Jenova Chen, co-founder of thatgamecompany and creator of Journey has spoken at the Gaming Insiders Conference in San Francisco about how he tries to encourage emotional investment in his games, and how he has spent his career discovering new ways for gamers to “feel something new.”
“We are not just making games,” he said. “We are making memories that are treasured for whole lifetimes.”
The difficulty, he said, was that games have generally only ever limited themselves to a strict set of emotions. “With action games, the emotion is about empowerment,” he said. “That is important to teenage boys, who want to feel like they are free. It’s a very small section of the palette of human emotion. It’s raw and primal.”
This has led thatgamecompany to spend much of their development time on “research and development,” seeking new ways for people to enjoy games without setting them fulfilling challenges or asking them to dominate rivals. The results have been the peaceful, awe-inspiring Flower, Flow, and Journey.
“It’s not about asking people what they want,” he said. “You need to find out what they need. That’s my approach to designing games. Flower was about nature and rejuvenation. I look at games and they are too stressful. People say they want bigger games, but what they [need] is some form of peace and harmony.
“We like to make games that make you feel different from other games, to find new emotions that have not been possible in the past.”