About the New Genre Taxonomy Project
Results of Poll 6: Freedom to Fail

Rushgames (Fight or Flight)

Ilinx2 Rushgames are those play experiences in which the player must maintain concentration and control against a background of stressful events. There are many different kinds of rushgame, depending upon the source of stress being applied – including high speed, vertigo, situational pressure, instinctive terror, or wanton mischief. The characteristic emotional states induced by rushgames are excitement and its close relatives fear and surprise, and the reward emotion of relief.

Whereas the competitive play of wargames is often assumed to be what videogames (and games in general) are about, rushgames may actually be more popular – both Tetris and certain Mario platform games sold more copies than any wargame ever made. However, there are some soft borders to consider, as many wargames could also be considered rushgames, in so much as they share similar emotions. (The boundary condition for wargames has been stated as competition or violence, however, and rushgames need not contain either). It is worth noting in this regard that a key wargame emotion – fiero (triumph over adversity) – may naturally occur in a rushgame, although its companion anger (which can intensify fiero) is not necessarily associated. 

Rushgames correspond to Roger Caillois’ ilinx (vertigo) pattern of play, which we have discussed previously, and also to Nicole Lazzaro’s Serious Fun pattern of emotional response, while wargames correspond to Caillois’ agon and Lazzaro’s Hard Fun. All rushgames tend towards tactical in the terms previously defined, in that the most prevalent forms are necessarily real-time, but in fact a turn-based rushgame (i.e. a strategic rushgame) is perfectly possible (certain cRPGs, such as Final Fantasy X2, produce this kind of experience by increasing pressure on the player within a turn-based format).

We will look at the many different types of rushgame in due course, but first we will consider the relationship between wargames and rushgames from a biological standpoint.


Fight or Flight

The fight-or-flight response is a basic biological stress mechanism found in most vertebrates and many other animals, first described by Walter Cannon in 1915. The response was later linked to the hormone and neurotransmitter epinephrine (adrenalin), which raises the heart rate and triggers a host of other biological responses that prime an animal to take action when facing a stressful situation. The two responses – fight or flight – are chosen by the animal in question based on their instincts and individual personality. 

Note that the stress response relating to adrenalin provides the emotional feeling of both excitement and fear. Psychologically, these feel like different states, but biologically, the physiological response is in essence the same (being driven internally by the same chemical). The difference between excitement and fear is subtle, and many psychologists have remarked on their similarity (for instance, Nina Bull’s 1951 study of hypnotically induced fear, and Smith & Ellsworth’s examination of emotional responses in the 1980s). Indeed, the key distinction is the individual’s expectations: when negative outcomes are expected, fear occurs (we might term it anxiety, but it’s the same emotion), but when positive outcomes are expected or no conscious expectation exists, excitement occurs.

The two parts of the fight-or-flight response correspond to wargames and rushgames respectively. The desire to fight is motivated by anger overcoming fear – this is the emotional pattern of wargames which, after all, are about competition and violence – fighting. Conversely, the desire to flee (flight) is motivated by fear overcoming curiosity (an emotion we will look at later) and occurs in the absence of anger. This is the exact emotional pattern associated with rushgames – excitement (which is a form of fear) in the absence of anger. 

Rushgames, therefore, are about stress without anger – games of adrenalin, which need not involve competition or violence. Stress creates excitement (modified fear) and when the stressful situation passes, the player experiences an endorphin rush of one of two kinds: in the case of simple survival through the stressful episode, relief (the physiological signs of which are exhalation and muscle relaxation), and in the case of a sense of achievement or victory, fiero (the physiological signs of which are hands suddenly held high, and a possible intense vocal exclamation, such as “Yes!”).

It is possible that the same endorphin chemicals are behind these emotions, and that fiero is simply the same emotional reward as relief but in a different context – possibly when anger is part of the mix (anger being tied to norepinephrine, a hormone and neurotransmitter similar to epinephrine i.e. adrenalin). However, I caution against overvaluing reductionistic perspectives in understanding psychology: the underlying mechanisms are important for medical and pharmaceutical research, but are largely irrelevant when considering human behaviour itself. 

Additionally, the nature of the play of these games - which generally involves attempts to maintain control under difficult conditions, can also lead to surprise - a brief emotional response, probably also related to fear. For instance, in a rushgame which creates tension by the use of a long combo chain, if the player breaks the combo by making an unexpected mistake they will display the open mouth, wide-eyed expression which corresponds to surprise, and similarly a survival horror game may plan shocking events to evoke surprise. Interestingly, surprise can often be followed by relief - especially if the shock doesn't turn out to be as serious as first assessed - which means surprise can also be a route to the emotional reward of relief. Since surprise and fear seem to be quite similar (apart from duration), this reinforces the idea that games of this kind are  ultimately about fear, usually experienced as excitement, and the related reward of relief.

Now we understand the biological mechanism behind rushgames, we are ready to look at different kinds of rushgame.


Speed Rushgames 

One common way to put the player into a stressful situation is to place them at the limits of their ability to maintain control, which is a technique employed in high speed racers such as the Burnout and F-Zero franchises, and indeed in racing games in general. The same kind of play can be found in snow boarding games and crime-based racing games, which challenge the player to make their escape from the police (such as the Grand Theft Auto franchise).

Usually, these games are also designed with competition in mind – thus skewing the play more towards wargames. This may in fact result in a narrowing of audience – it is perfectly possible to design a game mode for a speed rushgame in which no competition is required.


Vertigo Rushgames 

Another way to evoke the patterns of emotions associated with rushgames is to use vertigo (something Caillois was acutely aware of). A prime example of games that attempt to invoke excitement in this manner are the Mario franchise platform games, almost all of which evoke excitement by dizzying the player with the consequences should they miss their next jump, coupled with the additional pressures of compensating for momentum. The high scroll speed of the Sonic games are perhaps even more obviously vertiginous in nature, and combine elements of speed rushgames with vertigo.

Note, however, that platform games need not necessarily be rushgames – the Mario games are inherently more stressful than many of the 3D platform games that occurred during their heyday in the 1990s, for instance. This is because many of these kinds of game are using the platform game structure, but are really offering players opportunities for exploration and other more relaxed forms of entertainment (we shall look at this later this year).


Pressure Rushgames 

Puzzle games which fall into the rushgame pattern increase player stress by reducing the player’s capacity to respond to game situations as a result of increasing pressure to act, or decreasing freedom to act. The most successful game of this kind is Tetris itself, which is a quintessential pressure rushgame, placing stress on the player to deal with problems that occur before the play field fills up.

The same kind of play can be found in “plate spinning” games, such as Diner Dash and its antecedent, the 1983 Bally Midway arcade game Tapper. In these games, situations requiring player response occur with increasing frequency, thus creating the stress situation. Clearing each barroom challenge in Tapper gives the player the reward of relief – they survived the crisis situation.

Vertically scrolling shooters in the "bullet maze" style may also fit within this category, if they do not warrant a category of their own.


Chain Rushgames 

Closely related to pressure rushgames, another means of putting the player in a stressful situation is to have the player’s overall performance index linked to their capacity to accurately complete actions in succession – commonly achieved via the use of an exponential combo multiplier that dramatically inflates the score the player achieves as a result of many successive successes. In a combo-focussed game, one mistake breaks the chain – it is this undesirable outcome which provides the excitement and fear, since to reach the highest scores absolutely requires few if any breaks in the combo chain.

Examples of this style are endemic and hugely popular. The recently released Link’s Crossbow Training is the latest of a long tradition of shooting galleries based on this form, and the classic NiGHTS: Into Dreams became a chain rushgame after the player mastered the basics. Most successful of all the games in this kind, however, are rhythm action games such as Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero. These function initially as pressure rushgames in general, and then (once the player becomes fully cognisant of the scoring mechanism) as chain rushgames.


Survival Rushgames 

Another approach to the emotions associated with rushgames is to go beyond excitement and attempt to engender fear directly – often by use of traditionally “scary” monsters (zombies, alien creatures, spiders, snakes etc.). The survival horror game, of which the Resident Evil franchise is the most commercially successful, represents a special kind of rushgame in which terror is encoded into the narrative setting of the virtual world.

These games usually also add a logistical element, namely the conservation of ammunition and healing items. Indeed, this element is crucial to the general feel of the survival rushgame – decreasing resources increases the stress upon the player, making the surprises the game triggers to cause the player jump with fright all the more effective. A great number of tricks from the narrative language of film can be gainfully employed in this style of rushgame, which is the only kind in which fear is expressly more important than excitement.


Mischief Rushgames 

A final approach to engendering excitement and relief corresponds to another aspect of Caillois’ ilinx play pattern – something discussed previously as destructive ilinx. Games which draw on this approach tap into the normally repressed desire to cause destruction and chaos – the pleasure one gets from stomping on a sandcastle, for instance.

The most famous of these mischief rushgames is the Grand Theft Auto franchise, which invites the player to take part in all manner of illegal acts they would never consider doing in real life, but within the magic circle of play, where normal social rules are suspended, the freedom to misbehave is irresistible. (Of course, GTA games also function as speed rushgames, and in many other play patterns as well - this is part of the secret of its success). 

Other examples include the crash mode of games such as Burnout 2 that allow the player to cause gigantic pile ups which are graded in terms of the destruction caused.



Rushgames are a genre of videogames that place the player under stress in order to create excitement, without expressly needing to use competition or violence. There are several key forms currently being commercially exploited:

  • Speed rushgames: use the difficulty of maintaining control at high velocities as the source of stress.
  • Vertigo rushgames: use the risk of falling as a source of stress.
  • Pressure rushgames: increase the number of critical situations the player has to deal with as a source of stress.
  • Chain rushgames: use the risk of breaking an exponential score combo as a source of stress.
  • Survival rushgames: use fearful monsters and restriction of the means of defence as a source of stress.
  • Mischief rushgames: draw upon our natural tendency to repress destructive and chaotic impulses as a source of stress.

These forms of games excite the player by presenting stressful situations that the player is challenged to survive, through which the player earns the emotional reward of relief, and in some cases fiero (triumph over adversity). Surprise is also associated with this kind of game - both in terms of intentional shocks and the momentary panic when a mistake costs the player dearly (as in a broken combo in a chain rushgame, a crash in a speed rushgame, or a fall in a vertigo rushgame).

This form is actually even more commercially successful than wargames – both Tetris and Mario have outsold the most popular wargames by orders of magnitude – which begs the question: if rushgames are more popular than wargames, why does the games industry spend so much more of its resources making games of violence?

Please share your experiences of rushgames in the comments.


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Good grief. The more I read of the (apparently) typical responses that people exhibit, the more I suspect my own responses are far from the norm. To me:

- Relief is not a reward. Relief is neutral; stress is negative. I rarely find excitement, of the form described here, positive - I am only too aware that the usual thing that follows excitement is disappointment.

- Speed rushgames leave me wanting to slow the action down so I can control and follow it. I end up putting them down because I can't control them and get no reward.

- Vertigo rushgames leave me irritated that the designers have put in the one-step-and-you're-dead mechanic; I want the freedom to fail (to quote your poll). I leave them as I get no reward for completing them, and disappointment each time I fail.

- I'll play a pressure rushgame to the point that I feel out of control. Then I'll leave it, never to come back - same reasons: disappointment each time I fail, and no reward if I happen to complete a level.

- If I realise a game is a chain game, I won't pick it up. Once again, serial disappointment as I miss combos (my reactions aren't great).

- I could only play a survival rushgames if I overcame my distrust of the genre. I have a pet dislike of other people screwing with my emotions, whether that's by way of film or by way of game - it's one reason I tend not to watch films. Add a dislike of the paraphernalia that tend to go with the "horror" genres (notably sharp objects being waved around) and you can see I'll tend to avoid them anyway.

- I'll play mischief games till the cows come home... if there's a sandbox mode. If they're rushgames... I won't. Chris, why do you categorise these in the same way? To me, whether I'm doing something socially unacceptable or destructive is irrelevant as a source of stress - in fact it makes a good outlet.

For me, with talk of Tetris and the like, I feel that the zen-like beautific calm that can descend upon you whilst playing the maddeningly quick games is missing from this list of responses. Is this an emotion tied to these games but under a different heading? I am talking about when someone knows a game well enough that they don't need to *think* about each specific move, but a sort of muscle memory takes over.

Also, you describe as surprise the emotion that occurs when you miss a link in a combo chain (mouth open in shock). I am surprised at the description more than the missing of a combo link... I would not be surprised I missed a combo link unless I was so used to making it due to having played it many many times. And even then my main emotional response would be one of frustration and anger. Surprise wouldn't come into it really.
>:-[ not :-o

Peter: we've established for a while now that you don't get on with games of quick reactions, so your responses here are consistent with your earlier observations (and make for interesting reading).

Relief not a reward? I can see why you would feel that way, but aren't you really saying here that (following on from something said in "Emotions of Play Revisited") that your sadness (disappointment) outstrips your relief? I'd have to observe you playing, but I expect that relief is still a pleasant experience for you - it's just the games in question aren't giving you *just* relief, if you see what I mean, so it gets drowned out.

You challenge the idea that mischief games qualify as rushgames - but they generate the same emotions, excitement and relief, just with a different stress profile and (crucially) one can play in this style without quick reactions, per se. This part of this piece may be controversial, however. I wonder what other people think.

Neil: "zen-like beautific calm"

This is the state of Flow described by Csikszentmihalyi, and what I am also referring to as focus-immersion (as opposed to world-immersion). It is not an emotion, per se, but a mental state.

It's not mentioned here because wargames (agon), rushgames (ilinx) and luckgames (alea) can all produce focus-immersion, although games like Tetris are exceptionally good triggers for this state of mind.

I think I might need a post on the two types of immersion - focus-immersion and world-immersion - and the relationship to Flow... If I had such a post, I would have been much more likely to mention it in this one, because I wouldn't have had to explain so much. (I've surely covered this before somewhen, but I'm pretty sure I don't have a general purpose piece that covers this). Something to attend to later this year, perhaps.

Lastly, you say your reaction would be anger not surprise - this ties in with something I was saying before in "Emotions of Play Revisited". If you're natural response is anger, this fits my description that you are naturally competitive - you bring the competitive style (wargame/agon) to other styles of game - whether you want to or not!

I've been doing a lot of observation of people playing combo games recently, and the prevailing response to a missed combo in my recent observations is the surprise facial expression. It's really noticeable. But it's perfectly possible for someone to experience anger instead, as you do; this fits with my hypothesis that some players naturally sway towards a competitive play pattern - and thus experience anger, rather than sadness, in the event of failure.

I'm trying to remember... you don't enjoy rhythm action games, is that correct? This would be a possible reason why these games don't work for you.

I should probably have raised this issue within this piece, but again, it's beyond the scope of the piece (which had already become quite long) and I'd already covered it not too long ago. It's good that you brought it back into play.

I'd like to observe you playing Tetris, though, as I suspect you will display the surprise response under appropriate circumstances, it's just the combos push your competitive buttons and so give you anger instead, if you see what I mean.

I wonder if this ties into the need to win - it's very important to you that Manchester United are victorious, for instance, and you prefer FPS games in which you die less frequently (I'm simplifying, but...)

It all gets quite complicated, I suppose. :)

So here we have two people, one not enjoying rushgames principally because their disappointment (sadness) overpowers any positive emotions, and one bringing competitive responses (anger) into games of other kinds... This suggests to me the previous hypothesis is incomplete - as well as prevalence for anger (competitive) and sadness (non-competitive) there must surely be a middle route where neither emotion is strongly felt. As ever, further research is needed...

Thanks for the comments! There was a lot of stuff under the hood of this piece that came out in those two comments.

I like this formulation, it seems to hold water for the emotional part of this type of play. The post reminded me of a formulation of the cognitive part of play that I wanted to look into but haven't had time yet. I was going to investigate whether challenge could be captured by an equivalency as follows:

[Increasing Information + Constant time to Process] =
Increasing Challenge(Difficulty) =
[Constant Information + Decreasing time to process]

Tetris was the test bed I had in mind for looking into this equivalence. Just had to come up with a variant where information increases but speed doesn't. I didn't get as far as mathematically analysing how Tetris carries information though, so didnt implement the variant.

In any event, for completeness if I introduce another testbed game to my PhD I would have to repeat all my Pacman work on it, and all the work on it would have to be done on Pacman. I haven't time enough left for all that :(

The format of many rush games like Tetris and Guitar Hero seems inherently 2D in a sense (maybe, even in the real 3D ones like SSX, since as you're rushing its like being on a rail - the Die Hard Trilogy Sect.2), and so are easier to intuitively consider as information systems. But wargames are all about shifting info bits, even the shooters, so they succumb to this model too.

I'll be posting on this idea, actually, when theres time...

"it's very important to you that Manchester United are victorious"

It goes way beyond that. :-)

And it's been too long since I played a decent (to me) version of Tetris (that'd be on the 'Cube I guess)... I'm more likely to zone out to a game with car driving (e.g. Saints Row atm) or a racer.

Regarding the play Peter Crowther - Chris:

Competitiveness may be a factor. A highly sensitive neurological may be another. Rushgames must be as much an over-stimulation to some as they are the prefect kick for others? I could easily see how that would outstrip relief. Too much stress is too much stress even if you are allowed relief after the fact?

"If you're natural response is anger, this fits my description that you are naturally competitive - you bring the competitive style (wargame/agon) to other styles of game - whether you want to or not!"

I posted after your Emotions of Play Revisited something about identifying with this point exactly. I'll just re-iterate that here. Your comments after the article describe me far more than anything else within the article! Notably I do not really enjoy any of the games examples given in the post (other than NiGHTs).

I actually gave myself a perfect example of my emotions of play last night. I played Street Fighter 3 & Street Fighter 2 (both solo and competitively online), and later played Sonic the Hedgehog. When I lost at the fighting games, I was just slightly miffed when losing to the CPU - but I was happy that I had learnt some new skills anyway as I was practicing with different characters and a different controller. When losing to people online I was mostly just impressed & inspired by their skill.

Yet playing Sonic drove me into such a fury that I was screaming four letter words at my TV screen!

Yet I certainly get a 'fiero' feeling out of both kinds of game. Both caused me to feel very happy at beating the challenges I did beat -in fact I became vocal in my joy during all of the games.

Maybe I just enjoy shouting at my TV though. ;)

But it was definitely interesting to me reading this coupled with my experiences last night that I feel far more anger when 'losing' at 'rush games' than I do at 'wargames'.

This seems to be the oldest unanswered comment, so I'll start here...

zenBen: your equivalency looks interesting; it amounts to saying that [bits x time] proportional [challenge] i.e. information and time combine to express a degree of challenge. I don't know how valid this claim is - but it's certainly an interesting claim to make.

Questions that trip off my forebrain include:

- How would one measure the bits of information in a game situation? (And is it worth even trying) My instinct is, no, not in the general case, but perhaps in abstract cases such as Tetris.
- Can game information be considered comparable? Consider the analogue information in the state of a snowboarding game versus, say, the positions of the players on the pitch in a sports game.
- Are information and time the only factors influencing game difficulty?

This is highly mullable stuff - I wish I wasn't inundated with comments so I could spend a little longer on it. Perhaps you should develop this into a post on your blog at some point - could be interesting.

nomad: "too much stress" - I think there is a key point here, in that no amount of relief is going to pay off if you are already beyond a point of stress one finds comfortable. Competitiveness may be a factor, another might be attitude to past events - some people dwell on negative past events more than others (some people just skim along the surface of their lives...)

There's a whole research topic here for someone with the tools to explore stress in games - I think this would be well worth digging into.

Rik: I always enjoy your descriptions of your play experience, and not just because they back up my work. :) You have a clinical self-reporting style that reads nicely.

But I note that your report (like Neil's) contradicts my claim that rushgames are stress without anger - clearly, you *are* experiencing anger in this context, and on reflection I think other players are too; is it too flippant of me to make the claim that such people are naturally competitive? (The claim from Emotions of Play Revisited). How would I test this hypothesis?

Furthermore, what is the source of this anger (frustration)? Is it being placed in a situation beyond one's control, thus becoming stressed without hope of relieving that stress?

It's a fascinating area for future exploration.

Thanks for the comments, everyone! I enjoyed writing this piece, but I enjoyed reading the comments on it even more. :)

Because the comment roll only holds ten comments, this was rapidly pushed off as I responded to everything else. As a topic for ongoing discussion, though, I thought I'd bring it back to the top of the pile. :)

Hi again Chris,

I did indeed post on my information in games idea, about a month ago. Nobody took it up :( Maybe that's because it was a copy of a report to my supervisors, and didn't read well online or something. Too bad.

I'm going to go over there and post some answers to your questions, I think.

zenBen: Can you post a link, so people can get to the post in question easily?


Ok, the first post on Games as Information Systems is here and there is a follow up post here.

They are the two newest posts on my blog, so they'll be the first thing one sees.

Thanks for your further comments Chris. I'm pleasantly surprised you'd make a comment about me being readable; since you've become one of my idols when it comes to writing & you have so many excellent posters here, I often feel slightly out of my depth. Incidently I'm also in the early stages of starting up a gaming-related blog along with a friend who encouraged me to do so.

"is it too flippant of me to make the claim that such people are naturally competitive? (The claim from Emotions of Play Revisited)."

In my case, I don't feel that would be flippant at all. One of the things I find most fascinating about your articles on play emotions and game styles is how they consistently further my understand of something I only had a vague awareness of previously: How 'unusually' competitive I actually am when it comes to video gaming. My unusual emotional reaction to video games I think stems from this - any video game can potentially make me angry! I'm absolutely certain it is the level of emotional involvement that I get from video games that is a huge part of the reason I find them so entertaining.

"How would I test this hypothesis?"

Now I'm slightly stumped also. Analysis of the kinds of games I really enjoy & play a lot definitely highlights my competitive nature, but that seems somewhat circular analysis. I also find that many people enjoy these games too - but for very different reasons to me, so it's not really good as evidence. Some kind of 'lab study' that you make anecdotes to - viewing & recording someone's physical reactions to playing a game and winning or losing - could certainly highlight those who are particularly competitive or not.

"Furthermore, what is the source of this anger (frustration)? Is it being placed in a situation beyond one's control, thus becoming stressed without hope of relieving that stress? "

I think that is definitely part of it. The "blind jump" problem in platform games is certainly something that tends to infuriate me. Sonic is odd & interesting in this regard, as it encourages you to rush through levels - yet you are penalised for doing this as the more you rush, the more you will end up dying 'when blind jumps go bad' (I'm not going to edit my grammar here as that sounds amusingly like a TV show title to me ;) ) if you haven't already learnt the level. And as much as I enjoy having my skills tested on a game, level 'map' learning is something I generally find very unappealing.

I think another part of it, at least for myself, is that I am usually much happier losing to a human than I am to the game itself. But when I lose to the CPU at say, a fighting game, I believe I am less likely to become angry&frustrated as I tend to view such play as mere 'practice mode' for the 'real game' which is one against a person.

I'll finish with another real-life story of play emotions that may amuse you: On my flight back from the USA a couple of days ago it had an on-board video game system. I looked through the games on offer and very few intereted me but I've been getting back into chess a little recently so I went for that. I went into the chess game and of course immediately went to multiplayer and waited for a long time to see if anyone on the flight would play me. No takers, although I saw a lot of people going for multiplayer Battleships - a game I find incredibly dull and virtually mindless, which is probably no surprise given my nature! Eventually I gave up waiting for a multiplayer game and played the CPU on normal and actually got emotionally involved enough to fist-pump at the screen & whisper a cheer for myself when I won ;) Incidently, I tend to also get very emotionally involved in this way when supporting a sports team too, which could possibly be another 'reveal' for people with similar nature to myself.

Rik: thanks for your kind words and further comments! If you do take the plunge into blogging (go on..!) please make sure you provide a link to your new blog here - I'll be happy to add it to both my reader and my Other Curiosities list.

I don't have much to offer to your comments, other than general agreement and a renewal of my enjoyment of the way you describe your own play experiences. (Many players are not so aware as to be able to self-report like this!)

"Fist pump" - what a great description of the smallest of the fiero gestures! :)

Battleships versus Chess... ha! The former has the tiniest amount of skill, being mostly a luckgame, while the latter has no luck whatsoever. I'm not surprised the former was more popular with your fellow passengers. ;) I suppose if you had intimate knowledge of the behaviour of your opponent it might be possible to "play" them in your placement of ships, but Battleships interests me in general as a luckgame in which the player faces decisions during setup that feel more meaningful than perhaps they might actually be.

Best wishes!

Very interesting blog here. As an aspiring game designer (haha), I feel somewhat out of place among such studious people. Regardless, the types of rushgames really look a lot like gameplay paradigms. So would paradigms, having emotions and different stress factors associated with them, be broken into three types of games: wargames, rushgames, and luckgames?

However, I can't help but feel that games shouldn't be categorized so easily into these different types. I think in games such as Tomb Raider, there are situations that are competitive and therefor wargame-like, but there are other situations that are more rushgame-like. I suppose I feel that while paradigms can be categorized in such a way, the games which include such paradigms cannot necessarily be labeled like so, simply because they may include paradigms from each of the three types of gameplay.

I definitely want to read up more on flow and focus-immersion now.

Welcome to the game, Phill! Don't feel out of place - we're all faking. :D

The (disposable) taxonomy I'm developing here now has (in its draft form, at least) eight different patterns. I can't quite face a post on each one of these patterns, so I might just go ahead and put up a post discussing the whole taxonomy at some point (probably in June). For each pattern, I can link it up to specific actions in the brain, which is an unusual yet intriguing way of looking at videogames.

"However, I can't help but feel that games shouldn't be categorized so easily into these different types."

You may have missed the earlier posts in which I hammered on about this point: this is a soft taxonomy. It is not a set of pigeonholes where each game will fit into one, but rather a set of patterns where each game will express many different patterns to different degrees.

For instance, the majority of games made today finish with a wargame-type pattern, regardless of how the core play was organised. I think this is naive, personally - if the player wasn't interested in fiero up to that point, why should they suddenly care at the end? But that's the modern games industry! :)

I don't think I've written anything specific I can point you to about focus and world-immersion; these are terms that have crept into the sides of our discussion. "Focus immersion" refers to Csikszentmihalyi's Flow, though - a search of this site for those two words should turn something up. I been thinking about covering this topic directly at some point, but just haven't had time.

Alas, the Moorcock serial has soaked up a lot of my blog time this month - although I knew the material very well, I still had to do quite a bit of research on this. I have some great game research/design material coming through now that I need to write about, but alas, it will have to wait.

Once again, welcome to the game! Hope to see you around.


[This comment has been moved from "Designing Luck" where it appears to have been posted by mistake]

I don't agree with these sub-genres of fight or flight games. Really almost all of these sub-genres can be categorised by a basic premise:-

'A skill based game which tests the ability of the player to react quickly and efficiently. A game which tests the concentration of the player, the risk is failure, and having to restart the level, the reward is the euphoria from success in adverse conditions.'

Now whether you are guiding Mario through the incredibly difficult lost levels, racing a nitro-charged hyper car at 700 Mph through narrow twisty roads, or hammering on/pulling off Jordan with both hands on Expert level of Guitar Hero 2 your fear and reward is essentially the same motivation. Personally I don't accept that people fear falling in Mario as a fall from a height, they fear getting it wrong and having to start again. The same applies to racing games and rythym games.

It could be that I don't tend to analyse the emotional response caused by different games. The games above tend to be games which test the player by increasing the speed at which they have to think and react to succeed and increasing the difficulty of the objects put in the players way.

Now comparing these games to the likes of Resident Evil 1 and 2 for example I think is misleading. Yes - there is probably a design element of a certain emotional response from the player, but the mechanics and the abilities of the player that are being tested are totally different.

Really, Resident Evil is a modern interpretation of the 1992 Classic Alone in the Dark developed by Infogrames Entertainment. Alone in the Dark was cited as a survival horror game, but in my opinion the graphics, music and sound effects in 1992 simply weren't able to justify this classification. What Alone in the Dark really was, was an adventure game with a novel interface and an element of combat. This is of course what Resident Evil is too, as time has gone by Capcom has reduced the adventure puzzle element and thrown more weight into the combat. There's evidence this is what people enjoy more. Valves Left4Dead series is testament to that.

I think we can conclude from this that Horror, or Thriller is really an element that can be tagged onto an existing genre - but can't warrant it's own sub-genre. Doom 3 on the PC is an excellent example. The mechanics are perfect 1st Person Shooter, the dark sections with the surprise attacks and the clever use of sound and lighting to create fear and suspense are definite horror. It's not suitable for young players - the half fly, half baby creatures are genuinely disturbing to to blow away... But it's still a shooter, a first person shooter with an element of horror.

[Your comment was posted under "Designing Luck" but appears to be about the Rushgames post, so I have moved it here.]

Martyn: Let me begin by saying that I become progressively less interested in taxonomy. For a long while I've been saying that all taxonomies for games are inherently soft, and should only be treated as one of many lenses that can be used to interpret games. A model, not a law. But no-one seems to get this, and I despair of repeating myself so except where I am forced to present a taxonomy for some reason I now have little to no interest in this fool's errand of exhaustively categorising play by the gameplay genre.

You can read more of my thoughts on the problems in respect to the concept of a "taxonomy of game genres" on this post about Endangered Games. Just scroll down the comments until you get to the one that begins "Bob: You're right..." You'll get my main arguments there.

In response to some of the points you raised here:

"A skill based game which tests the ability of the player to react quickly and efficiently. A game which tests the concentration of the player, the risk is failure, and having to restart the level, the reward is the euphoria from success in adverse conditions."

Probably so, but your stance strikes me as overly reductionistic. Both of these formula describe dozens of different kinds of play enjoyed by wildly different players. A fighting game and a rhythm action game fit your formula (1) here, but are played and enjoyed by very different players for very different reasons. What merit in grouping them together?

"Personally I don't accept that people fear falling in Mario as a fall from a height, they fear getting it wrong and having to start again."

I study players in the context of their play and while I'd say there are players who fit your description here, it's not true of a great many players of platform games. The interpretation of the failure as a fall is even more pronounced in "high stakes" platformers (e.g. Prince of Persia, Tomb Raider) than it is in most Mario games, but it's still there for a great many players. Some have a detached rationalistic perspective like your own, but that kind of view is the minority not the norm.

"It could be that I don't tend to analyse the emotional response caused by different games."

Well I occasionally do too, of course, but I also recognise the experience of the individual is not solely reducible to its underlying emotion or neurotransmitter. Falling off a cliff is not the same experience as getting married, despite the epinephrine (i.e. adrenalin) released in both! :)

"Really, Resident Evil is a modern interpretation of the 1992 Classic Alone in the Dark developed by Infogrames Entertainment."

While I agree that Alone in the Dark explored similar themes slightly earlier, there is no evidence that the Capcom team that created Biohazard were influenced by it, so your use of "modern interpretation" is probably an error. Plus, "modern" is a weird choice of comparitive in this case: Resident Evil was released in 1996 - that's only four years later than Alone in the Dark!

(And if you want to track back game that induce fear as part of the play, you can go back much further, of course. Scarabaeus for the Commodore 64 back in 1985, for instance.)

"What Alone in the Dark really was, was an adventure game with a novel interface and an element of combat."

I agree.

"This is of course what Resident Evil is too, as time has gone by Capcom has reduced the adventure puzzle element and thrown more weight into the combat."

Again, "as time has gone by" seems the wrong phrase to refer to four years! :)

"There's evidence this [i.e. combat] is what people enjoy more. Valves Left4Dead series is testament to that."

Well Left4Dead also has co-op play which is a major driver of play in its own right, so it's hard to separate out factors in that particular case. But let's not lose sight of the fact that the original Resident Evil 1 & 2 outsold Left4Dead by 2 units to 1 (5 million/6 million vs 2.7 million), so I wouldn't rush to any conclusions here.

"I think we can conclude from this that Horror, or Thriller is really an element that can be tagged onto an existing genre - but can't warrant it's own sub-genre."

You want to be able to construct a genre taxonomy eliminating all elements of representation. I'm not certain this is possible, or useful. But if you wanted to attempt this and took into account activation of brain regions, horror games like Resident Evil and Scarabaeus would stand out as quite distinct as a result of detectible responses in the amygdala that you wouldn't find in almost any other games.

Also, do you really think you can attach Horror to *any* kind of play? Do you think you could make an effective Horror Rhythm-Action game? A Horror-Match 3 game? A Horror 2D Platformer? A Horror-Pinball? Horror Pachinko? Horror Tic-Tac-Toe? You could certainly theme games of this styles with horror elements, but it wouldn't induce fear in the player in anything like the way Resident Evil et al can.

The representational elements which make something like Resident Evil work so well at inducing fear in the player are intimately tied to the mechanics of play. Only certain form of play will support this response, and although you can attach it to a direct shooter (as with your example of Doom 3) in these cases it becomes just one emotional "flavour" thrown into the mix, and a mix dominated by other emotions. In most shooters the epinephrine and amygdala response serve to increase the fiero (i.e. dopamine release) of victory. Resident Evil and other games expressly intending to induce fear create the fear-state as an experience in its own right. I believe there is a valuable distinction here that it would be a mistake to ignore.

Thank you for your interesting discussion of these points!

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