could convince me that we’d get as much positive as negative emotions out of our games, but I’d have to experience that kind of game to know for sure.
I’m also not sure how to categorize the feeling of contentment I get when I finish a game. Is that primary or shadow? I’m not sure it’s different form the feeling of contentment I get from finishing a book.
Anyway, agree or not, it’s a fascinating essay and I encourage you to give it a read.