A little while ago, I was thinking about how the technical demands of rhythm games could be used to evoke a physical response in a player in order to elicit complex emotional reactions based on the images and sounds occurring on screen. This is all very general, but I think a game I've been pklaying shows both the errors possibly inherent in this idea and the great strengths that rhythm games have in causing severe physical stress.
I'm playing Gitaroo Man, and in three days of playing this video game, I have sprained the middle finger on my right hand. This game is BALLS HARD. The first pass through the game is actually very easy, but the "master's play" function pushes the game mechanic to its extremes. The gameplay becomes incredibly precise, and the margin for error drops significantly. Still, I noticed that the game is less exciting on the higher difficulty, although I do feel a great rush of anxiety towards the end of a difficult section, and particularly toward the end of a whole song. This lack of intensity in my physical excitement is not totally clear yet, but I think it may have to do with the mechanical difficulties of the game increasing my hormonal/physiological response to a very short term burst, and then not allowing much sustained adrenaline pumping, I checked my heart rate after the rounds, and it was increased, but on the first run through, I had to stop playing at times because the game was making me so excited I could feel my heart beating through my chest..
This was all very unscientific, but it leads to some thoughts towards repetition in rhythm games. It's no mystery that rhythm games rely heavily on variety and pacing in the difficulty of a level. If a section has too much of the same pattern, our minds grow bored and shift to auto pilot, and if a surprise comes after that point, it can be quite aggravating. Gitaroo Man excels at maintaining a strong degree of variety in all of the carefully crafted levels. But once you've learned the patterns in a level, your brain has less opportunity to be surprised, and the overall physical stress experienced while playing the game drops a lot.
In developing a game that uses a rhythm mechanic in the gameplay, it would call for an incredible amount of detail in the design of that single rhythm mechanic to be effective, so implementing it into the overall mood of an emotionally poignant setting would be BALLS HARD. The pacing of the narrative would have to remain synchronous with the pacing and excitement of the rhythm element; but the overall effect, if achieved, would be pretty amazing.
My first idea was a horror game which used a virtual instrument to repel enemies, but now I realize that it would only work if every enemy asked for a different pattern, which would be very hard to communicate to the player.