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Curiosity, Exploration and Discovery in Video Games

Curiosity, Exploration and Discovery in Video Games

I mean after all, haven't we all gotten bubbly, excited and made our lists of tourist attractions, restaurants, museums and places to visit when we are headed to a new town or destination?

Have you ever visited another city, state, or country for the first time? Have you ever stared from the window of a bus or plane, marveling at the clouds, lakes, cities, people and establishments as you passed by?  How about the mention of new colleagues that you've only heard about but have yet to meet?Your first time at a class, orientation or conference? Has anyone ever said something to you that made you question or ponder its meaning? Seriously, all of these scenarios form some sense of curiosity within us, and make us wonder what these people, places, events or experiences will be like.

Exploring one of many different islands in God of War

Video game designers do an excellent job of creating game worlds, scenarios, events, and plots that inspire feelings of curiosity and exploration in the player. These feelings are part of a very large list of what makes video games fun, and are heavily tied to their often cool and realistic game worlds and environments. In video games, curiosity, exploration and discovery are game design features that encourage or create a desire in players to learn more about objects, events, characters, and places in the game world. Plenty of games this generation do this with large open-worlds, in which the player is given some travel mechanism and the freedom to explore. 

In video games, curiosity, exploration, and discovery are game design features that encourage or create a desire in players to learn more about objects, events, characters and places in the game world.

The enormous size of God of War 4's "Midgard" and it's many secrets to explore and discover

For example, early on in Santa Monica Studio's God of War (2018), players are given a boat and are free to explore numerous islands in a realm known as "Midgard". On these islands, developers placed numerous challenges, treasure chests, artifacts, sidequests, non-playable characters (NPCs), rewards and story pieces. In some form or another, all of these help the player by giving them items that help in their main goal of completing the game. Conquering challenges on these islands also inspires a sense of wonder about what rewards, items or other events players might find on the next island, as they continue to explore and delve into the game world. In the real world, this might be akin to a cruise along excursions to places you've never been. I mean after all, haven't we all gotten bubbly, excited and made our lists of tourist attractions, restaurants, museums and places to visit when we are headed to a new town or destination? Visiting new towns, getting to explore new destinations and embarking on adventures in video games is just like this, and the anticipation and excitement is the same.

Square-Enix's Final Fantasy XII uses yellow text to bring awareness to players about places, people, or events of interest that the player has yet to encounter

Uncharted territory in Ni No Kuni 2 (Bandai Namco)

In role-playing games (RPGs) players are often given an airship and complete freedom to explore, often finding hidden challenges, rewards, NPCs, sidequests, and plot pieces that the developers intentionally created for players to discover. This desire to continue to exploring is akin to a sense of adventure like that of a sailor, just within a video game setting. Furthermore this combination of challenge, adventure, curiosity, accomplishment and reward ignites a fiery type of engagement known as "flow" (which I've written a tiny bit about here), which is a level of engagement so strong that people in this state don't even keep track of time. In other words, it's quite tempting to put the controller down. 

Exploring uncharted territory in Bandai Namco's Ni No Kuni II

Who is this "horrid great beast" that awaits?

But it's not just a sense of exploration. Good video games with interesting plots are backed by creative writers, who, like designers who can entice players to discover, are able to inspire a sense of curiosity in players through interesting narratives and plots. Ever read a book with such a good plot that you just couldn't put it down? Some story driven games are just like this.

Good video games with interesting plots are backed by creative writers, who, like designers who can entice players to explore, are able to inspire a sense of curiosity in players through interesting narratives and plots. 

Australian studio Team Cherry's Hollow Knight is a great example of a plot that inspires curiosity, as you are given control of a knight and tossed into a game world with no background knowledge of it or any of its environments. Much of the game's plot is uncovered or hinted at through the environments and interactions with other characters as you traverse different areas in the game. The above pic is an example of decent writing that makes the player curious as you are warned about an upcoming foe, making one wonder how strong it might be and what you get for completing the challenge. Of course, defeating it will bring rare items, a sense of accomplishment, and a desire to keep playing way past bedtime. Funny enough, statements of caution or danger like this are commonly known to have the opposite effect on teens, creating a sense of enticement or the desire to indulge instead of withdraw. Progress through the game continues to bring wonder and excitement about what sorts of dangerous enemies, challenges and rewards await you further ahead.

In one of the newest offerings by game developer Square-Enix, players are offered 8 different choices of characters to start the game with, and only a short synopsis of each character's background story to make their decision. Each synopsis is written explicitly in a way that provokes the player's sense of curiosity and wonder of what the story or journey for each character will be like.

What tragic event takes place in Ophilia's story and how will her journey unfold?

Can educational games be embedded in some sort of context similar to these where students' curiosity is piqued and they develop a desire to keep playing (learning?) Can educational games be embedded in stories or virtual environments that help contribute to a state of flow in students? What do you think?

Narratives and Storytelling in Video Games

Narratives and Storytelling in Video Games

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