This week I am going to discuss the theme of the game I am currently working on with the Great Games Inc. team: Anxiety. Anxiety is the feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome, closely correlated to panic, doubt and mistrust. Anxiety is a feeling that often games evoke and employ to stir the player’s emotions and keep them hooked, but some games manage to use it as a key element in producing an effective story.
One video game example that does this quite well is “Papers, please”, developed by Lucas Pope.
In this game the player has the role of an immigration officer that has to vet and decide who can enter or not in the fictional country of Arstotzka. The game's objective is to follow the country’s rule about immigration; to receive a salary and pay for the welfare of your family. The game begins injecting a sense of anxiety when the welfare expenses (such as rent and medicines) to keep your family alive start to become more and more expensive, and so you are almost forced to become corrupted, for example accept bribes from terrorists that want to come into the country so that you have money to look after your family, or waive some rules to allow a desperate couple to reunite, despite the risk of being caught and fined. While not necessarily injecting a sense of nervousness throughout images and sounds, the game uses these game mechanics to disrupt the player’s moral values, and create a sense of uncertainty about how much the player can continue favouring the “criminals” to keep his own morale at check consciousness or follow the rules to keep his family safe and not get caught.
Another example is “PT”. Whilst this isn’t exactly a video game, but more of a “playable trailer” for a supposedly upcoming game called "Silent Hill", I found a sense of nervousness creeping up on me, whilst walking the endless loop of the haunted house. I was expecting a terrifying experience, but anxiety was exactly what I felt. During the whole time, I felt like something horrible was about to happen at any second. You begin in a dark room, then move into a corridor, the door shuts behind you so you can't go back. From there you repeat the cycle of going around the corner where a bathroom is, going down the corridor and start back again with just a few changes, maybe some new photos on the wall have appeared, strange noises around, the clock marks a different time. The new clues disseminated in the house begin telling the story of what happened, just giving you even more reasons to be anxious about what is about to happen.