Giygas vs Psychology of Design: Part 6 – UX Conclusions

Obviously, spoilers ahead if you have not completed the game Earthbound/Mother 2 Proceed with Caution – You have been warned!

Conclusions on UX

In the end, I’ve talked a lot of talk about the Giygas battle, and what it might mean. But I haven’t particularly said why.

I work in user experience and I was struck by the experience I had during this final battle and how certain ideas and thoughts struck me regarding it even after the fact. I wanted to understand why I felt the way I did, to try and boil down the brass tacks comprising the experience overall so that I might understand how these effects could be utilized in other experiences people may design. Of course, utilizing one or all of these elements won’t result in the same experience – there is a certain finesse, understanding, and showmanship required to create a memorable experience. But that is precisely why I wanted to explore these elements.

Understanding users, presenting your content effectively and in a way that makes users desire more interaction or to share their interaction experiences with others…this is what comprises a good user experience. Itoi and the Mother team’s understanding of how to represent Giygas and all the artefacts related to the battle with him or leading up to that battle in a way that would make their users experience it precisely in the way that they hoped they would…this is what makes this effective, memorable, and a worthwhile case study.

No one can pick apart the elements described here and recreate verbatim Giygas’s battle as a UX artefact for their own project – there are so many more variables, and the entire experience of the game is also represented in the encapsulation of the particular experience with the battle with Giygas. What they can do is recognize the psychology of design involved in the battle, the elements accounted for and how those elements effected the users, and consider the ways in which these could be implemented for their specific audiences or needs.

I knew after my battle with Giygas I had to write about it as a user experience developer, but I didn’t quite understand how or why. As I gathered my thoughts here, I recognized what I was describing was feelings experienced, emotions understood, and memories and connections created. These are all important aspects of a user experience. While a web client looking to have a user add an item to their cart is unlikely to care about the fear psychology that made the Giygas battle memorable, there are still many lessons and ideas from this case study that hold true to any UX need.

Let’s consider a few key lessons we might be able to take away from our analysis:

User experience is focused on the user.

I’ve harkened many times that in the end, the battle with Giygas is about the player, not about Ness, and that’s with an obvious reason to my end message. This is true of UX as well. Each user’s experience is memorable in that it is their own, and no two are likely to be alike. However, we can craft experiences in such a way that each has a great one, one they want to share.

Psychology is important to experience.

Fear, hope, and a myriad of other emotions the game coerces the player to feel are integral to the final fight against Giygas, and the feelings the player has entering the battle can effect their feelings overall. UX is no different. A user’s emotions when they enter a process on a website can determine how they feel at the end, and the emotions they feel throughout will influence their actions and experience. These emotions need to be accounted for, shifted, and extrapolated upon in whatever way best defines the ideal experience.

Ideas can differ, experience should remain the same.

Plenty of people disagree on what the form of Giygas is meant to look like or represent, but almost all of them agree that it’s unsettling. Whatever your project is, it should be no different. Users might disagree on what the exact messaging of a label should be, or which image best fits with a blog post’s message, or the best brand colors for your messaging. But in the end, what matters is that their experiences all boil down to the same things that you desire for them to feel or that they can complete the tasks they need to complete. If a label is disrupting a user’s experience, it’s probably a good idea to change that label. But if it comes down to semantics and is still intuitive, then the experience hasn’t been tarnished even though each user’s ideas may differ.

Positive emotions are very strong.

The themes of hope and a light at the end of the tunnel ring true in UX. User’s like feeling like they are one step closer to completion, that they’re almost to the finish line. Users enjoy feeling a glimmer of hope, and they enjoy feeling happy throughout the process of whatever their doing. These things seem obvious, but the battle with Giygas reinforces our discussion on that: in something so desolate and bleak (think maybe…a tax audit process on a website?), little moments of happiness and positivity can be what it takes to create a positive, memorable experience overall (assistive features, progress bars, positive feedback after task completions).

Don’t forget the little things….because they might just become the big things.

From the touching chills a player gets when they first notice that their prayers are being “heard” in the game, to the buildup of Porky’s evil reign, to each prayer slowly fracturing Giygas and each Sound Stone melody making Ness and friends stronger…each moment is memorable and matters to the overall experience. One button being non functional or not working as users might intend on your interface might not seem like a big deal when you’re so focused on ensuring your conversion process is streamlined and perfect…so focused on that end goal, but that might be the button the user was hoping to use and changes their perception wildly of the product. And what if this user was a big name blogger, who now talks ill of your product to thousands of followers, who share that article like wildfire….sounds a lot like a Porky situation, doesn’t it?<br> While this scenario might be unlikely, and it’s important to streamline those areas users are most likely to utilize first, it makes for a lesson worth keeping in mind. Tiny moments like remembering a user’s billing information, or showing them costs with shipping and tax up front, or making the registration process a bit more fun and simple – these are all tiny moments that influence your user’s perception of the product overall, and those tiny moments just might be the thing that separates you from your competitor and makes you the winner in your user’s eyes.

This has been my analysis on the final fight with Giygas in Earthbound. I know some of my ideas were obviously following my own interpretations or train of thought, but I hope they made sense in the grand scheme of my analysis and my concepts of the psychology of the fight and how these relate to usability, and maybe gave you a new twist on your own perceptions of the battle, however minor.

I hope you enjoyed, I hope it got you thinking, and I hope you maybe learned something along the way! 🙂 Thanks for reading!

“The War Against Gigyas is Over….Our Travels Together End Here” – Epilogue, Earthbound

EarthBound copyright Shigesato Itoi, Nintendo, HAL Laboratory and Ape Inc.

Giygas vs Psychology of Design: Part 5 – Misdirection

Obviously, spoilers ahead if you have not completed the game Earthbound/Mother 2.
Proceed with Caution – You have been warned!

Misdirection

One of the most enthralling aspects of Giygas from psychology isn’t even the structure of the battle with Giygas itself, but of a reality players realize some time after completing the game.

Giygas has been destroyed, but his destruction caused the rise of another: Porky (Pokey) Minch.

Ah yes, Porky. Is he evil? Is he just a brat? I mean who cares? We have the literal embodiment of terror and evil sitting on our doorstep.

And that’s precisely the point. Who cares? The tale of poor Porky and who really cares. It’s no wonder that Porky gets fed up with no one noticing him, and goes on to terrorize the world.

This topic has been discussed several times by several other bloggers and commenters, so I want to spin this to be about the psychology of this final fight and how it effects the player.

What it boils down to is the player has been told throughout the entire story “fight Giygas. Beat Giygas. Stop the evil that will come to the world by getting Giygas”. The player focuses on this storyline – in part because they have to, but also because they come to believe it. We fixate so much on our end goal, that at times we forget about the effects of our actions or the surrounding environment.

In this case, we forgot about Porky. Even during the final fight, he struggles for relevance, devoted to nothing more than a brat yelling insults, trying desperately to get us to notice him as he is obviously overshadowed by our greater mission.

And in the end, when we defeat Giygas? Porky flies off – we think running with his tail between his legs like the spineless coward he’s shown himself to be most of the time. But no, he becomes a huge antagonist of Mother 3, wreaking havoc in places Ness never sees. Ness wipes his hands of the issue after defeating Giygas as does the player, thinking “I’ve done it” – yet what they’ve done is driven a new terror to a new place by fixating on one singular end goal.

Of course, the game was designed this way. There’s no way to “be nice to Porky” or “listen to Porky” or “let Porky help us save the world” or “give our PSI to Porky and maybe he’ll stop Giygas” and magically change this outcome. But the game was designed this way to add another layer of psychological depth to Giygas. The player fixates, focusing so hard on their end goal, they tune all external stimuli out, working hard to achieve what they believe they must. And in the end, this fixation caused them to miss a critical problem right under their noses. While there isn’t an option for changing the fate of Porky, most players on their first playthrough don’t even give it a second thought – precisely why it’s effective. We don’t see Porky as a threat, and so we disregard him for the real threat…when in actuality this turns him into his own force to be reckoned with.

When players come to the realization of how Porky has slipped through the cracks, they begin to wonder who was the real villain. Coupling the discussion regarding Giygas’s dialogue and the confusion that surrounds it with Porky’s sudden rise to power makes the player wonder if the whole time they’ve been going about their mission the wrong way, looking at the wrong thing. And I do believe this is exactly what players are intended to feel.

This game doesn’t take itself seriously and in that it hides many meta gems about gameplay itself. The game sets up the big bad boss, but in fighting the boss he doesn’t even have a real face or form, and ends up being defeated by the realization that social emotions are okay. Porky on the other hand becomes increasingly antisocial as he is ignored and overlooked time and time again, to the point that he is driven to the hatred and psychopathy Giygas hoped he might achieve. It’s almost as though they passed each other going down opposite highways – one toward good, the other toward evil.

I don’t think the game’s setup of Giygas and Porky intends that the player feel badly for their actions – there’s literally no other way the game could go, after all. I think it intends to cause a psychological impact that makes the player think about those actions and the repercussions they cause – the ripple effect if you will. It causes players to have a broader outlook, to consider those nuances and think what they might have done differently had they known…and in this regard, it potentially effects how they view the world or other games as they see the forest for the trees, and look at how the tiny details make up the bigger picture.

Again, this is psychological design at its finest. Causing realization, causing you to think, causing you to wonder, feel, and possibly change your outlook.

“And here you stand, ‘ waiting to be burned up with all the rest of the garbage of this universe….Do you want to scream for help here in the dark?!” – Porky (Means Business) Minch, Earthbound

EarthBound copyright Shigesato Itoi, Nintendo, HAL Laboratory and Ape Inc.

Giygas vs Psychology of Design: Part 4 – Dialogue

Obviously, spoilers ahead if you have not completed the game Earthbound/Mother 2.
Proceed with Caution – You have been warned!

Dialogue

Giygas as a fight is heavily influential on the player in many ways we’ve already discussed. But part of what makes Giygas influential is he makes you as the player think about the after. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking “what if…” and “what did it mean…” after the fight, as there’s many blogs much like this.

Giygas’s dialogue is one of those many areas where we question what’s happening. Those familiar with the game’s background know the dialogue of Giygas is taken from “The Military Policemen and the Dismembered Beauty” and that Itoi believed the dialogue to be describing a rape (in actuality the scene is lovemaking turned to murder). Itoi also stated he wanted to bring “living being” sensation to Giygas with these lines – with lines such as “it hurts” when he considered the terror and eroticism. This begs the question though – if Itoi meant to simulate these feelings with Giygas’s dialogue…is Giygas meant to be erotic? What does that mean in this context?

I would argue that eroticism does not mean it’s classical definition in this sense. Rather, I harken back to Itoi stating that when he saw the sequence in the movie, it was “a direct assault on his brain” – sounds quite similar to “you cannot comprehend the true form of Giygas’s attack”. I believe the portrayal here is not eroticism in a sexual sense for the player, but anticipation and confusion coupled with terror, a mixture of unsettling and exciting and enticing toward completion despite reservations to turn back due to the unsettling nature.

I also believe that the living sensation Itoi describes is precisely why Giygas’s dialogue is so unsettling. Up until this point we have assessed Giygas as an abstract representation of purely unfettered negative emotion. And yet…he speaks as though human. He says “it hurts”. He says “I’m happy”. This confuses the representation of Giygas that we’ve been presented with – we see abstraction with no face, only evil, and yet it seems capable of more emotion. The confusion raises questions. What are we doing? Is this right? What does Giygas mean? We become unsettled. Our interpretation no longer matches reality.

I think that not only does the player feel this unsettling and enticing feeling, but Giygas does as well. Considering Mother’s representation of Giygas – as Giegue, fostered by Maria and George. Giegue has a moment of “weakness” – he feels compassion for Ninten as he felt compassion for Maria, and in turn, this may have caused his downfall. Earthbound’s representation of Giegue going fully “dark” – removing his body and mind to further his cause…we are led to believe that all of Giygas’s rationale and emotion have been removed.

But when we watch the dialogue and the battle unfold, something intriguing happens. It’s almost as though Giygas is regaining his understanding of the feelings he had to suppress as Giegue, trying to rationalize and make sense even as it draws him closer to defeat. It’s almost as though Giygas becomes excited at these revelations, but scared of what they mean. As though Paula’s prayers are speaking to the part of him he worked so hard to hide as Giegue, to the point of destroying himself in order to try and stifle them.

Consider what Giygas says through this lens:
“I’m happy” : Giygas is recognizing the end is near, but also recognizing and accepting the emotions he has tried to stifle. They make him happy, his love for Maria and Ninten, even if it wasn’t acceptable in the Starmen’s eyes, they made him happy. The prayers, the chance to be put to rest, it excites him and allows him to feel the way he wanted to feel.
“I feel good” : Again, the same recognition. Even though the recognition of these feelings is literally causing Giygas to self-destruct, the destruction of himself feels good because it allows him to finally feel happy the way he desired to be, and also he recognizes that his removal from the world may allow Ninten and Maria’s descendants to continue to live on where his existence may have destroyed them. This makes him feel happy, and his sacrifice makes him feel like a “good guy” – he feels, quite literally, good.
“It Hurts” : Giygas can feel these thoughts and recognition of the prayers destroying his essence. Quite literally, it hurts. However, he tends to couple this with “I’m Happy” or “I feel good” as though saying “even though it hurts, I am okay with this”
“I’m so sad” : Giygas is happy that he can finally recognize and feel the emotions he desired, but it is too little too late. He is sad that he has to leave this world in order to be finally allowed to feel them. He is melancholy. He is scared, but excited; worried but wondering.
“It’s not right” : It’s not right what he’s done. It’s not right what the Starmen taught him. It’s not right that he couldn’t feel the way he desired to feel around Maria or Ninten. It’s unjust and unfair that despite his best attempts to stifle his emotions, this final battle has caused him to realize they are okay, only to also have him recognize this means his demise.
*Pain sounds* : Related above to “It Hurts” – Giygas recognizing tangible emotion and feeling, and responding as though he is actually in pain despite being a manifestation of abstract thought. He is recognizing a range of feelings, and reacting as his physical self would.
“Ness” : Attempting to convey these thoughts to Ness, to get him and his friends to recognize what is happening. To know he is not alone even in the desolation he has created, to recognize who is there with him as he reaches the pinnacle of a journey that ends in his destruction. To ensure his final words and feelings do not fall on deaf ears, as Paula hoped her prayers would not: “Ness”.

Consider how each of Paula’s prayers cause the representation of Giygas to fracture and distort further and further ,while this dialogue continues to loop. Paula’s final prayer before reaching to the player’s heart “is consumed by the darkness”. From there, Giygas becomes fatally wounded. Paula’s final prayer, quite literally, seems like it was consumed by the darkness – the all surrounding darkness that is Giygas. As each of Paula’s prayers distorted his perception and made him unbundle his repressed feelings further and further, the final prayer before the one causing his demise was heard and absorbed squarely by Giygas himself.

He recognized the need for his end in Paula’s prayer that hits him directly as it is consumed by the darkness. His emotions exciting and terrifying him, he finally realized even through his attempts to stifle his feelings for humanity that the best course of action was his own destruction.

The final prayer is the player’s prayer, and this causes Giygas to finally self destruct. If we take this into account with the representation of Giygas thus far as the player’s nightmare and the player’s perception, then the player’s hope is the final piece that Giygas needs to recognize that his time must end. Giygas recognizes his compassion for humanity, and the player affirms it with their hopes and desires.

Giygas’s dialogue and the confusion it causes makes many players wonder if fighting Giygas is “right” – that is, is Giygas truly evil, and has the player at the end of the fight destroyed a non-evil thus making them less of a protagonist than they’ve believed?

I would argue that, if we follow the rationale we’ve established so far, the only way for Giygas to realize the non-evil within him was to confront him in the way the player does. The prayers wounded Giygas, but only in so much that they fractured his perception of the abstraction he had made himself – in this way, Giygas is destroying Giygas at his own realization based on the prayers, not the player themselves.

Giygas has destroyed his sense of self down to a level of purely intangible representation in an attempt to be the destroyer the Starmen desired, and when the prayers fracture this representation, Giygas cannot come back to tangible with this new found knowledge or desire – it shatters the core of the being he has become. While he is happy with this knowledge, it also forces an inevitable destruction. I would argue that while Giygas wishes that he could return to the world with this insight (“I’m so sad”), he’s thankful that the player allowed him to have this revelation, and is happy to have the story end in this way, stopping his potential destruction even if his turning to benevolence causes his own demise (“I’m happy”).

You cannot grasp the true form of Giygas’s Attack! – Final Battle, Earthbound

EarthBound copyright Shigesato Itoi, Nintendo, HAL Laboratory and Ape Inc.

Giygas vs Psychology of Design: Part 3 – Hope

Obviously, spoilers ahead if you have not completed the game Earthbound/Mother 2.
Proceed with Caution – You have been warned!

Hope

The fight against Giygas is of course, intriguing not only for the representation of Giygas’s form, but for how the battle itself is played out. Once the machine is turned off, absolutely nothing matters except ensuring Paula can continue to pray.

But why?

To me, one of the essences of beauty in this game is this detail to the fight. This is not a fight you win with swords, guns, magic, or smashing baseball bats. What would you smash in an abstract void without a face or a body – as we’ve discussed before? This is nothing but a thought, nothing but the purest, angriest seed of a thought manifested into a dark, sinking hole of destruction and desolation.

So how do you fight?

You pray. You reason. You hope that the darkness you’re feeling, you’re surrounded by, imprisoned in, you hope there is more beyond it. You hope that even if you cannot go on, there’s someone out there whom your life or another life with similar purpose has affected and who can go on to achieve the changes you hoped to see in the world. You hope the world outside of the blackness you’re stuck in is not as bleak, that there is light for someone somewhere, and that maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to see it someday soon. If you can just make it through this…without giving up…with that hope that it will be okay…with that hope.

Hope.

Paula’s prayer isn’t an attempt at a religious statement in the game – at least, not in my eyes. It points at the much broader definition of prayer – people pray because they hope. They hope for the world to be better. They hope to see a change. They hope others will be okay. They hope their lives will turn around soon. Prayers are hope. And when surrounded by the purest form of desolation and destruction, what more is there to do but to hope that things will change?

I find this fitting with Giygas’s attacks stating “You cannot comprehend the true form” – it fits with all the other points of Giygas’s representation. Completely abstracted, so far removed from physicality. How do you comprehend an assault you can’t even see or describe? Giygas is an abstraction of negativity and desolation, assaulting in ways that cannot be described and crippling the protagonists in ways they can feel but cannot understand. How do you fight a negative abstraction of loneliness and pain? With one of togetherness and prosperity. With hope.

And really, the final pin in this concept of Giygas’s form is Paula’s final prayer. Where the player hears her prayer, and prays with all their heart for the heroes to win. Few games remind the player of their role, and yet the entire battle with Giygas becomes a potent cocktail of psychological interaction with the user at several indescribable levels. We all hope we can win a level, hope we can beat a game – and when hope is all that’s standing between you and black abstraction on your screen, surely you’re hoping that mashing that prayer button works. The game reminds you of that, and reminds you how large of a role you played because you facilitated the story. You brought the characters on the screen this far. You chose their actions. They might be the “heroes” but it boils down to you.

The reality of Giygas’s design is that it’s not a boss meant for Ness and his friends to fight. It’s a boss meant for you.

“Paula’s final cry touches the heart of the Player, who prays for the children, having never met them before.” – Paula’s Prayers, Earthbound

EarthBound copyright Shigesato Itoi, Nintendo, HAL Laboratory and Ape Inc.