Ambiguous worlds: understanding the design of first-person walker games

Muscat, A 2018, Ambiguous worlds: understanding the design of first-person walker games, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Media and Communication, RMIT University.


Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Ambiguous worlds: understanding the design of first-person walker games
Author(s) Muscat, A
Year 2018
Abstract The ‘walker’ is a burgeoning form of videogame with a growing body of literature primarily discussing how the genre challenges the accepted norms of games. These discussions widely use the derogatory term ‘walking simulator’, which implies its non-game status. What is also clear from these discussions is how these games draw on, but also push back against game design conventions. Walking is the primary means of interaction in walker games, rather than prioritising ‘skill-based’ mechanics. For example, the mechanics of gameplay in walker games are typically minimal, slow and non-violent.

The unique design focus of walker games exists within a contested and complicated area of game design literature, yet many players find the exploration and experiences of these game environments to be compelling. This research asks: What gameplay experiences do walkers elicit, and how might designers understand these experiences? What are the game design attributes that engage players to explore 3D walker environments? How can these design attributes be used to design first-person walker games and 3D games more broadly?

Drawing upon game design and design research literature, I explore these questions with specific focus on player interaction and level design in walker game world exploration. My research approach consists of three major investigative stages. I conduct a formal analysis of four existing walker games: Dear Esther, Proteus, Gone Home and The Stanley Parable. My analysis reveals four key themes for investigating walker design. These four themes are then applied to the development of my design project, WORLD4, a multi-view exploration game where players explore a 3D layered abstract world. I develop a methodological approach based upon indie gameplay testing to conduct an analysis of WORLD4’s design through a two-stage qualitative player study.

Based on these three stages of analysis, I conclude that a particular kind of experience of curiosity emerges, driving player exploration in walker games. My findings indicate that the experience of curiosity is fostered by incorporating ambiguity into the game design, which modifies game world exploration into a more investigative and interpretive activity. I support this conclusion through three design themes to understand the player experience of WORLD4 and six design strategies for fostering ambiguity in the design of exploratory game environments. More generally, I contribute a perspective on game design that emphasises ambiguity in order to create heightened and compelling exploration experiences.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Media and Communication
Subjects Computer Gaming and Animation
Interactive Media
Media Studies
Keyword(s) Game design
Level design
Virtual environments
Game studies
Interaction design
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Created: Fri, 30 Nov 2018, 14:18:35 EST by Keely Chapman
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