Catherine, as Described by PGDI – Part II

Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about describing the mechanics of Catherine based on the descriptions of the Player-Game Descriptive Index (PGDI). I had decided to split it up into two parts, the first post looking at the Customization, Progression, and Social categories. There was supposed to be a follow-up post last week that described Catherine via the Immersion, Mastery and Participation categories, but as you may or may not have noticed, that did not happen. Without going into too many details, I decided that I had written enough for the first month of the semester and met with some professors to greatly adjust what I am doing this semester for their class. Basically, the goals for what I was going to do this semester were inadvertently already met within the first month, and we decided that the rest of my work was unnecessary. So I proposed a new semester’s work and now I will be aiming towards something I wasn’t going to touch this early. There will be more details about that in a separate post. For now, let’s just get down to describing the Immersion, Mastery, and Participation categories of Catherine.

To reiterate from the last part, the scale I will be using for components is: none < weak < fair < medium < strong <total. A score of none means that the game does not exhibit the component in any way, while a score of total means that every aspect of the game exhibits the component. Few components will be none or total.

Immersion Components

The components in the immersion category deal with making the player experience aspects of the game in tandem with it. It is not a mirroring, where the player reflects the experience, but instead the game and the player become as one in certain aspects. The stronger the sense of immersion in the game, the more the player feels like they are a part of the game, rather than sitting beside or in front of the game. There are four immersion components: embodiment, emotion, excitement, instinct.

Embodiment

The embodiment component revolves around the idea that the player is inhabiting a “body” in a game. The player needs to feel like they exist within the game, rather than some separate entity apart from them. Catherine has an interesting relationship with the embodiment component. On the one hand, the player controls a character named Vincent who is represented on-screen and is specifically identified as not the player. The very beginning of the game describes Vincent as a character in a drama for which we are merely viewers. There are many times when the player is not in control of Vincent and cannot directly affect his actions. On the other hand, there are times when the game separates from Vincent and instead asks the player questions, or requests that the player respond to text messages or prompts directly. Even still the range of options for these situations is limited. The distance of Vincent the way he is presented to us as a player we are watching suggest that Catherine has a weak embodiment component, but as the questions are asked directly of the player and the player’s responses to these can affect what happens to Vincent, essentially modifying his personality, I am going to bump it up to fair. The player isn’t supposed to necessarily be Vincent, but the player’s actions have an affect on Vincent’s personality and during those moments we feel more connected to him than any other time.

Catherine – Embodiment – Fair

Emotion

The emotion component, not surprisingly, deals with making the player feel something in tandem with the game. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the game makes the player feel something, but the game’s emotional complex needs to be felt by the player. Catherine does this fairly well, but in a non-traditional way. Most people would expect the emotion felt through the game would be one of happiness, sadness, anger or one of the more common emotions. Instead, Catherine exhibits the feeling of discomfort. The game is about a difficult subject, choosing between marrying your long standing girlfriend or going out with the new fling that wants nothing to do with marriage. The game will ask you questions that have no good answer, like “Is marriage the point where life begins… or ends?”. These questions make us feel anxious and the whole situation is uncomfortable. Further, the game does not relent with these emotional exhibitions. As the game gets deeper, the choices become more and more uncomfortable, and the player begins to identify with the emotional makeup of the game. Although the alternative modes of play do not really follow this, the totality of this in the main part of the game provides Catherine with a strong emotion component.

Catherine – Emotion- Strong

Excitement

Excitement is a shared feeling in the tempo of the game. The player needs to feel like they are getting carried away by the game and experience a rush. Excitement houses a physical response to stimuli rather than an emotional one. The player’s heart rate goes up in most cases. Terror, vertigo and ecstasy are common responses for the player experiencing the excitement component. Catherine does this fairly well sometimes. The game makes the player feel terrified, panicky, and disoriented during the block-puzzle stages, but there are also many times when the game becomes languid and the player feels relieved and calmed. These are all physical feelings, rather than emotional feelings. The player’s heart will beat faster or slower with these feelings. They might sweat, feel cold, or take shallow breaths. During the calm portions, though, the game allows the player to recharge. If the game just continued forever without these breaks, the player might fall over from physical exhaustion. Much of the game is comprised of the climbing block stages, but the pauses in between can be lengthy, preventing Catherine from obtaining a strong score here. Instead, Catherine has a medium excitement component.

Catherine – Excitement – Medium

Instinct

The instinct component deals specifically with the feeling that the players actions are the games actions. If the player moves, the game will respond and the response will connect directly with the movement. This is the feeling that if the player is presented with a problem, the correct response needs to be automatic and easy to identify. The instinct component describes playing with one’s gut, rather then one’s mind. Catherine doesn’t perform exceptionally in this respect. When the player has direct control of Vincent, he either seems to be too responsive, feeling like a rag doll we fling about, and other times not responsive enough (shuffling about in the bar). Still, the game provides a control scheme that seems intuitive. The game also expects intuitive play, given the quick gameplay of the block-climbing stages. This is particularly true of stages where something is chasing the player, since the game provides very little room for timing errors in these stages. The player must get faster and more automatic as the game goes on, but the game also encourages the player to observe the playing field and think things through. These encouragements are at cross purposes and hamper Catherine‘s instinct component. Still, the game provides methods for practice to get to the automatic response needed by later stages of the game and alternate modes of play, and so Catherine achieves a fair instinct component.

Catherine – Instinct – Fair

Overall, Catherine is medium in the immersion components.

Catherine – Immersion – Medium

Mastery Components

The mastery components have something to do with gaining a knowledge or understanding of something in the game. Put simply, this is the desire for players to be the best at something in a game. There are five mastery components: achievement, collecting, discovery, process, skill.

Achievement

The achievement component deals with the mastery of tasks or objectives and is focused on completing something. This component describes beating the game or parts of the game and doing it well. Game elements that track a player’s performance in completing portions of the game will help in this component. Catherine does well in this, by providing the player with well-defined stages and providing a method of tracking the player’s performance on those stages. Although the bar section of the game provides very little in the way of objectives, this does not hamper Catherine‘s achievement component. As the player has a method for retrying stages until they have completed it in the best way, this strongly indicates the achievement component. As such, Catherine is strong in achievement.

Catherine – Achievement – Strong

Collecting

The collecting component is about mastery over items or otherwise countable, unique things in the game. Catherine does not have much in the way of things to collect in it. The closest might be the trophies for finishing stages. The next closest might be the items that are scattered about the games climbing block puzzle stages or in the arcade game in the bar, but these items are not tracked or stored. The player can “collect” stages for one of the modes of play, but this is still very abstract. Catherine‘s collecting component is weak at best.

Catherine – Collecting – Weak

Discovery

Discovery is the component that governs the mastery of knowledge in a game. The common actions for discovery are exploring, finding and searching. Players want to know all there is about a game and what is in it. Catherine tries to cater to the discovery component by providing an obscured backstory, a mystery if you will, and small, non-essential tidbits of information, like characteristics that can help the player identify which sheep are which people. There is nearly nothing to explore in the game, though, other than the branching narrative. While the narrative provides a lot of information, the player does not necessarily have to hunt it down. There are different endings but the act of getting them could not be described well as finding the endings. The mystery surrounding the events of the game is the largest element of discovery. Catherine has some elements of discovery, but not many actions related to it, conferring it a fair discovery component.

Catherine – Discovery – Fair

Process

Process deals with the mastery of a game’s systems. Understanding how a game works and what anything in the game does is important to the process component. Catherine has plenty of systems to understand and provides many opportunities to explore them. Understanding how a block works and what causes it to fall or stay afloat, understanding what different blocks do and how they interact with other blocks, understanding how items work and what each one does, these all contribute to the process component. The player can also grasp what the morality system of the game means, what actions in the bar do, and how time passes. There are many more systems for the player to understand, and understanding them is integral to playing the game. The game very carefully instructs the player in how a number of these work, but others are left to be found by the player. With all of this, Catherine has a strong process component.

Catherine – Process – Strong

Skill

The skill component surrounds mastery of a game’s actions. Knowing when an action is requires and executing it well are hallmarks of the skill component. Catherine does very well with this component. Being able to recognize when an action is required and performing that action quickly and well is foregrounded in the block climbing stages. The game also encourages this by providing techniques which combine actions to great effect. This component can also be seen in the need to choose the “right” answer to continue the game in a direction the player wants to go, but since there really is no right answer to the questions, this is not quite as highlighted by the skill component. Still, most of the game surrounds the mastery of the actions provided to the player. As such, Catherine receives a strong skill component.

Catherine – Skill – Strong

Overall, Catherine has is medium in the mastery components.

Catherine – Mastery – Medium

Participation Components

The participation components all deal with the idea that the player’s actions in a game are meaningful and that they matter. It surrounds the idea that the player is present and doing something in the game. There are four participation components: agency, challenge, power, reward.

Agency

With agency, the player needs to feel like their actions and choices matter. The idea that their actions will affect the outcome of the game and that the player can direct the game to a desired outcome. Catherine is designed at its core to appeal to agency. The player is provided many options to change the outcome of the game via difficult questions and conversations with characters. The game makes it clear that these choices directly affect the game, and provide immediate feedback to that respect. The player is easily able to direct these questions and conversations one way or another, and the decisions seem important. On the other hand, the largest portion of the game, the climbing block puzzles, feel a bit futile. Although it is important that Vincent reach the top of the tower, and the game signposts this many times, the actual action of climbing blocks do not seem congruent to the part of the game that the player can directly affect. At times it feels like busy work and not important. Further, there does not seem to be much opportunity for the player to alter the game’s outcome in these stages. Overall, Catherine achieves a medium agency component.

Catherine – Agency – Medium

Challenge

I would expound upon the challenge component of Catherine here, but I feel like I already have in a previous post. In short, Catherine is a challenging game. It isn’t hard just by the gameplay, but it has a difficult narrative and forces the player to make very difficult decisions. It’s not surprising that Catherine would have a strong challenge component.

Catherine – Challenge – Strong

Power

The power component deals with feeling like the player has control in a game. There is no easier way to say it than to say that the player must feel like they are powerful in the game for it to have a strong power component. This is a difficult component to assess for Catherine because the game works so hard to make the player feel powerless and weak. And yet this is a strength for the game, because it is trying to evoke this in the player. Many games will have a strong or medium power component, as many games have gaining power as a direct theme. Catherine, conversely, has a weak power component, and thus stands out from the crowd.

Catherine – Power – Weak

Reward

The reward component surrounds the game providing feedback and evaluation for the player’s performance. This can be done using rankings, points, or tangible game elements that can be used. Catherine provides all three of these, but only the trophies for the climbing block stages are terribly foregrounded. The most backgrounded is the ability to unlock stages for an alternate mode by performing exceptionally well on a number of climbing block stages. The game also provides a leaderboard for the the alternate modes of play which can act as a ranking system, but this is better described with other components. Only one of the rewards is terribly useful, the enigma coins which function as a score. They can also be used to buy items so they are useful. They are doled out in the thousands, though, so they do not feel very tangible. Catherine nearly achieves medium in reward, but the lack of useful rewards make most of the rewards hollow, netting a fair reward component.

Catherine – Reward – Fair

Overall, Catherine is medium in the participation components.

Catherine – Participation – Medium

Catherine cannot really be said to be strong in any one category, and is in fact medium in five of the categories. Of the medium scores, Catherine scored highest in mastery components, which makes sense when thinking about the game. The game could not be well described as a social game, as the only category in which the game underperformed. Still, describing a game by its categories is often going to have very average results. By components, though, Catherine is strong in the achievement, challenge,competition, emotion, plot, process, replay, and skill components. This much more strongly suggests that the game is about mastery, since it was strong in three components, but also well describes the game.

That’s it for Catherine. Later this week, I’ll be making a short post about what my next posts will be like. So until next time!

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