Branching story technique #5: Use Character and Mood to Seduce

Branching stories are simple sims where players make a series of decisions to shape and advance a story. I have found ten surprisingly easy and effective "little" techniques to make them much richer. 

Here is the fifth.

For many short branching stories, such as used in ethics training, everything comes down to a single moment.  Does the player do something wrong, or not?  Almost inevitably, given that the programs is, well, ethics training, players can be on their best behavior.

A traditional solution is to give the player such an excruciating contrived and convoluted scenario that the player, understanding that it is a big choice, studies it, then come to an intellectual conclusion, which may still be right or wrong.

As a sim designer, I try to take a different approach.  I like to create a more a realistic scenario, where the decisions, right or wrong, are made in an emotion and context that matches the real world counterpart.  

In a fully interactive game-like simulation, I would create a MacGuffin job or activity at which the player wants to succeed.  For sports doping, I have created a simple competitive sport. If the task is cyber-security in an office place, my instinct is to create an abstracted job work flow (in my example below, inspired in part by Sally's Spa project management type games) that matches the goals and emotional condition of a person at work, into which I put cyber-security related moments of challenge.

For a short branching story challenge, I use characters and mood to create the target emotion.

If, for example, the ethical choice (and I use the category of 'ethics' broadly to also include sexual harassment, speeding, cyber security, even eating poorly) was to disobey a direct request, I would make the person giving the request scary: perhaps judgmental and authoritative.  I would further make that person in a hurry.

For example, in an information assurance sim, one could have:
If I have done my job right, the emotional pressure is very high not to choose the right option - [Don't print the presentation], because that would involve using a thumb drive which compromise information assurance.

I would of course still use illustrations and a better interface in a client project to support the emotion. Click here to download my portfolio.

Similarly, one can create a highly sympathetic character who is in need of money for example, if the player will have to coach them to turn down work because of a conflict of interest.  As in this example, one should not telegraph the real challenge too directly, while still making it realistic

What is efficient is how low-tech the creation of the emotional state can be.   It just takes a bit of character building.

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