In Emotional Design, Donald Norman describes three different levels of experience processing: visceral (how it makes the person having the experience feel), behavioral (how well it suits its purpose or function), and reflective (how it affects the person’s self-image). Games can have a behavioral aspect, from being a learning tool to a systemic demonstration of a concept.
When you play a game, you must be able to analyze how it made you feel, what it made you think of, and what it made you do. You must be able to state this analysis clearly. You must put words to it, for feelings are abstract, but words are concrete, and you will need this concreteness to describe to others the experiences you want your game to produce. You need to do this kind of analysis not only when designing and playing your own games but also when playing games other people have created. In fact, you should be able to analyze any experience you might have. The more you analyze your own experiences, the more clearly you will be able to think about the kinds of experiences your games should create.
Player’s emotions influence how he interacts with the game. For instance, being confident might make him take more risks; pride might keep him chasing a high score; or boredom might make him stop playing altogether.
Some of these emotions are the result of a carefully crafted sequence of events. Others stem from the normal moment-to-moment interaction with the game. Since the players and their playing experiences are so different from one another, one cannot guarantee that a given player will feel a given emotion at a given point in a game. However, from our understanding of physiology, psychology, cognition, or culture, we can identify situations that create the proper context for the expression of such an emotion.
To make sure the emotions you create are the right ones, ask yourself these questions:
What emotions would I like my player to experience? Why?
What emotions are players (including me) having when they play now? Why?
How can I bridge the gap between the emotions players are having and the emotions I’d like them to have?