Bryan Sng
Oct 3, 2022

What brands can learn from drama school about creating games

Emotions and listening skills are important when creating games.

What brands can learn from drama school about creating games

"What do you want from her?"

"I want to be the master of this house and make Olivia my wife."

"But what are you doing to Feste?" my acting teacher probed.

"I want to humiliate him by pulling the rug out from under his feet and watching him fall."

"Then do it with your words."

In drama school, I've been trained to think about two things: what do I want as my character, and what am I doing to my scene partner to get it? But, as someone who designs and writes for games, I found what I learned holds.

So, in my role at Media.Monks, to help brands create memorable experiences, here are four things I learned in drama school to make games more emotionally compelling:

What emotions do you want your audience to feel in your experience?

"As the steward of a wealthy household, I want to belittle the other servants to impress my mistress."

Our emotions are the basis of any memorable experience. Tune into the right ones, and your audience will hold your message to their hearts for years to come.

Players want to feel like they're the protagonist of their own story, and it is the game designer's job to make them feel the right emotions with every action they take. Taking action is how players primarily interact with your game. Sure, they might read the captivating dialogue that's been written or admire the art that's been conjured up, but the only guarantee you have is that they have to take action to progress your game.

Therefore, you want to think of designing actions that elicit the right emotions for your experience.

Are you creating an experience that unveils the purest mineral water? I'd imagine investigating actions such as diving and freefalling, actions that invoke feelings of freedom and discovery—introducing the newest dandruff-eliminating shampoo. Perhaps a cleaning step motivated by feelings of disgust and anxiety. Are you selling the latest cologne? Try a game based on a dance of desire and confidence.

By choosing the right action and emotion for the experience, you're trying to create the same precision as selecting the right tool for the job.

What emotions do you want your audience members to feel to achieve a compelling journey?

"As a young protagonist makes his way through the world, he should experience uncertainty for him to emerge stronger in the end."

As I started writing my own stories, I thought of each character's journey and the emotions they should feel for them to change. Good stories, after all, are about change.

When designing games, similar ideas hold, and it'd be dull if the player were made to feel the same emotion over again by repeating the same action. Designing opportunities for players to perform different activities or even making them choose between other actions is how you keep your experience engaging.

Stories have beginnings, middles, and ends that cause change in their characters, so why shouldn't your experience have them as well? By charting an emotional journey for your player, you understand how to pace your experience better.

Having back-to-back adrenaline-pumping obstacles for your player isn't as appealing as it sounds, but having small moments inspire confidence that eventually culminates in your players overcoming a seemingly impossible obstacle. That's how we create memorable change.

The art of listening

"Acting is reacting."

Charting an emotional journey and selecting the right emotion may sound daunting, but you've already got the skills to complete it. Acting is responding to stimuli, and listening is one of the most potent resources.

Similarly, in game design, we tune into our emotions when playtesting our game and pay close attention to how each moment feels. However, as designers, having a sense of why a moment feels a certain way isn't enough. We have to be able to identify the feeling and explain why it makes us feel that way.

Take, for example:

"I felt empowered when I hurled firebolts because they exploded upon impact and spread flames across my enemies."

This suggests that the graphic team is doing a stellar job of animating spells and making the player feel heroic (and that we should probably ask ourselves where else could we fit similar firebolt throwing moments like this?).

By slowing down, listening to our emotions, and being specific about why we felt a certain way, we're able to turn the dials of design more precisely and make more informed decisions when tweaking the game.

So, the next time you find yourself enjoying (or feeling particularly bored) playing a game, work that listening muscle out by asking yourself:

  • What emotion am I feeling right now?
  • What has the experience done to make me feel that way?

What are the different ways emotions are conveyed?

A stage can convey different emotions depending on the way it's lit, while the typography of a book can be used to impress a specific style onto the reader. And games not only tell a story and convey emotion through their mechanics, but their writing, art, sound, UX, and many other components.

Play your favourite videogame and review its menu screens, taking in its colours and choice of music. What do they make you feel? And what other elements make you feel the same way? While design choices may be conveyed in different forms, chances are all that they are pointing toward one emotion and a cohesive experience.

As I begin to tell stories in this new medium of game design, I hold what I learned to heart:

Emotions are the basis of any memorable experience, and tracking your audience member's emotions and the journey they're on (be it a game or brand activation campaign) will only make your endeavour a more emotionally engaging experience.

Or simply put, how we think about this at Media.Monks are: what do you want your audience members to feel, and what are you doing as a designer for them to handle it?

Bryan Sng is a game designer at Media.Monks

Campaign Asia

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