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Sonic's Yasuhara: 'Freedom From Fear' Motivates Game Players

Sonic co-creator and Jak/Uncharted contributor Hirokazu Yasuhara has been discussing the fascinating philosophies behind his game design as part of a
August 25, 2008
Sonic co-creator and Jak/Uncharted contributor Hirokazu Yasuhara has been discussing the fascinating philosophies behind his game design as part of a detailed Gamasutra interview, suggesting that "freedom from fear" is a key motivation for game players, even in games like Othello/Reversi or Pac-Man. Talking about his design philosophies, the creator, who was the chief level designer on the original Sonic the Hedgehog, as the third person to join that team after Yuji Naka and Naoto Ohshima, and is now -- after a long stint at Naughty Dog -- Namco Bandai Games America senior design director, explained: "[An] important thing is to consider the basic desires of people, even if all you're thinking about is a simple game. For example, you have active desires -- "Freedom from Fear", as they say, the way people actively want to avoid fear in their lives. And one way they deal with that is by engaging in a sorting process. Let's say that you have a flat surface with some bumps sticking up out of it. Most people would want to see those bumps removed, as a sort of equalizing or "beautification" process. Also -- you know the game Othello, right? A lot of the fun in that game is the exhilaration you get when you flip a lot of pieces and make more of the board your color. Tidying up things, in a way." Continuing the metaphor a little further, Yasuhara explained: "It's the same thing even in business -- it's nicer when you have a well-organized Excel spreadsheet then a cluttered one. It's a continual process of actively sorting and bringing things under control, and the reason why people do this is because it helps make life simpler for them -- the process itself is fun, too. As for how this goes back into video games, one thing you see a lot of in games is the act of "erasing," or "destruction." For example, in Pac-Man, you're eating dots -- wocka-wocka-wocka-wocka. That is erasing, and it's also a form of destruction. You're destroying everything in your path, and you're leveling out the entire playfield. This is something that I think is vital for any interactive experience -- that sort of proactive desire in motion. This manifests itself in a lot of ways; the player can satisfy this desire a lot of ways in a lot of different games." But that's not the only notable motivator -- you can potentially flip things around and see the 'Freedom From Fear' concept realized by other means. Yasuhara adds: "But there's something else involved here: creation. Some people get what they want via destruction, but others do it via creation instead. For example, if I am feeling vulnerable, then I get more friends or party members, if you will, and make myself more protected -- or I go to town and interact with people to get that same feeling. By the same token, some people think in the opposite way -- if I kill every enemy in the area, then that logically means I'll be more secure. "Fear" at play. It's different ways of arriving at the same emotion." You can now read the full Gamasutra feature on the subject, including lots more comments on the differences between American and Japanese audiences, the genesis of Sonic, and more.

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