Proposal Edits

I had a really useful meeting with Simone on Tuesday about editing my proposal. She gave me some useful tips on how to cut down my sentences (at 5,500 words I had a LOT to cut), the type of language I should be using and cleared up some confusion I had about the document in general. She also encouraged me to add more free time in my schedule, as my no day off style timetable risks burning me out by the end of the project. I took out the Sunday work I had scheduled, and realized that it didn’t impact the project as much as I had thought it would – being refreshed means better work anyway!

Project Background

Computer games are capable of provoking strong emotions; Richard Lemachant, designer of the critically acclaimed “Uncharted” series, states that

“games are a very ancient form of culture and they produce many powerful experiences for us. Experiences of emotion, intellect, experiences of self-discovery and discovery of others.”(Abertay University TV Channel, 2014)

Despite this, Jenova Chen, designer of games noted for their use of emotion, states that

“there are actually a whole spectrum of feeling that games are capable of creating, but not a lot of them are on the market. Right now there are a lot of action games, there are a lot of horror games, sports games…but where are the dramas? Where are the documentaries? The romance?” (CoCreate,2012)

Chen uses cinema genres to depict the lack of variation in emotional gaming content but a film cannot create personal experiences that games can create. (Reference) This is exemplified in Chen’s “Flower”.

“Flower” presents an entirely new kind of physical and virtual choreography unfolding in real time, one that invites participants to weave aural, visual and tactile sensations into an emotional arc rather than a narrative one.”(Smithsonian, 2013) This has the possibility to create unique, personal and emotional experiences that push boundaries.

This is exemplified in abstract art, where

“…there are no characters with which to identify, there is no dieresis to transport the viewer to a different time and place”.(Furniss, 2007)

This can be compared to the often overlooked discipline of effects art, the particles and materials that represent spells, explosions and natural elements in games.

“Special effects animation all too often is treated as an afterthought”(Gilland, 2009).

An effects artist aims to convey ideas rooted in emotion, but without the representational aspects of character or environment. (Blizzard Entertainment, 2012) Games may be a suitable medium in which to experience abstract animation, as the interactive element involves the player in the work.

“The kinds of work relies heavily on personal interactions (or the process or viewing)” (Furniss ,2007)

When designing for emotion, the way the formal elements communicate meaning,such as shape association and colour psychology (Stirgis, 2000), are a good frame of reference.

“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.” (Gamasutra, 2013)

Non-representative art encourages the viewer to be introspective, and create their own meaning.

“abstract motion pictures are often about the need to expand our ability to see, experience and comprehend things in day to day life. For that reason, they challenge the viewer to participate in the process of creating meaning.” (Furniss, 2007)

Meditation has been an influence on the work of many abstract animators. These animations create feelings of euphoria and timelessness(Furniss, 2007) and use meditational imagery to enhance the emotional impact of their pieces.

“he or she can become entranced by the light in combination with the rhythmic, hypnotic imagery projected on the screen.”(Furniss, 2007)

This project aims to show that effects art can be just as emotionally affecting as other aspects of visual art. It seeks to create a relaxing, meditational experience that pushes for diversity within the emotional bounds of interactive media.

Project Aim

To create a piece of aesthetics driven interactive media that explores how the formal elements of art can be applied to game effects in order to relax a player.

Project Objectives

1. Examine how emotion and aesthetics driven game experiences influence their players.

2. Create effects animation for games that uses the formal elements of art to affect a player emotionally.

3. Create a relaxation driven experience in the form of interactive media.

Contextual Review

Aesthetics Led Design for Emotion in Games

Games theorist Grant Tavinor proposes that the emotions a game player feels can be split into two distinct categories: Higher Cognition Emotions (HCE) and Automatic Appraisal Mechanisms (AAM). HCE are an emotional reaction to an event taking place in an imaginary world, whereas AAM are reactions to what the game is doing to the player in the real world.(Tavinor, 2009)

A way to convey emotions in computer games is through the Mechanics-Dynamics-Aesthetics (MDA) design methodology. This framework breaks games into three distinct components: mechanics, the features of the game, dynamics, the actions that happen at run-time, including emergent gameplay, and aesthetics, the anticipated emotions that the player expresses in response to this.( Hunike, LeBlanc, Zubeck, 2004)

Robin Hunike 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)

The highly anticipated “A Light in Chorus” (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)

Applications of Shape and Colour to Game effects

To bring across their themes, effects artists can use shape association, which plays a huge part in our understanding of visual arts. 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 artwork, helping the viewer “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 effects 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)

This concept can be applied throughout an interactive experience, with the changes to the colour scheme being used to donate changes in mood.

suggesting an emotional quality through the use of the shifting color scheme.”(Silconera, 2008)

This is 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)

Effects are often constrained to highly realistic simulations. Joseph Gilland, a renowned effects animator, describes the effects seen today as “cold, lifeless and predictable.”(Gilland, 2009) He emphases that without artistic practice there is 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 effects artists being “fatigued of making muzzle flashes.”(Gamespot, 2014)

Can Games be Meditational?.

Visual strategies and meditational imagery can be used to create a relaxing experience. William Moritz believed that mandalas, a common visual aid in meditation, can make a viewer concentrate on the centre of the screen.(Furniss, 2007) This method is utilised in computer games to aid visual clarity, with a bright lights being placed in the centre of the screen in “Diablo III”(Blizzard Entertainment, 2012), to help the player orient their character in a landscape full of enemy figures. (Lichtner, 2012)

Light and colour entrance a viewer and increase their ability to absorb sensory information. (Furniss, 2007)

”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)

When a meditational piece is designed, each element should be created purposefully, with meaning at the forefront.

“works of this sort tend to be developed around an aesthetic of thematic stasis or cycles.” (Furniss, 2007)

This may come in the form of a poetic structure in place of a narrative, determined by colour and audio.

“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.”(Siliconera, 2008)

This loose structure can create a meditative state.

“An Optical Poem is an instrument for meditation – microscopic, universal, p ersonal.”(Moritz, 2004)

There is debate over the effectiveness of games as a meditation device, particularly those that offer strong visual stimuli.

“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.” (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.

“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.” (Stuart 2013)

This can be compared to guided meditation, which transports the mediator to a relaxing place in their imagination, allowing 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)

Project Methodology

This project will be conducted with a qualitative, inductive approach, as a study of individual perception is inherently subjective and experiential. For this reason, a phenomenological epistemology will be used. Phenomenology is the study of human experience, and is suited to a project that focuses on experience and emotion. Elements of grounded theory will also be used. It is a non hypothesis led research practice, where conclusions and further questions are taken from each experiment, and get more precise as the researcher moves on.

As a piece of practice-based research, a prototype will be created and iterated upon, based on explicit user testing and corresponding interviews. An interpretive approach to interviews will be taken, noting the facial expressions, body language and reactions of participants. There is also scope to use think aloud protocol, a method where the subject will articulate their thoughts and feelings while partaking in the testing session. This provides the researcher with a snapshot of the moment, allowing them to understand how the tester’s experience. The questions asked of the participants will be based on the reactions to the previous session, using grounded theory to pick out areas of interest.

Initially, participants who play and have an interest in games will be chosen. Once a solid prototype has been produced, it will be opened up to a wider demographic.

Case studies of the way players interact with and feel about existing works will inform the testing and research. These will be examined though a range of criteria, including how game aesthetics and visuals are designed around emotions or ideas, how the formal elements of art have been used in support of emotion and the technology chosen to present the idea.

Conclusion

This outcome of this project should be valuable to game developers from a professional and cultural standpoint. It should demonstrate that an aesthetics driven process is beneficial when creating emotionally affecting games, improving the work flow of those who wish to undertake an emotion driven game project. Diversifying the emotional output of computer games is culturally beneficial as it can help promote the medium as a legitimate art form. This may also create a more diverse player base, as games can offer a wide range of experiences. The project should also demonstrate that games are an appropriate medium for relaxation, exemplifying this diversity of feeling.

The project should also prove that effects art can be created using the formal elements and that despite the nature of their work, technical artists should not forgo artistic methods. This will allow students and practitioners to create meaning within their work. There is a shortage of qualified technical artists in the games industry(Reference) and promoting the artistic parts of the work may inspire more artists to specialise in this area.

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