Fatigue as a design element

I came across a debate recently about whether audio should be pristine (exclusively present the game elements recorded as nicely as possible), or if it should be more “realistic”. In the real world, there is a tremendous amount of background noise, for example.

Because brains have mechanisms for focusing on sounds to the exclusion of other sounds (see “cocktail party effect”), it seems to me that background noise can be kept pretty minimal without disturbing the sense of realism. I don’t know the specifics of how this happens (I recall terms like “gamma system,” “reticular formation & habituation,” “lateral inhibition” – terms I came across back in the years I was studying cognitive psychology and audio perception at UC Berkeley), but in effect, our auditory system can to some extent turn down the perceived amplitude of some sounds and bring up the volume of others. Biggest component may be if you can link to a visual correlate to the audio source. The visual reinforcement helps the brain synch to the target audio and select it for cognitive amplification/focus.

At the same time, background sound can add a lot of texture and sense of place, as well as have an emotional influence. So it should often be a good idea to make it part of the sound design. But most of the time, background sounds are ignored and/or not even noticed, so maybe it is more “real” to have them be very quiet or at subliminal volumes, whatever that means. (Example, people are able to sleep in a busy city, even with lots of noisy traffic 24 hours a day. The brain habituates to the noise, recognizes it as not important and dials it down.)

The new thought, for me, was that the amplitude of the background sounds could be linked to a “health” or “fatigue” reading. I think most agree that as we get more tired, it often becomes harder to focus or concentrate. Introducing additional distracting elements or just making the background noise louder relative to more important sound content could simulate the effect of being tired. An avatar, upon waking, could have the background effects be quieter and less attention grabbing.

There might be ways to also do this visually. Somehow, the graphical representation of the world would have to be something where you could modulate how busy or cluttered the look is, while ostensibly keeping the appearance the same. For example, irrelevant texture details on a surface might get progressively more contrast or edge enhancement with fatigue.

I’m wondering if there are games where this is done and how useful this might be as a design idea.

Another component might be adding a bit of lag and/or introducing an additional lack of precision to the GUI controls for movement. Reaction times do get worse with tiredness. But this could easily be overdone and result in something that is just not fun anymore.

Kind of a weird notion when I first came across it, that in effect we have faders in our brains that we don’t even know we are using.

It’s an interesting concept and would be a cool effect in a horror game or zombie survival game.
I agree that players might be frustrated by any lag, un-focused rendering, background noise and general fuzziness. It might even give players a headache.
There is a technique that makes games more fun by rationing play time:

This effect of yours could kick in after a set time and make game play so difficult that the player has to give up and wait for a while before playing again.

@CommanderKeith Interesting link, thanks! I’m going to have to read the entire 8 Core Drives.

I am just now remembering that when I played FarCry2 a while back, the character had to go to sleep now and again. I can’t recall if it was mandatory or if there was degradation in abilities or performance. I do remember there were some long waits for scheduled events on occasion and sleeping was a good way to kill time. Fortunately, when sleeping, it all happens at once–you don’t have to actually wait a few hours to play again. The strategic element is deciding whether you can “just do it” whatever the task is, if you are on a roll, even with the fatigue, or if you decide to make a retreat to rest and try again, taking the loss in elapsed time. (And in this it kind of resembles binge programming.)

The whole idea of the player character losing focus on the world as fatigue sets in reminds me of the usual effects used in modern FPS games when the player is hurt, the whole blurring the screen and even going into black and white until health regenerates.

Obnoxious as those effects might be, to me they do feel like the player avatar is losing focus on its surroundings due to pain.

I’m guessing what you are proposing would be spread over a longer period of time, though, making it more gradual. But it’s always good to have examples to work from.

The aural part, about the background noises and such, its a pretty nifty idea. You could even go so far as to create “focusing” effects in certain situations. Say, for example, a player is looking down a gun’s sights, focusing to fire, and, for a few seconds, you could turn down the ambient sounds to represent the character’s concentration.

As for the general idea of having players put down the game for a set period of time, I personally thing it works best in mobile games you can pick up and play for a short while anywhere you are at the time.
Sitting down in front of a computer/console only to have the game tell you to go do something else would be rather frustrating.

In my opinion, anyway…

Where sound is essential to gameplay, as opposed to just atmospheric, this could be really interesting. I think there is more to making this “feel” right than just adjusting volume though, perhaps filtering and otherwise affecting sounds as well to make them more difficult to distinguish, or playing with panning effects to make it more difficult to distinguish where sounds are coming from? Where a player needs to listen carefully for particular sounds, introducing similar sounding fragments to simulate auditory hallucination brought on by fatigue? Lots of possibilities with this! :slight_smile: