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Tanya X. Short shared a summary of an analysis of the importance of coziness in game design performed by a group of designers at Project Horseshoe. The article shares some great insights into how you can use the fantasy of safety, abundance, and softness to build a better game. Take Stardew Valley of Animal Crossing, for example. There’s nothing dangerous about those game, but they still manage to hold your attention. How do they do that?
Here is a small piece of the article to get your interested:
Popular games such as Animal Crossing or Stardew Valley offer coziness as a core gameplay value proposition to players, while the more stressful core gameplay of Dark Souls or The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild may provide breaks of coziness in select spaces and times to deepen and salve an otherwise stressful player experience with respite between adventures.
Coziness refers to how a game evokes the fantasy of safety, abundance, and softness:
- Safety: risk and danger (physical, emotional, social) are minimized.
- Abundance: lower-level needs are met and nothing is lacking or pressing.
- Softness: stimuli are gentle and comforting, reducing stress.
Each of these aspects of coziness reinforces each other, such that a game (or section of a game) centering safety, abundance, and softness will often also encourage intimacy of space and emotion, with a slower pace, implying authenticity, sincerity, and humanity.
Aspects which may negate coziness include extrinsic rewards, dangers or threats, responsibility, distractions, intense stimulus, vast distances, non-consensual social situations, confinement, deception, and opulence. These same negating elements can be used to enhance coziness if they are safely outside the player’s defined cozy space (spatial, emotional, etc) by providing contrast and juxtaposition. For example, cold rain against a window emphasizes the warmth of a reading nook without threatening to disrupt it. If that same cold rain was blowing through a broken window, the scene would no longer be cozy.
Harvest Moon was a popular cozy title that offered a mundane, ritual refuge in pastoral life, with clearly demarcated seasons to signify both economic and community activities.
Many things which might be considered cozy (such as cuteness, romance, wealth, childhood, or even the home) are often cozy-adjacent upon further inspection. When creating cozy games, inspect every aspect for potential risk-taking, stress, responsibility, stimulus, and feelings of inadequacy or fear.
As you approach cozy design, remember that coziness is an adjective; coziness is an aesthetic goal, a flavor that can be applied to any type of game. Some mechanics are emotionally more in tune with coziness, but any game can be made more cozy. This also means that there is no single defining genre that is “coziness”.
In this analysis, we discovered patterns of coziness throughout games, including aesthetics, mechanics, narratives, and dynamics. Finally, we found patterns in our own work habits and approaches that allowed coziness during the process of game development.
Cozy aesthetics are audio/visual sensory cues that are often familiar to the player that evoke images or memories of safety, softness, and contentedness. They commonly contrast a shared refuge from a less pleasant external environment and can be applied as a moment to reset or reframe the player’s mindset.
Common cozy aesthetic patterns include:
- Abundances of plenty and generousness, including plenty of food, drink, joy, and warmth, especially in spaces like taverns, kitchens, cafes, and bedrooms.
- Smooth transitions and gradients can add gentleness to cozy areas, though clear thresholds may also preserve the comfort of a distinctly cozy area, such as coming in from a snowstorm into a log cabin or ducking into a cave behind a waterfall.
- Protection and support signaled, such by as a relaxed guardian animal or character, communicates to the player that they are free to pursue their higher-order needs.
- Focus and elimination of interruptions or pressures can create a familiar, comfortable, intimate space.
- Mundanity and familiarity will always be cozier than something alien or exotic, as its safety and abundance are clearer.
- Refuge & Escape: if there is an “outside”, this place is a clear shelter
- Human-centric: rooms and objects are scaled for human comfort and belonging
- Welcome: the player is explicitly welcomed and given freedom and safety to express themselves however they wish, without responsibility or pressure to perform
- Ritual: repeated, meaningful actions create familiarity and contentedness
- Seasons: the familiarity and ritual history of seasons is often correlated with community and abundance, particularly in autumn and winter.
Make sure to study the full summary here.