Contextual Review

I’ve reworked the paragraphs I wrote earlier using my research so far to create my contextual review. I took out a lot of the more case-study style wiring – this can go in the concept development document. Despite this it is still WAY too long. More than 2000 words, which is supposed to be the length of the whole document. I’m meeting with Simone on Tuesday to check my content, references and hopefully get some help on cutting it down.

Contextual Review

Aesthetics Led Design for Emotion in Games

Grant Tavinor, a games theorist, proposes that the emotions a player feels can be split into two distinct categories: Higher Cognition Emotions (HCE) and Automatic Appraisal Mechanisms (AAM). At a base level, HCE are an imagined emotional reaction to an event taking place in an imaginary world that the player puts themselves in, whereas AAM are real gut reactions to what the game is doing to the player as a real person.(Tavinor, 2009) Examples of these would be the sadness felt at a beloved characters death, in comparison to the frustration of losing the game and the feeling of failure.

A way to convey these emotions in computer games is through the use of game aesthetics, a part of the Mechanics-Dynamics-Aesthetics (MDA) design methodology. This framework breaks games into three distinct components. Mechanics, being the features and components that the game includes on a programming level, dynamics being the actions that happen within the game at run-time, including desired and emergent gameplay, and aesthetics being the anticipated emotions that the player expresses in response to the game.( Hunike, LeBlanc, Zubeck, 2004) “Fundamental to this framework is the idea that games are more like artefacts than media. By this we mean that the content of a game is its behaviour, not the media that streams out of it towards the player.”(Hunike, LeBlanc, Zubeck, 2004)

Robin Hunike, producer of Journey, suggests that using this backwards creates successful, emotion driven games. “Think of the aesthetics first…think of the feelings you want to bring to players. I believe that if you start with the aesthetics and move backwards towards the mechanics though the dynamics, you can create successful games.” (Gamasutra, 2013) A Light In Chorus(Johnson, Warshaw, 2014), Elliott Johnson and Matthew Warshaw’s highy anticipated indie title (Rock, Paper, Shotgun, 2014), uses this emotion first principal. “One of the feelings I’d like to evoke is that calm you might get from walking around a small town or suburb at night. It’s the familiar made strange by emptiness and quiet. Suddenly what’s mundane is full of mystery and possibility, the smallest light or sound takes on new significance, it clears a way to think about things differently.” (Johnson, E. 2014. pers. comm., 2 October)

When designing with emotion in mind, the formal elements, as applied in traditional art, are a good frame of reference, as traditionally art is heavily associated with emotions. “Video games rely on the same design principals – perspective, form, value etc – which classical artists employed to create the illusion that the television or canvas is a window to an imagined world. These design techniques also serve a second purpose equally applicable to games design, which is their aesthetic value, and application in visual narratives.” (Gamasutra, 2013) Classic art relied heavily on visual psychology and recognition of subjects to create meaning within their works that everyone could share.(Stirgis, 2000) These practices can be applied to computer games as an emerging artistic medium.

Applications of Shape and Colour to Game FX

To successfully bring across their themes, fx artists can use the formal elements to great effect. One of these is shape association, which plays a huge part in our understanding and perception of visual arts. “because reality is so visually complex, professional artists conceptually reduce objects to simple lines, shapes and volumes, to simply the task of rendering reality.” (Gamastura, 2013)

Curvilinear designs are associated with safety and warmth, squares and straight lines with stablility and honesty, and angular lines with action and conflict. (Dondis, 1973) This “shape spectrum of emotion”(Gamasutra, 2013) can be used to evaluate and understand artwork as it is a “timeless feature of art”(Gamasutra, 2013), this can then help us “find relationships between seemingly disparate artworks and better understand the aesthetics of video games.”(Gamasutra, 2013)

Colour schemes are also used in art to communicate feeling. “Renewed interest and research into this area during the latter half of the twentieth century have proved that colour has profound effects on the emotions, behaviour, and body”(Withrow, 2011) Game FX artists use this to communicate themes and emotions within their work. “So when we sit down and design a class, we do talk at a really high level about what kind of themes we want to evoke with that class. And inevitably, there are certain colour schemes that come out of that. And so we do end up with a little bit of a mental chart of colours that we would rather not have associated with a certain class.” (Blizzard Entertainment, 2012) When designing the holy monk character, the team chose whites, silvers, golds and blues; liturgical colours associated with the Byzantine Rite in Catholic traditions(Woodfin, 2012) and the colours of the Buddha and the Buddhist flag.(Chaudhary, Vyas ,2013)

This concept can be applied throughout an interactive experience, with the changes to the colour scheme being used to donate changes in mood, theme or pace. Baiyon talks about this whist discussing “Pixel Junk: Eden”(Q-Games,2009) . “We decided on an approach that required the growth of plants be determined dynamically by the actions of the player, while suggesting an emotional quality through the use of the shifting color scheme.”(Silconera, 2008) This is also used in “Diablo III”(Blizzard Entertainment,2013), with the changing rhythm of the environment and colour used to show the player that they are progressing though the story. (Lichner, 2012)

When these formal elements are arranged in a purposeful way, they come together to create symbolism and meaning.(Gamasutra, 2013) In the past, painters encouraged their audience to actively find meaning when interacting with their pieces. (Janson, 1997) As interaction is an inherent part of games, symbolism is well suited to this medium. No need for an objective update, or a character telling me what to do next – the messaging and motivation is implicit in the level design architecture”(Harper,2012)

Despite some studio’s effective use of the formal elements, fx animation can often be constrained to highly realistic simulations. Joseph Gilland, an effects animator on well renowned Disney films such as “Mulan” and “Hercules”, describes the visual effects seen in today’s 3D animated features and games as “cold, lifeless and predictable.”(Gilland, 2009) He suggests that modern artists disregard the classical roots of their craft, relying on software and simulation. “Do not let the computer do your animating for you! If you do, the results will be mediocre, lifeless and uninspired!”(Gilland, 2009) This leaves little room for stylisation or artistic expression, being “limited in its ability to incorporate stylization and other special animation considerations beyond realism or surrealism” (Thornton, 2006) This can be true of the AAA games industry, with technical FX artists being “fatigued of making muzzle flashes.”(Gamespot, 2014)

While the FX in certain game genres or types of studios may be similar, award winning studio The Chinese Room takes an artistic approach, looking to real life rather than emulating popular AAA games. Their FX artist James Watt exemplifies the ideal of emotion driven effects. “pollen and butterflies and other bits and pieces… I’ve been feeling my way through them to a certain extent”(Gamespot, 2014)

Can Games be Meditational?.

Symbols and tropes from meditational imagery and history are used within abstract art to provoke an introspective attitude in the viewer. William Moritz believed that mandalas, a common visual aid in meditation, are “meant to be looked at with a centered gaze, where you are actually looking at the center of the screen…They are designed for concentration, which is different from a lot of ordinary cinema, where the eye is meant to wander around and pick our details and have its own discourse with the film.”(Furniss, citing Moritz, 2007) This method of concentration fixing is utilised in modern computer games to aid visual clarity, with the lighting for “Diablo III”(Blizzard Entertainment, 2013) being designed around it. A bright light is placed in the centre of the screen, to help the player orient their character in an isometric landscape full of enemy figures. (Lichtner, 2012)

The aesthetic of the piece should reflect this abstract, idea focused meaning. “works of this sort tend to be developed around an aesthetic of thematic stasis or cycles.” (Furniss, 2007) When a piece like this is designed, meaning should be kept at the forefront of all practice, and each element should be created purposefully. This thematic stasis may come in the form of a poetic structure, in place of a narrative. “In one sense the game can be said not to have a story. The central idea of the game is that there is a formidable challenge for the player to surmount. It is reflected by the way the colours of the background and the tone of the music changes as you progress. In this sense, the act of planning the story was not far from, say, determining the order of songs in a DJ performance or music album.”(Siliconera, 2008) Colour and audio can be used to determine progression in place of a real narrative, with this loose structure creating a meditative feeling. “An Optical Poem is an instrument for meditation – microscopic, universal, personal.”(Moritz, 2004)

Visual strategies can be used to encourage a viewer to fix their vision on certain images. As images get smaller they “pull the spectator’s vision in with them”, much like in Robin Arnott’s “Soundself”(Robin Arnott, 2013), a meditation game where the player ventures into the centre of the mandala-like shapes. “This design technique is used at other points in the film, along with a widening of a black circle within a circles, which also tends to pull in the viewer’s focus” (Furniss, 2007) Light and colour can also entrance a viewer, with images that “transform fluidly from dark to light, or strobe effects send out a shock pulse of white light”. Brightness increases the ability to absorb sensory information (Furniss, 2007) and creates a natural attraction to the eye, as used in Johnson and Warsaw’s “A Light In Chorus”(Johnson, Warsaw,2014). ”There’s something enticing and hypnotic about bright coloured glowing lights. It’s not something I’m qualified to explain but if I had to guess I’d say that it’s something to do with perceived warmth and how the eye is drawn to areas of high contrast (we’ve certainly got plenty of those) It’s almost sickening how attractive it can be” (Johnson, E. 2014. pers. comm., 2 October)

There is debate over the effectiveness of games as a meditational device, particularly those that offer strong visual stimuli. “Yet as interesting as some of these games may be, trying to force introspection through an environment is not too different from sitting on a different pillow when giving traditional meditation a shot. They don’t succeed well in creating meditative states because their meditative style, focused introspection, is foiled by what they actually are: active stimuli. Even if not much is happening in-game, the player can still navigate and explore, and the curiosity to see what’s next thwarts any sense of true reflection. Since the benefits of true meditation come by closing every source of stimuli, using this approach doesn’t usually meet with success.” (Gamasutra, 2013) This idea comes from the nature of meditation – in which the practitioner is trying to shut out the external stimulus that bombards them in everyday life. (Roland, 2000)

However, Guardian writer Keith Stuart disagrees when talking about meditational games, stating that the very use of the location is what contributes their success. “And partly Proteus is about its location. Throughout the history of literature the island has been used as a liminal zone between reality and the imagination; a place of mystery and isolation, where the rules of society no longer apply, and where stranded travellers can truly discover themselves. Proteus toys with these familiar elements.” (Stuart 2013) The use of the “liminal zone” can be compared to guided meditation, in which the meditator is transported to a relaxing place though their imagination, that allows them to look deeply into their mind. (Hanh, 2009) The value of a meditational game may depend on the player’s preference or meditation style. (Gamasutra, 2013)

Despite this debate, these experiences are clearly valuable to players. “Like a snowy mountain ridge or a tranquil river valley, Flower invites introspection and inner calm, and that kind of interactive experience is almost as rare now as it was when I first surfed these winds.”(Gamespot, 2013)

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