Lecturer in Game Design | PhD Student

Honours Blog

Posts tagged Anthropomorphism
Anthropomorphism and Thomas Was Alone

Thomas Was Alone is a perfect example of a game which relies on base human instinct to manipulate core emotions. The game revolves around a group of shapes - rectangles and squares of varying sizes - as you play a platforming game which requires you to use these shapes to complete puzzles. Each shape has its own unique ability, thus already there is a link with humans: We are all of varying shapes, sizes and have our own strengths and weaknesses. Even without such a simple link to humanity, the mind may start anthropomorphising the shapes. The inclusion of this visual trait is to trigger the brain function which forms the relationship between the player and 'character'.

Another technique used by the game to create an emotional link between the player and the character is the use of a narrator. The narrator delivers small chunks of story from a third person perspective which describe the character's thoughts and feelings. The main character 'Thomas' begins his journey as a solitary rectangle in a minimalist environment, a shining beacon of colour in a world made from black and muted shades of darker colours. Straight from the beginning, the player's emotional connection with the rectangle is forged.

The small aspect of giving the object a name can generally be overlooked, but as soon as a name has been given to an object, the humanising of the object has already begun. In Forget-Me-Not I will look at creating an object which can have relatable traits, and give it a name. By doing so I will test the theory of whether anthropomorphising an inanimate object in a video game can have the same effects as in real life. I will attempt to create an engaging back story for this object and relate it to the main character on an emotional level.

Linking Dissertation with Honours Project

Originally I intended this honours blog to only reflect the physical work required for the creation of Forget-Me-Not, but I have now decided to include some details from my dissertation research in as I feel they will be relevant to explaining some techniques I will use when developing my game.

My dissertation will be about creating more complex emotion in games such as empathy whilst at the same time exploring the more primal emotions like fear, aggression, happiness, sadness. Triggering the more primal emotions is regarded as a simpler matter, as these instinctual emotions come from relatable experiences.

Take for instance Ikea's 2002 advert by Spike Jonze: The small film depicts a lamp being replaced by a new one, due to clever visual portrayal of the lamp, it triggers a feeling of empathy for the lamp.

The reason the viewer connects with the lamp due to the relatable emotions that come with loneliness and abandonment. The aspect of this commercial I found most interesting is how it projects the viewer's feelings for an inanimate object and challenges why humans become emotionally attached to material objects. It can be argued that it is human nature to anthropomorphise objects due to an overly developed sense of empathy. Especially with objects that we interact with on a frequent basis: If you have a locket that was given to you from a loved one, you wear it every day. An emotional bond forms between yourself and the locket. When you lose the locket, you lose part of your identity, thus engaging an emotional response.

As well as playing on our natural instinct to anthropomorphise objects, the use of clever camera work and slight movement of the lamp between shots fools the mind into believing the object is sentient. The camera angles depict what the lamp 'sees' thus making the viewer relate more to the object and trigger primitive emotions of sadness.

To relate this to Forget-Me-Not, I want to find out how to trigger these emotional connections with objects so that the player will feel how the character should feel about an object they hold dear to them. I especially want to play on the sense of loss, but less depicting the loss of the object, but the loss of the connection between the character/player and the object.