Comment: Inception

If you’ve gone to see Inception then I suggest reading (or re-reading) this internview with Satoru Iwata and Shigeru Miyamoto.

Miyamoto: Right, you run away. This gave us a real headache. We needed somehow to make sure the player understood that this was something really good. That’s why we made the mushroom approach you.

Iwata: Yes, that’s right. If you play the game for the first time with no prior knowledge, you’re going to run into the first Goomba and lose a turn.

Miyamoto: Right, which is why you have to teach the player in a natural way that they need to avoid them by jumping over them.

Iwata: Then when the player tries to jump and avoid them, there are going to be times when they get it wrong and end up stamping on the Goomba. By doing that, they learn in a natural way that by stamping on them, you can defeat them.

Miyamoto: As long as you stamp on them, you have nothing to fear from Goombas.

Iwata: But if you avoid the first Goomba and then jump and hit a block above you, a mushroom will spring out and you’ll get a shock. But then you’ll see that it’s going to the right so you’ll think: “I’m safe! Something strange appeared but I’m okay!” But of course when it goes against a pipe up ahead, the mushroom will come back! (laughs)

Miyamoto: Right! (laughs)

Iwata: At that point, even if you panic and try to jump out of the way, you’ll hit the block above you. Then just at the instant where you accept that you’re done for, Mario will suddenly shake and grow bigger! You might not really know what’s just happened, but at the very least, you’ll realize that you haven’t lost the turn.

Miyamoto: But you’ll wonder why Mario suddenly got larger.

Iwata: You’ll try jumping and see that you can jump to higher places and smash through the ceiling, so it’ll be clear that you’ve become more powerful.

Miyamoto: It’s at that moment that you first realize that the mushroom is a good item.

Iwata: That’s the reason why it’s designed so that whatever you do, you’ll get the mushroom.

Miyamoto: Of course it’s because we wanted the player to realize that this item was different from a Goomba.

Iwata: When I first realized that this had all been designed with that purpose in mind, I was really taken aback. When you tell people who weren’t aware of it that the start of Super Mario Bros. was designed with this intention, it’s rare that they won’t be impressed.

The thought that struck me while watching the movie was “Imagine a game designer with the power to architect dreams and plant ideas.”  When reading that previous interview though, it’s clear this is what they intend to accomplish.  Albeit they aren’t trying to steal your secrets, and their audience is not actually dreaming.  It’s not nearly as sexy as the movie, but the underlying, rudimentary idea is very similar.  The power of suggestion is used in anticipation of certain behaviors which ultimately induces a state of suspended disbelief in order to solicit a genuine response.

That’s the only way that a good game can unfold.  The game must always be two steps ahead of the audience and quietly direct their actions for a desired effect.  Don’t believe me? Then just go see Inception, it’s an incredible movie regardless.  But think about that idea the next time you’re playing a game, and think of how Miyamoto described how he gets you to understand that mushrooms are good.

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