To recap for the tl;dr crowd: alongside fictional, social and mechanical (!) position(ing), I proposed that players have an internal emotional play-state I’m calling psychic positioning.
(Ground rules: THIS IS NOT AN INVITATION TO START A DEFINITION WAR. Nor is it an invitation to “helpfully” reframe the entire conversation into your preferred model. Neither of those things will advance this conversation. Don’t be That Person.)
One thing that’s been rolling around in my head is that, particularly in games I’ve played that are designed to fiddle with your psychic position, the position I experience inevitably is negative: sadness, despair, frustration, anger. I can’t imagine I’m alone in thinking, when I read a phrase like “hit them in the feels,” feels is code for this position. I have to think this is related to the (gross and mischaracterizing) phrase “misery tourism,” yeah?
I have nothing, like, at all, against giving voice and freedom to these emotions through play. A good table can be a safe place to let that happen. Rather than, say, a random triggery event as you’re going through your day and are suddenly reminded of the death of a relative, or a difficult breakup, or an ugly disagreement, or some childhood trauma.
But it’s also got me thinking: what would it take, procedurally or mechanically, that is, within the design of the experience itself, to psychically position players toward positive emotions? Glee, happiness, love, satisfaction.
I do think that these psychic positions get achieved, but interestingly they’re not in the modes of play I prefer. Pattern completion can invoke a sense of satisfaction, for example. We get a little dopamine hit from intermittent rewards, which is the entire basis of the gambling industry. We also see these things in the traddiest of trad games: leveling up lets you pursue an optimal character build, and that shit is satisfying. I think that satisfaction can be frustrated by nu-wave Story Now type designs that trade in optimization for interesting new fictional opportunities. Like, a new move in Apocalypse World doesn’t necessarily make you badder-assed.
I feel like in some ways, it’s almost scary to allow a positive psychic position to take hold. Because then it’s something that can be taken away. Easy “feels.” Is it a cop-out? “Good drama?” I dunno. It’s probably a thing that happens throughout creative media, but somehow it feels more dangerous (to me) in our creative media, because in certain modes of play we’re invited to assume the identity who will experience those feels.
My Golden Cobra submission this year, May-December-May, was built mostly around a gamified version of “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This“, mostly as a thought experiment along these lines. It’s a much, much harder target to achieve than it may seem! And I take it Here Is My Power Button aims for that as well…but apparently leverages the positive bond the players build into the deep sads at the end. I’ve only read recounts of this (via Joe Beason’s ridiculously great writeup of his experience, might have been a private share) so I may be getting that wrong.
Anyway, just thinking about this. Wondering if it’s a cop-out that we can, fairly trivially, achieve the sads and mostly work toward achieving the happies just to have them cut out from under us.