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Part 3, Narrative bridging on testing an experience

In the third and last part of the series, on how to assure the quality of an experience from a narrative and cognitive perspective. The final pieces for a framework that concerns engagement, emotions, learning, pacing and control, will be presented.

Katarina Gyllenback, Blogger

September 28, 2018

35 Min Read

As there is no viable advice on how to approach a quality assurance from a narrative and cognitive perspective beyond templates and structures within game development, and sparked by a question from a student, I decided to write the series “Narrative bridging on testing an experience. If you have missed the previous parts where the principles behind the framework are presented, they can be found at Gamasutra (Part 1 and Part 2) or at the site Narrative construction (Part 1 and Part 2).

Connecting control to mindreading

As the series is about how to assure the quality of an experience from a narrative perspective beyond structures and templates, there are two recent structures that I haven´t mentioned yet that we will have to pass as to access the narrative from a cognitive perspective.

About twenty years ago, two new structures were presented at GDC (here) regarding the definition of the restrictions the narrative had on the players´ freedom to provide the player control (the emergent structure) or refrain the control (the embedded structure). Based on where we left in the previous part and where we took help from a 7-grade model of reasoning (the publication can be found here, and a post with a short guide to the model is here) as to see how the human ability of mindreading can make us access how our engagement from the concepts of surprise and suspense work on our emotions. Based on Hitchcock´s theories on suspense and surprise in movies (here), the embedded structure could be described as if Hitchcock would be directing the pacing of our learning while regulating the control. The emergent structure would be as if being released from Hitchcock´s direction, in order to direct one´s own pace of learning and be in charge of the control. (see the second part of the series where Hitchcock´s distinctions between suspense and surprise are elaborated).

Though the access to the construction of narratives from a perceptual and cognitive perspective goes via learning, instead of speaking of the narrative in games as embedded and emergent structures, as to be "closed" or "opened" to the player, I will use the terms “self-paced-learning” and “directed-paced-learning” as to access the pacing of an engagement beyond structures and templates, in order to connect learning and the feeling of control to the narrative as a perceptual and cognitive process in creation of an engagement.

Since the key to engagement is due to that the causal understanding is important to us, which explains why most of us are not running into surprises that make us lose control over our ability to learn, as we can´t get to an inference. What´s interesting with “self-paced learning” is that it can be misunderstood as laziness (or even stupidity) instead of thinking how our learning connects to our emotions, and the time it takes to come to an inference differs.

To understand from a constructor´s perspective how experiences and expectations can differ when it comes to the pacing of learning and what it means to feel control, there is a very useful term called scaffolding, which describes the constructor´s approach to meet the different learning styles. Scaffolding (which was invented by Jerome Bruner who was one of the cognitive psychologists who struggled to humanize science) is when a teacher supports a student in achieving a goal by tailoring the learning based on the student´s experiences. How scaffolding can be understood from the perspective of creating a meaningful learning/experience is that you pay attention to someone´s thinking/learning and how it relates to desires, intentions, and beliefs (opposed to an extrinsic and behavioristic approach where someone else´s desires directs the performance), as to know how to balance the learning to move in a positive direction. As if the pacing of the learning is not balanced by means of control, the motivation to learn can drop.

And if there is something game developers are excellent at, it is scaffolding.


Ex. 1

An interesting example of the scaffolding of a “self-paced-learning” can be found in the survival game “The Long Dark”.

As a player, you are placed in the wilderness where the electricity has disappeared due to a solar storm. The goal to survive is set in an environment of extreme cold, snow (and where the sound effects from the snow are amazing), no people (besides the corpses of they who didn't make it), empty cottages, and wild animals. In the search for wood, food, matches, avoiding getting killed by said wild animals, or freezing to death while trying to find your way through a blizzard. What happened with the player´s activities when the game was released was that the players' inferences to achieve the goal were to hibernate as to survive. In this way “The Long Dark” became at its release the sleepiest game based on the intensity from the suspense that had a duration of hours, days, and months due to the permadeath. As if you died, the game was over - finito.

Hibernating in a safe cottage in "The Long Dark", created by Hinterland Games

As the testing of the quality in a game from a narrative and cognitive perspective is focusing on beliefs, desires, and intentions, and where the developers' desires in relation to the players´ can describe the balancing of the pacing and the feeling of control (and where the exchange of thoughts between the developer and the player has been described in the previous part as a communication between minds - mindreading to mindreading). When the players´ behavior in achieving the goal and surviving might not correspond to the developers´ intentions and desired goals, the developers of "The Long Dark" decided to implement two new elements to make the players more active.

As the implementation of two new mechanics can be a risky business as it can tilt the balance of control from a "self-paced learning" to be directed by an external force, which could mean in the case of "The Long Dark" that the players die if the scaffolding is not attending to the pacing of control - it is not strange that there are increased levels of engagement and emotions when addressing the new contents before it´s added to the game. As if you hear players expressing their beliefs of doubts, worries, etc. before a new element/content is about to be implemented it is simply the radiator that is heating up when the players are using their ability of mindreading as to make inferences about what might be the new experience to control as to achieve the goal.

To activate the players and avoid the players to loose control the developers in "The Long Dark" decided to add two new mechanics. One mechanic was “cabin fever”, which forced the player to leave the house after four days and stay out for a whole day. The second was that you needed to be active in order to get tired before you could go to sleep. I don´t know how many died from the implementation, but from my personal data, there was at least one person who died. What´s fascinating is how the addition of a new experience (mechanic), which increased the emotional level of learning (understanding), the reason why it worked is that the new elements made sense. In the same way as the exchange of experiences and expectations between Hitchcock and his audience had a meaning, which was shared, (see the previous part) it´s a lot easier to make the collaboration and the collective exchange of thoughts (mindreading to mindreading) to work - and where the developers of “The Long Dark” managed to balance the learning to become meaningful (and where you could find new ways to go to sleep, which I don´t dare to spoil as who knows what comes next).

But if we are scaffolding with care by attending to the importance of sense-making (make the meaning comprehensible in relation to the achievement) and balance it with the “self-paced learning, one can also understand from a narrative and cognitive perspective if the engagement would drop after the implementation.  As if you make the players go from sleeping to stop playing, due to the loss of control and where the player can´t see how to regain control, it will be very hard to do a re-testing in order to fix the bug if the player has left.

Ex. 2

One example from a test that shows how removing something that players have learned could be as sensitive as to add something new, I recommend reading "Part 3, Don´t show, involve" (can be found on Gamasutra here or at Narrative construction here) where you can read what happened when the game designer Jenova Chen and his team “removed” the learning from the player in the online game “Journey”, and how it caused a negative reaction when testing the game (which the team adjusted before the game was released by allowing the player to regain control and use what they had learned in the game).

Journey, Thatgamecompany, Sony Computer Entertainment

Ex. 3

The last example of a “self-paced learning” in an interactive context is this site and where the pokes (scaffolding) comes from you who are reading, the questions and the sharing of thoughts, which makes me act. The interesting thing is how the question that triggered me to write this series, which increased my emotional level, created a condition of flow. When flow occurs is when the experiences and knowledge are added to patterns in a positive direction. What´s intriguing with the condition of flow is how the “self-paced learning” of engagement can be a mixture of joy, exhaustion, excitement, and frustration, which shows how a positive direction on learning can have wide range of contrasting emotions and where the control works like stations of inferences that moves on a rail towards the desired outcome. As long as causal forces move forward, towards a goal, the contrasting emotions can work like an intrinsic paced rhythm from the engagement (and where the term flow can hopefully be easier to understand when we now have the 7-grade model that can be added to the condition so that we don´t have to invent new terms as for example immersion).


If you would like to take a break, this is a good moment, as from here I will describe what the opposite of an intrinsic paced rhythm does to our emotions and control from the perspective of directed-paced learning.



Assume that we are playing in a band and where the drummer hijacks the performance by playing faster and faster. As the drummer does not listen to us, we adapt. We invite a new member who has never played in a band and tell the player that he or she is the chosen one that will take the band to new heights against all the odds, and where we encourage the player to not give up, have faith, and endure, irrespective of what the drummer does.

by Jenya Kushnir Flickr

What the example with the drummer shows is how the structure of a dramatic arc and the templates of the “Hero´s Journey” add an additional intensity to the pacing when applied to a game. As the structure has a reinforced rising pace that needs to reach certain turning-points, as an extrinsic force, it needs to reach stations and like catapults move the experience to a new point. Yet the structure of a dramatic arc does not only direct the pacing but also the developers' scaffolding. As the duration of engagement from suspense, which Hitchcock defined as fifteen minutes in a film, can be compared with the “self-paced learning” in The Long Dark that went on for hours, days, or months, this is also what explains why the three-act structure can be sensed as a pretty demanding band member.

If comparing the conditions from a constructor´s perspective to handle a “directed-paced learning” with a “self-paced learning” is that the expectations on the perceiver´s performance appear more clearly in a “directed-paced learning” as to be directed by extrinsic forces. As if we use the templates of a “Hero´s Journey” the constructor needs to find ways to encourage the perceiver to meet the expectations by a conversion of the beliefs, intentions, and desires from the templates to become the perceiver´s beliefs and desires. This is extremely tough work if one is aware of what high expectations do to our emotions when it comes to learning, and where the different experiences from playing games and handling the controls differ (which used to be solved by the possibility to choose the difficulties when playing). However, to understand what game developers need attending when it comes to the scaffolding of “directed-paced learning”, as to make the player feel control in a three-act structure of a dramatic story arc; it could be depicted as below.




To assure the quality of control the scaffolding needs to attend to the Expectations (1 and 6) from the structure of rising action, which I call Rising Learning (2). Every time the intensity of the dramatic story arc rises, to reach Climax (3), one needs to assure the Experiences (4 and 5) correspond to the Expectations (1 and 6) before they happen to the player, which is made at Control Points 1 and 2 (7 and 8) (use to be addressed turning-points in a story arc, which I have renamed as to get beyond the structures).

If adding the templates from the “Hero´s Journey” on top of a three-act structure, the Expectations (1 and 6) also need to assure that the player feels in control (7 and 8) from the high expectations of being someone that one can count on as to defeat a force that is stronger than the player (which is shown at 1, 3 and 6). Though the player needs to make an inference at the Resolution (9) where the radiator is supposed to cool down from learning something new from the Experiences (4 and 5), and where the new experience is what the player will bring to the next game or make the player replay the game.

High expectations


Since we all know what low expectations can do to our emotions (which science knows a lot about from the instrumental tests coming from the late 19th century). When scaffolding a “directed-paced learning” based on a story structure and templates from "Hero´s Journey"  the emotions from the low expectations are used in order to make the player´s character´s intention become the player´s by conjuring the emotions from the player´s memory from the experience of what it means to be met by high or low expectations on achieving a goal.

Low expectations

If you look at the picture above. How the low expectations can be used as a motivating engine that makes the player conjure emotion to take the challenge of the role of a hero is that one lets the characters in the game show that they don´t believe in the player´s character. In this way, the player, depending on the experiences, will feel different grades of empathy (identification, sympathy) with its character. But the best thing is that game developers can act like the good guys (in disguise) through the scaffolding by supporting the player to believe in his or her ability to perform according to the expectations of the characters. In this way, one can describe the scaffolding as a mechanic that forms the gameplay that provides the player control to take the challenge (4, 5, 7 and 8).

If we understand that some take three hours to learn, but where others are fine with fifteen minutes when applying structures and templates, the attention on the scaffolding needs to assure that the quality from “directed-paced learning” does not tilt the balance with the “self-paced learning”. As if not being able to control the learning/understanding the engagement and motivation can drop very quickly as the possibility to achieve the goal might seem impossible. This is also the reason why teachers should take a look at game developers´ scaffolding, beyond contexts and concepts of gamification, due to the similarities in the structures of a “directed-paced learning” in games with schools. As if a teacher sees a student that does not perform in school as expected but is pretty good at playing games - the potential of learning has been missed.




There are many examples of games that show the art of scaffolding the player´s learning/understanding in a “directed-paced” game, to handle the high expectations on the achievement.

As I´m playing “Uncharted 4: A Thief´s End” at the moment, created by Naughty Dog, one can see very clearly how the developers are scaffolding the player by letting the brother of the player´s character help. In the second part (act) of the game (in Scotland), the scaffolding dramatically changes when the helping brother becomes almost passive compared to the first part of the game, by no longer helping me out with climbing walls, etc. Besides the knowledge that the creation of an AI requires a lot of work, the interesting thing to notice is what happens with the player´s mindreading. As you conjure emotions to feel a relation to the characters in the game a sudden change of behavior means (according to Hitchock´s theories of engagement) that a fifteen seconds attention from the surprise occurs. And what one needs to be aware of in the construction of a “directed-paced learning” is that the changed behavior could trigger the player´s mindreading to figure out why the brother suddenly became passive compared to the more active behavior in the first part. Does he have a second agenda? Or, is the tutorial over?

Uncharted 4 by Clinton Crumpled Flickr


As scaffolding within the “directed-paced learning” has almost become like cognitive gameplay between the developers and the players, and where the developers try to disguise the tutorial (control points 7 and 8) as to keep the players´ attention on what is happening in the game to achieve the goal. If a surprise is unintentional from the developer´s point of view, the question is: Do you want the player´s mindreading to wander outside the game, or would you like to keep the focus on what is happening inside the game?

However, as we have the 7-grade model, it is easier to understand how an item can conjure a memory that makes our reasoning move in space and time. So from the perspective on quality assurance from a narrative and cognitive perspective one should keep an eye on the surprises as to see what caused the attention. In the case of the brother that suddenly stopped scaffolding and how it affected my behavior was that I started conjuring experiences from “Fight Club”, “The Sixth Sense”, “Call of Duty Black Ops” “and “The Others”, etc., which made me check if my brother was a ghost (i.e. an illusion in my character´s mind), and if the enemies my brother shot actually, died.

To pay attention to, when assuring the quality from a narrative and cognitive perspective, when people start conjuring memories from their experiences is that they can easily become targets for opinions/meanings as: “that is not what I thought”, “how could you believe that?” and so on. As it´s easy to slip into listening to a wide range of different opinions, especially if basing the practice on intuition and tacit knowledge where a constant weighing of one's own experiences and knowledge in relation to others as what should be prioritized as to be the desired outcome can be really tough. As if we would like the player to focus on specific requirement in the game, if debates occur where players are exchanging meanings that involve the developers, controllers, the neighbors dog, hidden agendas, politics, ghost-theories, or what the sound director had for breakfast, etc – the scaffolding needs to attend to the desired outcome in relation to the expectations (1 and 6) and how the experiences (4 and 5) are attended to and built through the rising, climax (2 and 3) as to be met in the end (9) via the control points (7 and 8).

So you don´t have to scroll up, see the graph below:





As we have got to the part where I will provide a framework, consisting four parts/principles on how to approach a testing of an experience from a narrative and cognitive perspective, instead of making the fourth post of this it´s better if you decide if you need to stretch your legs before continuing the reading.



A framework to assure the quality from a narrative and cognitive perspective

Before we start, if you´re wondering where we are on the grade of scales of mindreading, if you have come this far in your reading, I think we might even exceed the 7th grade, at least it feels like that. But this is how Lombard and Gärdenfors describe our ability of mindreading at the 7th grade, and where you can check for yourself what is considered to be unique to the human mind of today:

“The ability to generate inter-domain causal networks, use network understanding to specu­late about potential outcomes, test and re-adjust our imaginative hypotheses, and to shift atten­tion from one target to another, while keeping in mind the ultimate goal (e.g., subsistence) over an extended period of time is unique to the human mind of today.”

Gärdenfors, Lombard, 2017

For you who would like to read a short guide to the 7-grade model of reasoning, it can be found here.

1. Distinguish the stylistic elements and desired outcome



In the first part of the series (at Gamasutra here or at Narrative construction here ) I described the importance of defining the medium and distinguishing the stylistic elements (1) as to allow for the narrative to assist the creation of meaning. It also means that we can distinguish structures that influence the pacing, learning, and emotions to balance the “directed-paced learning” and the “self-paced learning”.

As we are building experiences to reach the desired outcome (2) that we want the perceiver/player to learn (achieve), as it is through learning that we can access control and pacing of the emotions, I will use a formula from an earlier text (see "Part 1, Don´t show, involve" at Gamasutra here or at Narrative construction here) where I describe the elements needed to set the learning in motion towards an experience/feeling:

“An identified subject(s) and a condition(s) that puts propellors on a process in relation to what the perceiver should experience/feel”.

When defining the stylistic elements, and the experience and the feeling as to be the desired outcome, you will have the key elements to build meaning from the causal forces and counter forces that will meet the perceiver´s learning and emotions.

2. Experiences and Expectations

Since the experiences we learn become -> the expectations, that become -> the new pattern from which we distinguish and identify -> information -> as familiar or unfamiliar, and where the identification of familiar pattern goes a lot faster than processing the unfamiliar (as a surprise, which Hitchcock said gave fifteen seconds of attention), the experiences and expectations are important to understanding (see the first part where I talked about expectations in relation to experiences).

As we don´t like to not understand, and we like it when behaviors make sense, if something is unfamiliar and no experiences or expectations have been built/learned, we need to be able to trace the learning as to understand someone´s understanding. If we, for example, would tell teachers that Hitchcock´s theories about surprise and suspense would be great for them to learn and use. From my experiences and expectations on education, and from some mindreading, I would say the experience and expectations would look like the following:


What we can see from the bars above is how the experience from a “Hitchcock-pattern” is compared with a “teaching-pattern” that forms the expectations. It doesn't say that people are not interested, but it can tell us what we need to know when scaffolding the learning, to understand how the radiator to the emotions can affect the adding of a new experience. This is the reason why it´s good to find out what someone´s experience is as to understand the expectations so that you understand the engagement from the activity of learning.

Ex. Testing sound effects in "The Long Dark"

Let´s say that we are testing the sound effects from the snow in “The Long Dark”. As it´s important to keep an eye on one´s own meanings about others, it´s important to be attentive to how different the experiences and expectations are and how they influence our learning.

A long time ago I was invited to teach children English in a small village school in Bali (as there weren't any other people around a Swede would have to do). As the children didn't know what it was like to live in a country with snow, the only way I could give them a sense of snow and how it behaves and feels was to refer to a freezer. Their faces when imagining (conjure an image) walking around in a freezer were indescribable. But in this way, they perceived the experience of snow. However, if mixing opinions about real or imagined experiences, as to say “that is not experiencing snow” one will miss the target.

If we imagine a test where the experiences from snow are familiar to some, and to others, it´s unfamiliar, the reason why it´s good to understand someone´s experience and expectations that looks like this…


…is to understand how an experience from hearing the sound of snow can be overwhelming, which leads to this…


This in turn, in a positive learning environment, will lead to an expectation to learn more about snow as to build an experience that forms a “snow-pattern” that we can add to our new experiences (and where the experience bar, above, moves step by step as the expectations are met to learn more).

Since the experience from the desire to learn more about snow has a positive effect on our emotions, the expectations on “learning more about snow” will rise. As with the case with the implementation of “Cabin fever” in “The Long Dark”, it is easier to understand from the example with the "snow-sound-testing" why a new mechanic might not have the same cognitive impact on all players as some players might already be out in the snow, and risking their lives as to experience the snow (this is by the way how you can become a hero in a “self-paced learning” context).

Since I mentioned the testing of the online game “Journey” in “Part 3, Don´t show, involve” (link goes to Gamasutra), one can also understand why it´s important to let someone use what they´ve learned, but also what can happen on an emotional level if removing snow, or changing the sound of snow. As the adding of a new experience also counts for sounds (as all other parts of the style), as well as the adding of a new mechanic, the changes need to be added with care to our learning.

How the experiences, expectations, and the testing of the sound look like can be described as following, with the help of Narrative bridging.

1. Through distinguishing the stylistic elements, we decided to test the sound of snow.
2. From knowing that the perceiver had no experiences of snow the desired outcome was to build an experience of snow...
3. …as to build expectations of learning about the snow from the sound (1) to increase the engagement as to reach the desired outcome to build an experience from the feeling of snow.



Since “The Long Dark” is a survival game that has “self-paced learning”, as we have to imagine that we are reading data when testing the game from an imagined snow-excitement. Assume that we are noticing a minority of players that do not hibernate in a cottage to survive. Since unexpected behavior will make us curious to understand, if knowing how to trace the experience of learning, we can also understand the desires, intentions, and beliefs, which form the expectations. As with a game with “directed-paced learning”, it´s important to understand how for example an excitement from experience snow can decrease the engagement if the pacing from the structure will move the “snow-lover” from the Arctic to Madagascar.

3. Attention and Engagement

A method to keep an eye on the attention and engagement from the perspective of intrinsic motivation and learning was actually published in an earlier text the site Narrative construction and where I used Narrative bridging on instructional design. As a short background (full text can be found here), what the teacher did to keep an eye on the student's attention/learning/understanding was to create a method based on a positive direction of learning. From expressing his dislike for the fostering approach to learning and the use of punishments and rewards. Instead of forbidding the use of mobile phones in the classroom the teacher used the mobiles to enable himself to see if the engagement from the learning decreased. As if a student picked up the mobile the teacher could revise and improve the teaching. In this way, the teacher created a method that enabled the scaffolding to assure the quality of the learning/understanding to engage in a positive direction.

With the help of Narrative bridging the teacher´s reasoning to create the method can be depicted as the following:



1. The teacher distinguishes the stylistic element of a mobile phone to assure the learning.
2. Based on experiences that learning needs to feel meaningful for everyone…
3. ...the expectations are on seeing an engagement of learning where mobiles (1) are allowed.
4. If the mobiles are used, it indicates that the teaching/learning is not meaningful and needs to be revised (which became the mechanic/method).

If you would like to assure the quality from a cognitive perspective as to distinguish what might have an effect on the engagement from the perspective of learning, emotions, pacing, and control, the best is to allow the perceiver to stop when something is not making sense, or something else crosses their mind - before it becomes a meaning.

Since we know how our mindreading works and how surprises from a changed behavior, as in the example with "Uncharted 4", can make us conjure memories that make our thoughts and emotions wander off in space and time, it will be a lot easier to distinguish the reason for the decreased engagement in the game before the perceiver starts to create meanings. As meanings can differ depending on experiences and expectations, it can be hard to compare different meanings as to trace the cause as to meet the expectations/desired outcome.

4. “The Control-Value of Achievement Emotions”

As the last principle to be connected to the others I will just show how the 7-grade model and Narrative bridging, can be aligned to other theories that concern the human learning, emotions, and achievements, which one of the theories is “The Control-Values of Achievements Emotions” (Pekrun, Frenzel, Goetz, Perry, Schutz, 2007).

Ex. 1 Self-paced learning

How we can check the requirements of the desired outcome in relation to a specific element from a cognitive perspective, I will use the example from the implementation of the mechanic “Cabin fever” from “The Long Dark”. With help from the thought-based method Narrative bridging (follow the color scheme) one can create a simple causal graph where the desired goal is set on learning to find out how the emotions and control decrease or increase, in connection to the achievement of the goal to survive. Since the "Taxonomy of Control-Values" is based on studies within education, the reason I presented the radiator in the previous part of the series and how it connects to our learning/understanding, expectations, experiences, emotions, and control, was to make it easier to access the "Taxonomy of Control", and to see how one can tell if the desired behavior has been achieved.

So if we connect the "Taxonomy of Control" to Hitchcock´s theories that we have, with the help of the 7-grade model, built an understanding of engagement from a narrative and cognitive perspective, the Taxonomy can assist tracing as to see if a surprise (2) or suspense (1) has a positive or negative effect on our emotions during an activity, and if the control decrease or increase.


As a surprise (1) can be positive when achieving a goal, a surprise can also be negative due to the opposite (from not surviving "Cabin fever" and getting killed). A negative experience doesn't mean that someone is giving up. Therefore the engagement of the suspense (1) to manage to achieve the goal should be attended through the process.

A short explanation of the graph above. The object focus (1) is the activity we desire/expect to happen, which is defined in the Outcome focus as learning (2). As we would like to see what happens to the learning/understanding/control/emotions when implementing “cabin fever” the Activity focus (3) is set on “cabin fever”.

If we look at the Activity focus (3) and suppose we are checking data, doing players tests, interviews, etc. Let´s say the players had a negative experience from trying to survive (achieve the goal), and where the complaints can be expressed in various ways (the controller, interface, light, sound, the weapon didn't work, the chair is uncomfortable, etc.), but where we see that people die, what could be confirmed is a negative Activating (4) of an anger and frustration from losing control.

By picking up queues from the players (by using the third principle of the framework), one can continue to trace how the control, emotions, and engagement increase or decrease. Suppose the “directed-paced learning” from the implementation increases the requirements on learning that makes the player not able to survive at all, which tells how the control decreased. What can be noticed is that the “Cabin fever” (3) will have a deactivating effect that can lead to boredom (5) due to the simple fact that the player can´t achieve the goals. If it shows at Outcome focus (2) that the player, after repeated tries during the sequence, has a Negative Deactivating of sadness, disappointment, and hopelessness (6) – the learning has not been achieved as desired (2).

As I earlier mentioned the condition of flow. If a player sees a possibility to learn, the activity to learn can contain both negative and positive emotions. So if you get a mixture of reactions during the sequence, but the player continues to play, just wait and see what happens while you noting the different emotions (by the help from the approaches I mentioned in the earlier parts of the framework as to keep track on the experiences and the expectations).

Ex. 2 Directed-paced learning

Finally, I want to show how a “directed-paced learning” could look like if aligning the "Taxonomy of Control" to the scaffolding of a dramatic story arc and the templates of the “Hero´s Journey”. As an example, I will use the testing of the online “Journey” to be compared with self-paced learning in “The Long Dark”. See earlier posts for more information about the making and testing of Journey in "Part 2, Don´t show, involve" and "Part 3, Don´t show, involve" (links go to Gamasutra). 

In the same way as with “The Long Dark” we set the requirements with Narrative bridging for the desired goal to be learning as the Outcome focus (2). Since the dramatic story arc requires a “directed-paced learning”, and where the players negative reactions when testing "Journey" occurred at the end of the game (10), I have added the “scaffolding arc” from earlier as to set the Resolution (8) to be the Activity focus (3).

Since the players experienced a Negative Deactivating of disappointment (5) at the Outcome focus (2), the requirements on learning as the desired outcome was not reached. As the players played to the end of the game (10), they expressed a Negative Activating emotion of frustration (4) from Resolution (3 and 8). However, as we know from the interview with the game designer Jenova Chen that there was one player whose game crashed before reaching the end of the game (10), who had a Positive Deactivating (11) from the Activity focus (3), the experiences (7) and expectations (6) could be compared with other players experiences that were achieved at the end (10). In this way, one could see how the desired outcome (2) had to be revised and adjusted and where the control was given back to the players when re-testing the Resolution (3) to assure the quality that everyone should feel control/learn.

You don’t have to understand everything that I´ve just shown, but what I would like to point at is how the Resolution (8) of dramatic story arc came to “hijack” the pacing of the learning. Since the Resolution in a three-act structure from the film uses to be the act where a Positive Deactivating (11) usually occur (according to a “Hero´s Journey”), the player´s experiences (7 and 11) showed how the Resolution (8) delivered as it should but not in correspondence to the stylistic elements of a game. This shows the importance of distinguishing the stylistic elements to allow the narrative to assist the stylistic elements of a game to make sense (see the framework´s first part).

Rounding up the mindreading

When I got the 7-grade model in my hands, it was like a narrative convergence occurred. Suddenly I could speak more freely, which also gave the framework more substance as I could show in detail how the control and pacing of a narrative and cognitive perspective works from the perspective of mindreading.

I warmly recommend reading the article about the 7-grade model (and where I have made a short guide that can be found here). Even if the article refers to ancient hunting technology, if you have experienced from working with human interaction you will be able to recognize a lot from how our patterns of thinking work. However, if it feels cumbersome to read the article, I understand. As there is a long history of struggle behind the article where scientists since the Second World War have tried to change how science looks at the human thinking, the complexity can be sensed from how the authors are balancing every single word, which shows how strong the pattern of thinking is within academia. Since the pattern that have influenced science since the late 19th century that concern the human thinking has become like a concierge, and where the animal-learning paradigm has come to fit very well the studies of machine learning, AI, etc. one can almost say that there are two concierges at the gate, which needs to be passed as to allow for the human ability of thinking to be studied separated from the animals.

But to return to where we started in the first part of the series where I described the understanding of the narrative with a grandmother that you put on a bench when visiting the amusement park. What I think we are experiencing at the moment is how the digital and interactive media has given us an opportunity to discover our own thinking, which can explain why new terms, concepts, and titles are popping up almost every day. Though my wish is, due to what lies very close to us is also the hardest to detect, is that the 7-grade model will be attended as to make us understand more about ourselves.

However, as it´s not a quick fix to travel back in time to 1859 as to add the human thinking to the theory of evolution, at least I hope game researchers who only need to go back to 1999 will make an attempt to see how the 7-grade of model can help with cleaning up some buzzwords that have evolved during the last twenty years. This is to give students a possibility to understand the creation of experiences from a narrative, perceptual, and cognitive perspective – beyond structures and templates.

Thank you for reading. And don´t forget to explore your super-ability of mindreading and if you would like me to revise and improve my explanations, don´t forget to pick up your mobiles so I will know (and writing a comment works too).

Katarina Gyllenbäck

Illustrations by Emese Lukács


Gärdenfors, P., Lombard, M. (2017) Tracking the evolution of causal cognition in humans. In Journal of Anthropological Sciences 95. p.219-234

Pekrun, R; Frenzel, A C.; Goetz, T; Perry, R P. Schutz, P A. (Ed); Pekrun, Reinhard (Ed), (2007).
The Control-Value Theory of Achievement Emotions: An Integrative Approach to Emotions in Education. Educational psychology series.,(pp. 13-36). San Diego, CA, US: Elsevier Academic Press, xiv, 348 pp.

©2018 Katarina Gyllenbäck

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