Thursday, April 22, 2010

Minimizing Abrupt Loss

Yesterday, I posted some videos about how malleable our memory of past events is. I was particularly impacted while watching Daniel Kahneman speak at TED about how patients that terminated painful treatment while in heightened pain reported how much more suffering they felt than those who endured the treatment for a much longer period of time, but whose treatment was eased before it was terminated.

I'm working on a game where death carries a high cost, intentionally, for the sake of group immersion. You can acquire various assets during the process of play, but dying pulls you out of your game session with friends, who happen to have strong, reasonable motivations to continue without you. The high risk is appropriate to the experience I want, but it had me concerned because the thought of dying and returning abruptly to a menu seemed so negative; not unlike a colonoscopy patient ending treatment at the height of his pain. It was obviously preferable to minimize such bad memories of their play experiences.

What made the TED Talk intriguing was the notion of "winding down" death. What if abrupt death was followed by post-mortem activities that unlock new assets for future play sessions? Spending time and attention on the acquisition of reward eases the suffering, especially if additional preparation is possible between rounds based on the assets you earn (e.g., after earning a rare Magic card (equipment), you spend time adjusting your deck (inventory) to get the most of it). It may even leave you excited for the next round, anxious to see how your preparation pays off. Or so I hope.

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