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Quantifying insanity.

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Okay, so one of my teammates sent me a list of features he wants to include in our sandbox survival game. One of them is a "dissociation" meter that measures the player character's detachment from reality and controls the frequency and strength of in-game hallucinations. Personally, I think trying to quantify insanity is going to be difficult and we'll need some help with this, so here we are. I'm not sure where we really need help with this, but here's what we've got so far.

The scale is 0-10000, and as it increases you have a higher chance of having certain hallucinations, these hallucinations become stronger, and once you pass certain thresholds you begin seeing newer, crazier hallucinations. For instance, with the rules he sent me, at 200 you have a 20% chance of seeing ghosts on a number of cues, and at 2000 you start occasionally seeing shoggoths when you try to sleep. The maximum is 10000.

Increasing dissociation:
Starvation and dehydration cause dissociation in the (obviously already quite unhinged) player, but not much.
Sleep deprivation and low will cause dissociation in the player, and quite a bit of it.
Some psychoactive drugs (especially alcohol) increase dissociation.
Some enemies cause auditory and/or visual hallucinations and increase dissociation.
Anti-psychotics (iloperidone, asenapine) leave you more dissociated after they wear off.
Killing other living things, to varying degrees, increases dissociation.

Decreasing dissociation:
Dissociation does not decrease during normal gameplay, but using the wait/rest/sleep feature decreases it slowly.
Anti-psychotics (iloperidone, asenapine) decrease your dissociation a massive amount temporarily, but they are counter-productive in the long term, are addictive and have nasty side effects. (If there's an elder thing standing by your bed you should probably just take the damn pills and make it go away. You can worry about your long-term mental health when you're NOT having an episode.)
Some psychoactive drugs (NOT alcohol) decrease dissociation in the long run, although they usually increase it in the short term. Edited by JustinS

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I guess you have played "dont starve" given the game design. The very simple system they use works fine for that setting. 

 

If you want to make it more complicated that works of course, but why is 10 000 max? Seems arbitrary. Will it be shown to the player? Then use 0-100 or some other more understandable number. Adding more zeroes usually just annoys the player. If you want higher precision show decimals (when needed), but dont clutter the screen with useless information (such as super high precision).

 

If only used internally, why not use 0-1 for this meter? (1 usually means full).

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I guess you have played "dont starve" given the game design. The very simple system they use works fine for that setting. 

 

If you want to make it more complicated that works of course, but why is 10 000 max? Seems arbitrary. Will it be shown to the player? Then use 0-100 or some other more understandable number. Adding more zeroes usually just annoys the player. If you want higher precision show decimals (when needed), but dont clutter the screen with useless information (such as super high precision).

 

If only used internally, why not use 0-1 for this meter? (1 usually means full).

 

1. A single percentage is too large of an increment. This moves extremely slowly in both directions, and it feels bigger to read, for instance, that your insanity rose by 26 points than 0.26 points, even if it means the exact same thing overall.

 

2. For most of the game if you pay any attention to it you will be below 1,000. When you first start off, the game actually only shows you a 0-1000 meter. It's only when you pass the 1000 point mark that it shows more, and then it's only 2000. Then 3000, 4000, 5000 and so on up to 10000. 1000 feels like a number that should be the maximum. All the needs scales are based on 1000, and even the scales for which that's not possible due to real-world units have decimals in place to give the same effect. (Radiation, for instance, has the most it'll read for you as 10.00gy.) Pushing past it feels really significant, as does each additional time your character gets so crazy the game has to make the scale bigger to accommodate them.

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You are trying to measure insanity by increasing a value, but I think it'd be easier if you accumulated specific problems. Like having holes in your armor, they're nothing but a detriment. The reason is people are diagnosed with specific disorders, they don't collect insanity.

 

What I thought it resembled at first was Sanity's Requiem, and in that case they just had the sanity start at a given number and drop to 0, which allowed the player to understant, sanity hits 0 you start to die. There's also Don't Starve as a reference now, very similar.

 

 

 

 


Sleep deprivation and low will cause dissociation in the player,

Might not be important, but you missed a word after low.

 

I noticed there was very little to defend or recover against insanity. Also having positive drugs that make you worse at first is a bit much to figure out.

 


It's only when you pass the 1000 point mark that it shows more, and then it's only 2000. Then 3000, 4000, 5000 and so on up to 10000.

Sounds cool, but it still feels like more of a reward. You collect 4000 insanity points, but there more!

Edited by ActiveUnique

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You are trying to measure insanity by increasing a value, but I think it'd be easier if you accumulated specific problems. Like having holes in your armor, they're nothing but a detriment. The reason is people are diagnosed with specific disorders, they don't collect insanity.
 
What I thought it resembled at first was Sanity's Requiem, and in that case they just had the sanity start at a given number and drop to 0, which allowed the player to understant, sanity hits 0 you start to die. There's also Don't Starve as a reference now, very similar.

 
No, for an important reason. You aren't developing psychological problems throughout the game. There's just the one psychological problem, dissociation, and you have it from the start. It's a pre-existing condition. The meter is just measuring your pre-existing condition getting worse as time goes on, not you accumulating more conditions.

 

Oh, and actually, once you hit 10,000 you get a chance to use your dissociation to your advantage. You can, with a little effort, get a permanent hallucination of a small child, a tiny imaginary friend (that looks suspiciously like you) that helps you regulate your stress and emotions, keeping your character calm and focused and helping them deal with their other hallucinations.
 

Might not be important, but you missed a word after low.


No, I didn't. Other "will". As in "willpower". It's one of your three major expendable derived stats along with health and stamina, losing will causes skills to drop and in this case also increases your level of dissociation.
 

I noticed there was very little to defend or recover against insanity. Also having positive drugs that make you worse at first is a bit much to figure out.


The two ways this work are simple. There are emergency anti-psychotics, like iloperidone and asenapine, that are useful when you're having a major episode but dependency on them is problematic and their side effects increase your stress, which is a problem since your dissociation is stress-related. The others are psychoactive drugs, like marijuana and LSD, that are going to make you hallucinate but will also relieve your stress, reducing the stress-triggered hallucinations you suffer once it wears off.

Edited by JustinS

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One thing you might want to consider, not in quantifying insanity but in presenting it as part of the gameplay, is to make the hallucinations actually seem believable to the player, so the player actually believes them.

 

If I see a ghost in a game, and I already know that ghosts only appear when hallucinating, then I won't be distracted by it (unless it can physically attack me, in-which-case it's not really a hallucination).

 

But if I'm fighting zombies (or whatever enemies your game has), and I hallucinate another zombie (but maybe without a cast shadow), and I run up and try to hit it and it just disappears, that'd be a fantastic hallucination because you tricked *me* the player, instead of the character I'm playing. Alot more trippy.

Next time I see a zombie, I'd have to stop and think, "Am I hallucinating, or is that real?". I'd be thinking the thought that the character himself would actually be thinking.

 

Imagine hearing footsteps behind you in-game but nothing is there. Or suddenly losing a weapon (one of your weapons disappears from your inventory when you aren't looking), that you suddenly find again later (it reappears after 30-45 minutes or the next time you log in).

 

Imagine walking in a grassy field, and turning around to find a forest (or even a single large tree) four feet behind you that wasn't there previously. It's solid (in your mind), and you can walk around it, and the next time the tree is out of your cone of view, it's gone again.

 

Or a large tiger snarling and leaping towards you out of nowhere that, when it leaps on you, just disappears (but your character falls to the ground from fright and has to get back on his feat).

Edited by Servant of the Lord

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One thing you might want to consider, not in quantifying insanity but in presenting it as part of the gameplay, is to make the hallucinations actually seem believable to the player, so the player actually believes them.

 

If I see a ghost in a game, and I already know that ghosts only appear when hallucinating, then I won't be distracted by it (unless it can physically attack me, in-which-case it's not really a hallucination).

 

But if I'm fighting zombies (or whatever enemies your game has), and I hallucinate another zombie (but maybe without a cast shadow), and I run up and try to hit it and it just disappears, that'd be a fantastic hallucination because you tricked *me* the player, instead of the character I'm playing. Alot more trippy.

Next time I see a zombie, I'd have to stop and think, "Am I hallucinating, or is that real?". I'd be thinking the thought that the character himself would actually be thinking.

 

Imagine hearing footsteps behind you in-game but nothing is there. Or suddenly losing a weapon (one of your weapons disappears from your inventory when you aren't looking), that you suddenly find again later (it reappears after 30-45 minutes or the next time you log in).

 

Imagine walking in a grassy field, and turning around to find a forest (or even a single large tree) four feet behind you that wasn't there previously. It's solid (in your mind), and you can walk around it, and the next time the tree is out of your cone of view, it's gone again.

 

Or a large tiger snarling and leaping towards you out of nowhere that, when it leaps on you, just disappears (but your character falls to the ground from fright and has to get back on his feat).

 

Some of this is done and some of it isn't. The player *knows* their character is crazy and should be able to predict it with some experience, but they have to initially figure out what's fake and what isn't. For example, they might start with a new character after losing an old one, and see their old character wandering around the map, wandering in circles and periodically pausing to look around confused. So they turn around and see them in front of them again, about the same distance. They turn back to where they were and see them there again. After scratching their head a bit, the player turns back around and finds them right in their face, eyes wide, head tilted to the side, look of confusion on their face again. Now every time they turn around they're right there in front of them, and this persists until they return to the place the previous character died, or to the previous character's home.

 

Hallucinations also include, but are not limited to: Snow, wind, animal calls (particularly barks, yips and howls as the maps are overrun with canids), rain, human and inhuman voices, thunder, gunshots and explosions, crying, doors opening and closing, blades being unsheathed or sharpened, guns being cocked, knocking, and door bells.

 

As for whether hallucinations can inflict damage, no. They sure can fake it, though. The game has a number of status effects that act as fake damage, and two of them (fatigue and pain) combine quite well to mimic the effects of actually have parts of your body broken without actually being injured. You can end up with all the effects of crippled limbs and it'll seem quite real. In fact, it'll even seem like it is real until the effects go away entirely too quickly to be actual damage and it becomes quite clear you were never injured. Your stamina and will are also subject to their attacks, especially your will as it is a mental trait. Emotional counters (which are status-effecting) can be impacted, and your dissociation can be increased.

Edited by JustinS

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It's fairly clear to me that you've put a lot more thought and [research? personal experience?] into the fine points of this mechanic than the average forum reader, so I'm not sure if you're going to gain much defending your ideas against the superficial criticisms we can provide.

 

Nevertheless, here is my superficial criticism: it seems like you haven't made a clear distinction between the "real" mental health of the avatar and the perceived mental health of the player.

 

If I have a lot of concrete statistics to manage and specific rules and interactions to consider, along the lines of a pen and paper rpg, then I expect to be loosely bound to my avatar. I get plenty of information (more than he would reasonably have access to, e.g. his precise level of healthiness) but my means of acting on that information are mediated by the rules of the game and his current state. A crazy avatar, in this sort of game, might do things I don't expect.

 

On the other hand, if I am forced to perceive things exactly as the avatar does, then I would expect to be more tightly bound to my avatar (there should be relatively few cases where I don't have control) but at the cost of my unrealistic introspection with respect to statistics. In this sort of game, I would not expect my avatar to go crazy, so much as the game to try to convince me that I was crazy.

 

Both could be enjoyable games. In the past, I've played survival games that hewed towards either side (not with respect to mental health, just in general), and enjoyed them. But a sort of middle ground option might easily get confusing.

Edited by tim_shea

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It's fairly clear to me that you've put a lot more thought and [research? personal experience?] into the fine points of this mechanic than the average forum reader, so I'm not sure if you're going to gain much defending your ideas against the superficial criticisms we can provide.

That's not why I'm doing this. I put up the forum post hoping that the community would notice something Jeremy and I missed.

EDIT:
And there's no personal experience, but my ex's family suffers from stress-triggered dissociation. My ex's little sister especially tends to see her dead father when she's stressed out.

Nevertheless, here is my superficial criticism: it seems like you haven't made a clear distinction between the "real" mental health of the avatar and the perceived mental health of the player.

If I have a lot of concrete statistics to manage and specific rules and interactions to consider, along the lines of a pen and paper rpg, then I expect to be loosely bound to my avatar. I get plenty of information (more than he would reasonably have access to, e.g. his precise level of healthiness) but my means of acting on that information are mediated by the rules of the game and his current state. A crazy avatar, in this sort of game, might do things I don't expect.

On the other hand, if I am forced to perceive things exactly as the avatar does, then I would expect to be more tightly bound to my avatar (there should be relatively few cases where I don't have control) but at the cost of my unrealistic introspection with respect to statistics. In this sort of game, I would not expect my avatar to go crazy, so much as the game to try to convince me that I was crazy.

Both could be enjoyable games. In the past, I've played survival games that hewed towards either side (not with respect to mental health, just in general), and enjoyed them. But a sort of middle ground option might easily get confusing.

The issue here is that I can't account for how deep in character the player is. If they're deep in character a few hints of failing sanity will push them into the realm of madness. (As they, for example, have their character rush up the stairs into their attic with a gun, searching for the source of an imaginary creaking sound.) If they don't get into character at all, there is no amount of effort on my part that will get them to behave like a crazy person. This mechanic is really just some non-standard encounters and interface screws. It relies on player immersion to be any more than that.

As for the amount of information, all information in this game is skill-dependent. (For instance, medicine determines health information.) The speech skill determines how much information you have on your mental health and emotions. Only at 100 speech do you actually get a number. The rest of the time you rely on descriptive words.

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The issue here is that I can't account for how deep in character the player is.

 

So, this is not strictly true. In fact, there are entire genres built around accounting for exactly that. To be sure, game design based on player immersion is much more artistic and subjective than game design based on systems, but it is definitely not out of reach.

 


It relies on player immersion to be any more than that.

 

Player immersion is not something that the player chooses to engage in. They have to set the conditions for it, but you as the developer have to actually create it, if that's the route you want to take. And keep in mind, it may not be the best option. Immersion and entertainment are orthogonal attributes of game design. Particularly in a sandbox or procedural game, it could be incredibly difficult to construct an immersive experience, and even if you did it might not be as entertaining as a more rule-driven experience.

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