For many years ago, I lived in a rainforest until one day I couldn´t stand not being able to see the horizon and the only thing I was staring at was my skin looking for leeches that appeared from nowhere looking like a stroke of a pen on the skin. If not being attentive to the thin black line and remove it quickly, it wouldn´t take long before you found a lump, big as a plum, attached to the skin that had to be unscrewed. The only thing I felt sorry about by leaving was to miss the yearly event when people from the distant and widely spread cattle stations gathered in the village to find a life companion. It was the biggest event of expectations I had ever experienced until E3 turned up.
For you that don´t know what E3 is, it´s the premier conference within the game industry where people gather from all over the world to present their products. To participate at E3, you have to live up to following expectations:
Be the best
Be the brightest
Be the most innovative
Contribute to three exciting days at the conference
Be a leading-edge company
Have groundbreaking new technologies
Be an exciting partner to connect to
The expectations that are expressed by the organisers at E3 were exactly the same as the cattle station people experienced when travelling hundreds of miles to meet their future companion. Just like the participants at E3 they had one shot to show how good they were and if failing to be the best, brightest and the most exciting partner they had to wait another year for a new chance.
How we can manage the kind of pressure that comes with high expectations is our ability to imagine ourselves to actually be the best, brightest and the most exciting partner. This ability we call anticipation and works a little bit as a counterweight to expectations as we can dream, have beliefs and desires about being the best – as long as no one meddles with our dreams.
When I announced that I was leaving the outback, I wasn’t sure if it was my leave or me missing the event that got the attention. The attempts to persuade me to come to the party were flattering, but it didn’t make sense why people spent time on me as I wasn´t planning on settling down and there were others that certainly deserved the attention more than me. Later on, I realised that I had meddled with people´s dreams.
To understand what it means to meddle with people´s dreams one needs to look at our ability to create meaning from an evolutionary perspective. If it weren’t due to our ability to construct narratives as to make things to seem meaningful we would probably be sitting in a cave or being extinguished unless someone made us leave the cave or step into a decrepit raft and cross an ocean. Since forcing people by power and threats didn’t provide a happy crew on a poorly built raft our ability to construct narratives improved by finding it much better to make people dream our dreams as it would improve the cooperation. We became so good at it so even if the dreams were illogical or unrealistic people preferred to share the dream even if it sometimes leads to certain death. But for some, sharing a dream was better than being alone. So why the people in the outback didn´t pay attention to those that actually wanted to go to the party, but for some reason couldn’t, was simply because they already shared the same dream to meet their future companion. And how I played a part in it was that they wanted me to endorse their beliefs and if I had stayed no one would bother, as it would have meant that I was one of them.
When Electronic Arts announced in 2016 that they decided to leave E3 the reactions came instantly. Even if Electronic Arts handled their leave with care and moved their tent right outside the E3 conference hall, the news made it sound like they had moved to Mars. But what it shows is how sensitive it is to interrupt people´s beliefs about a reciprocally shared goal. So this year, when Electronic Arts carefully moved their tent 7 miles away from the E3 conference place, and at this pace it would take Electronic Arts 400 years to move from Los Angeles to the American east coast (not Mars), they will probably have to live with this leave for years, unless they make people forget. But since people don´t forget so easily, especially not if someone has demonstrated to not fully share a dream, it reveals another dilemma.
What happens in the mishmash of emotions of hope and anxiety, caused by expectations and anticipations, is that we start to speculate and hypothesise. As a narrative constructor, I call it the cognitive vehicle of narrative which, depending on the wheeling, works as a motivating engine to attract attention and enhance emotions by how the expectations and anticipations are built. Some call the vehicle rumour mill.
Will May bring her cake? Will Bethesda come with news about “The Elder Scroll VI”? Will John do his Rick Astley pastiche? I heard that John hasn’t met Rick Astley and divorced five times. Will Ubisoft make us experience Egypt as assassins? I heard that May stole the recipe from Maggie. Xbox will need a “Halo” if they want to make it. Will it be the end of E3 if the big companies leave?
Even if we don’t like rumours as they can feel like leeches, coming from nowhere and growing big as plums, once the cognitive vehicle of the narrative is launched we like to see how it unfolds and concludes in the same way as we like to see Nemo being found. But when advertisers set the cognitive vehicle of narrative in motion, they don´t want Nemo to be found. Because if people find Nemo the distribution of speculations and hypothesis will stop and no one will be wondering where Electronic Art will go and put up their tent next year.
But the question is if this is the best way to go about it? Is the dream really shared? Do we want to have people looking for Nemo and never find him? Do we want to have people focusing on leave and absence? And what happens if everyone finds Nemo, does that really mean the end? Since from what I recall no one minded to go and find Dory a few years later. When thinking about it, I don’t think people would mind to go and look for the whole fish community if so required. So the question is how developers can take control over a rumour mill by letting everyone finding Nemo? How is it possible, by the narrative construction, to make everyone leave the event with a feeling of being the best, brightest and the most exciting fish hunter and still looking forward to next year’s event?
Everyone that works within game industry knows how important the feeling of control is and how the lack of control, caused by rumours, leeches or game controllers, can cause negative effects on our emotions. As I know that some think of narrative as a story and therefore not comparable to what´s considered to concern control in video games, I will explain how narrative from a cognitive perspective works when handling control and expectations. If I say AB, people expect a C. And if I say A, instead of C, people will have to rethink their hypothesis how C could become an A.
So if looking at how advertisers build up expectations if I say that someone (A), that is expected to be the best, brightest and present at E3, suddenly leaves (B) people will expect (C) a conflict by how the expectations and anticipations are built around the importance of participation. And if the advertisers are thinking that anything that can call people´s attention and enhance emotions is good – even a conflict – the developers will have to deal with the C and restore it to A as to lowering the anxiety created by the rumour mill to get in control.
So the question is, does Electronic Arts want to spend years talking about where they are situated geographically in relation to E3 conference hall or do they want people to focus on their products? Or does the organiser at E3 want people to focus on someone´s leave or eventual absence or do they want people to focus on what E3 actually present and represent?
At a TED talk from 2012 Andrew Stanton, the creator of “Finding Nemo”, expressed the construction of a meaningful experience as “2 + 2= 4”. What he means is that one should let the audience do the “4” by only giving them “2+2” because: “The audience actually wants to work for their meal, they just don’t want to know they are doing that.” What Stanton means is that the creator of the expectations and anticipations should not tell the audience the result (the “4”); instead, they should let the audience feel that they are coming to the result by themselves. This the creator does by allowing people to feel that they have found the best, brightest and an excellent partner (product).
But since the expectations are set as they are, the speculations and hypothesis will remain to focus on leave or absence whereby those who are not attending will be seen as “not” meeting the expectations – unless they find a way to take control over the rumour mill and produce their own stories that don´t meddle with people´s dreams.
Whether it was John that spread the rumours about being divorced five times, I don´t know, but he was certainly pretty good at counterpunching the expectations. So was Rockstar at E3. Instead of making people mourn the delay of “Red Dead Redemption 2” Rockstar managed to turn the speculations to focus on whether they would turn up or not at E3. What John and Rockstar did was to create a feeling of presence without attending and still ending up in people´s minds as being the best, brightest and most exciting partners (by turning C into A). They simply manoeuvred the cognitive vehicle of the narrative so that people could work for their meal without bothering.
How I made my leave into a happy ending by having my friends waving good-bye with a smile on their faces, wishing me good luck, was by telling them that I had to go and see my future companion who lived elsewhere. I know. It seems to be a lie but why should I tell about how much I hated the leeches or how the madness was growing by not seeing the horizon? By doing as I did, I didn’t interrupt anyone´s dreams. Instead, we all looked forward meeting each other again and share our stories about how our search and findings had been. Since if a dream is reciprocally shared, it doesn’t meddle with anyone´s anticipations or choices, how to reach the dream.
This week E3 ended. A whole year is waiting for new dreams to be built. Hopefully, the dreams will be less anxious so that focus can be kept on what is important – the creation of new meaningful experiences.
Want to read more? Part 2, The benefit and disadvantage of unconsciousness