Lecturer in Game Design | PhD Student

Honours Blog

Posts tagged Research
More Research Sources
  • Journal of Consumer Research, Vol 38, No.1 (June 2011), pp. 94-107 - Sarah Kim and Ann L. McGill
  • Empathy - Catherine Belzung
  • The Advertising Business: Operations Creativity Media Planning Integrated Communications, Chapter 18: Emotion and Advertising  - John Phillip Jones (Esther Thorson)
  • The Handbook of Emotion and Memory: Research and Theory - SA Christianson
Theories of Emotion

To find out how to create an emotive experience for the player, I first have to understand the theories behind emotion. There are many  recognised theories behind emotion, some of which are: The Evolutionary Theories,  the Cannon-Bard Theory, Schacter and Singer's Two-Factor Theory, Cognitive Appraisal and the James-Lange Theory.

All of the above stated theories carry their own argument as to what 'emotion' is. The theories that interest me most are the Evolutionary Theories and Cognitive Appraisal. The Evolutionary Theories pioneered by Charles Darwin in the 1870's stated that emotions evolved to increase communication and survivability. It is the more recent evolutionary theories that discuss the 7 primary emotions; happiness, sadness, surprise, anger, contempt, disgust and fear. These are widely regarded as the universal 'base' emotions. The emotions are considered to be innate responses to stimuli, with more complex emotions resulting from mixtures and levels of intensity of a base emotion.

Cognitive Appraisal was a theory by Richard Lazarus which takes the view of how expressed emotion will differ between different people. This means that two people may experience the same environment, object etc. with differing emotional responses.



ALZ is an "experimental short film in an ever-so-slightly interactive format" based around an old man with Alzheimer's disease. As mentioned in a previous blog post, I would personally refer to this piece as an 'Art Game'. The game takes a similar concept to what I wish to achieve with Forget-Me-Not: it depicts the story of an Alzheimer's sufferer from their perspective. ALZ uses a  minimalist style and contrasting colour palette to deliver the emotional narrative. The story is delivered to the player through on screen dialogue boxes and the choice of and use of words is short, yet effective. The 'glitchy' visuals are a metaphor for how the character can see the objects, people, places but does not remember the connection to them. After describing my honours project concept to Jamie King, he directed me to this game which I feel delivers all of the key senses and emotions required for my game. The creator of ALZ - an animator - used a linear game with linear narrative as his delivery method. I am both excited and worried as to how I will effectively portray a similar experience in a 3D potentially non-linear environment.

Making a Meaningful Game

I started the project with one main fear about creating Forget-Me-Not: How to portray a deterioration of memory in a way that the player can relate, sympathise and draw an emotive experience from. I have always found games with little to no narration very interesting in their ability to create an emotive, meaningful experience. Games like Limbo by Playdead  manage to create a narrative and emotive connection for the player without any written or spoken text, I wanted to research further into how this is achieved.

To explore how games can achieve this I watched 2 videos by Extra Credits on using mechanics as metaphors in games. These two videos discussed how to get a player to ponder the meaning of a game after it has been played. The Extra Credits video mainly uses an experimental minimalist game titled Loneliness as its point of reference [Link Below]. An important point that was made in the videos was how every player can get a unique experience from an interactive game. By creating a world with set constraints, but allowing enough freedom to explore their own path, a story can be unfolded in a unique way. This open exploration will allow the player to use their imagination to craft a unique story or experience depending on the player's personality and thoughts. This trust in the audience to use their imagination to create and sew together a story is a large point, but the most emotional and engaging experiences are ones which allow the player to understand themselves better.

Loneliness: http://www.necessarygames.com/my-games/loneliness/flash

Another key issue to creating a meaningful game is the requirement to count on the player to want to analyse and immerse themselves in the game world and story. If a player doesn't wish to analyse the objects in the room, then a large chunk of the 'meaning' of the game will be lost (especially if your game is created to trigger self reflection). This lack of investment and loss of meaning will lead to an emotionless experience for the player and lead to the player refusing to play further. Most 'Art Games' require a certain level of openness from the player to analyse and absorb the messages portrayed. Games such as Gone Home get slated by some gamers as not actually deserving the title of being a 'game'. The people who push creating game experiences can be given the title "Game Abstractionalists". These people wish to push the boundaries of what constitutes a game - like in the progression of art - but just like with art, not all forms will be accepted or enjoyed by everyone.

From this information, I can come to an understanding that the emotive gameplay experience that I hope to create by the end of the second semester will come under criticism and not be enjoyed  or appreciated by certain people. Another point of further development will be researching further into how to create meaningful mechanics in a 3D game that can depict the progression Alzheimer's. The biggest problem for project Forget-Me-Not is trying to design and create this experience in a student project with very limited time and only one person (myself).

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.

Dissertation & Honours Book List

Some of the books I will be using for researching creating emotion in games are as follows:

  • Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals - Salen and Zimmerman
  • Creating Emotion in Games - David Freeman
  • Emotion and the Structure of Narrative Film: Film as an Emotion Machine - Ed S. Tan
  • In-Game Immersion to Incorporation - Gordon Calleja
  • Game Feel: A Designer's Guide to Virtual Sensation - Steve Swink
  • Game Theory and Experimental Games - Andrew Coleman
  • A Casual Revolution - Jesper Juul

| have not yet fully analysed each book, so some texts may not be as relevant as I originally thought. I will post my analysis of the books as well as relevant quotes for my dissertation or honours projects in later blog posts.