Stealth has been experiencing a renaissance. The success of Batman: Arkham Asylum may have made stealth commercially viable again. Last yearâ€™s Deus Ex continued the (human) revolution, alongside Arkham City, while this year Mark of the Ninja, Dishonored, and Hitman Absolution, plus the upcoming Splinter Cell: Blacklist and Thief sequel, are making fans happier than theyâ€™ve been in years.
Itâ€™s a curious revival, contrasted against a mainstream landscape of more-is-more. But if the renewal brings nothing else, it shows us just how unique the stealth gamer remains in the player lexicon.
They lurk in the dark. Theyâ€™re slow. Patient. Methodical.
And maybe a little full of themselves.
â€śI think that may be true,â€ť says Chris Ferguson, the associate professor of psychology at Texas A&M International University.
â€śThereâ€™s a sense that stealth players know theyâ€™re completing a game that is different – theyâ€™re really competing intellectually.â€ť
Given the renewed interest in the genre, it seems appropriate to pose the question: who is the stealth gamer?
The answer reveals a patchwork of traits complimentary and conflicting. Developers from some of the biggest stealth games suggest theyâ€™re egotistical, intellectual, detail-oriented and more sympathetic to human experiences in games.
But as Eidos Montreal creative director Jean-Francois Dugas says, theyâ€™re also a little cruelâ€¦to a certain degree. Watching and waiting to strike.
â€śMy immediate gut feeling response would be stealth players are an intellectual player with very good analytical skills,â€ť he says.
In some ways this is obvious, but once we delve deeper into the stealth playerâ€™s psyche, we see they arenâ€™t so different than the avatars they command – detail oriented and methodical. Nothing escapes their attention.
HIDE AND SEEK >>
Just as dedicated as any Call of Duty fan, stealth aficionados obsess and fret over seemingly minor details, like the ability to complete a non-lethal play through.
But their passion for the subject is old, even dating back to their birth. After all, one of the very first games you ever play with your parents is influenced by stealth â€“ peek-a-boo. Itâ€™s a basic version of the form. But developers say if you want to understand how a stealth player thinks, this is where you need to start.
â€śThink back to playing hide and seek as a kid,â€ť urges Andy Schatz, creator of the upcoming heist/stealth game Monaco.
â€śThere are two major emotions that take place. One is the tension of hiding, and hoping youâ€™re not seen. The other is the feeling of outsmarting your opponent, either as the sneaker or the hider.â€ť
As Arkane Studios creative directors Harvey Smith and Raphael Colantonio explain, thereâ€™s an emotional underpinning for stealth, seen in games like Thief, or even inverted situations like revealing enemies in XCOM.
â€śHowever you define it, stealth games provide feelings that arise from specific kinds of interactive systems and from particular kinds of power fantasies.â€ť
Just as any good narrative demands peaks and troughs, so it is with stealth. Gaming in the shadows is directly connected to these childhood experiences. The high creates a unique endorphin buzz.
Ferguson agrees stealth gamers have an intellectual one up on the rest of the gaming community, saying while there isnâ€™t any research in this area, thereâ€™s definitely a case they have a better understanding of calculating risk.
â€śGoing through a game like Thief or Splinter Cell, succeeding at that make you feel very smart. Youâ€™ve advanced the story based on your own skills.â€ť
Patrick Redding, game director at Ubisoft Toronto, responsible for the upcoming Splinter Cell: Blacklist, says this also indicates patience.
â€śFrom our experience, stealth appeals to players whoâ€¦arenâ€™t necessarily looking for instant gratification.â€ť
Tom Francis, a British games writer and developer of his own stealth game, Gunpoint, says while he isnâ€™t sure about the intellectual difference, admits a bent to creativity as gamers enjoy â€śorchestrating a situation where we have the advantageâ€ť.
Nels Anderson, the lead designer for Klei Entertainment, maker of the recent stealth hit Mark of the Ninja, says stealth gamers are particularly attracted to the genreâ€™s innate difficulty as it allows the â€śultimate testâ€ť.
â€śYouâ€™re going up against challenges in a way that allows you to be elaborate and expressive.â€ť
That expression becomes complicated, Redding says, once you consider there are so many different types of stealth players â€“ such as the hardcore players who ghost maps and never get detected, and those who prefer the action but still stay hidden.
But as Redding explains, thereâ€™s a lot in common between them â€“ â€śthey each share a degree of patience and strategic thinkingâ€ť.
Pages: 1 2