I wrote a super long reply yesterday, then went to make dinner, forgot to post it and turned off the PC 🤡
Ah well, here we go again.
Sakuna seems like a good case of a game with enough longevity and complexity to allow for the development of that familiarity that turns into coziness. Games with fixed cycles and elaborate processes associated can accomodate very easily and allow the player to feel comfortable within them. What interests me the most about what you said is the fact that it’s the process itself what brings you comfort, it would seem like not knowing the rules or the correct ways to apply them should or could be something that interferes with the player, thus obstructing comfort, but it turns out to be the opposite in this case, by what you said. I really need to try it!
I haven’t read Iser but what you described reminded me of Umberto Eco’s Mass Superhuman (I don’t know if this is the correct english title, in spanish it’s translated as “El Superhombre de masas”). It seems comfort is something we actively look for as human beings, both inside and outside of fiction, and that’s probably the reason why people liked serialized novels and soap operas, or superhero fiction nowadays. According to Eco, people don’t really like new stories all that much, most people favor permutations or rearrangements of stories they already know, and that fits with the description of the culinary fiction you mentioned. But this is a complex discussion because I could argue the gaps are relative to the experience and cultural background of each person. Maybe for a child or someone who hasn’t seen a lot of movies Marvel films are super interesting or groundbreaking…
What interested me in the context of this conversation was asking which games feel like culinary to people around here without actually being necessarily designed or conceived that way, particularly by virtue of their mechanics or interactions, or the way they are designed. That’s why I thought Evil Within was an interesting choice, it being a horror game with a openly hostile attitude towards the player, but also very complicit with its audience in the way it presents its inspirations or how openly silly it is at times with jumpscares and such, in a way that feels very self conscious and fun.
Maybe I should clarify that the reason why I didn’t enjoy that first playthrough of The Last Guardian wasn’t really because of its narrative or mechanical design, but because the controls felt really uncomfortable and unresponsive, specially the camera. I had a much better experience the second time because I was willing to do some extra effort to adapt to those (in my opinion) shortcomings and that allowed for a much better time with the game. It was because I appreciated the “gaps” and surprises, you being very vulnerable and requiring help from an uncontrollable partner that I felt like putting the extra effort, I would say.
Just_Walli Long jumps in 3D Mario are awesome! That’s a great choice.
Seems by what has been discussed so far that genres with a high degree of mechanical “transference” between games are the best equipped to end up becoming comfortable and cozy. Top-down shooters are an interesting choice because in a lot of cases, they not only share the overall design framework, but also aesthetic, feel and art design too. It’s a genre in which I can easily imagine being reminded of some other game while playing something because similar enemy patterns or two bosses having some similitude, and that goes miles towards making that genre feel that way. Add some nostalgia or fondness for it all into the mix and the magic is done!
You didn’t mention those but I can see stuff like beat ’em ups or light gun games as genres that could be mentioned by someone else for similar reasons.
Also that last exchange about mechanical clarity and cleanness in the presentation is interesting because it establishes the point that games that are understood easily allow for a more immediate comfortable experience (which is, to be honest, not a super groundbreaking idea and almost a universal truth in game design at this point). I wonder if simplicity is a factor too, arcade games seem to tap into that, but doesn’t feel like a strict necessity.