GDC: 'Lack of stimulation can enhance game experience'

GDC: 'Lack of stimulation can enhance game experience'
Craig Chapple

By Craig Chapple

March 9th 2012 at 2:29PM

'Too much intensity can kill the atmosphere', says Dear Esther indie Dan Pinchbeck

A lack of stimulation in a game can enhance the user’s overall experience, claims Dear Esther creator.

Speaking at GDC, The Chinese Room’s Dan Pinchbeck said quiet moments in a game and less handholding can create a bigger atmosphere than all-out action.

"For a long while I believe we have been fooled into thinking that dead or empty space in games is a bad thing, like dead time on the radio or something," said Pinchbeck, as reported by Gamasutra.

"In reality, a lack of stimulation does not equate to a lack of experience. In fact, a lack of stimulation allows for other experiences to grow. You can’t feel rage slowly and you can’t feel loss fast. In Dear Esther, we found that the less hand-holding we did the more the experience intensified."

The unique indie-fund backed game has surpassed 50,000 sales since release last month, and has received positive reviews for its atmosphere and style.

Pinchbeck says that the title, originally conceived as a creative experiment into new gam genres at the University of Portsmouth, hugely benefitted from creating action vacuums, allowing players to reflect on their experiences and build tension.

He also said that with players becoming more invested in the game as a result, they were more likely to talk about what happened with their friends.

"We are humans, we always look for reasons and causality," said Pinchbeck.

"If you set things up, strange scenes and vistas, but don't necessarily explain them then players do a lot of work for you in terms of filling in the gaps. The more work the player does here the more they become invested. It also improves the post-play experience, where people talk about what they saw or did.

He added: "Our findings were that it is incredibly important to create vacuums in the experience, places and pauses that players don't fill with boredom but rather fill with headspace. It's here that they think and feel about the experience.

“When you create these spaces and allow players to think rather than do then we found that they have invested heavily in the game. People need time and space, moments of intensity and moments of quiet. The truth is that over-stimulation kills atmosphere."

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