Dissertation Redrafting

I’ve finished a first draft of my dissertation! Still got a long way to go though. Lynn’s been sending me feedback as I go, so I need to go back though this. So far, I’ve done my contextual review and my introduction. As well as redrafting, I’ve been adding images and making sure everything is formatted correctly – I normally do this at the end of essays, but the idea of going though 9000 words and doing that at the end sounds horrendous! Here’s the second draft so far.

  1. Project Background

 

Computer games are capable of provoking strong emotions; Richard Lemarchant, lead 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 is 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 the experience interactive media can offer is not the same as film (Wolf, Perron eds., 2003). This is exemplified in Chen’s “Flower” (thatgamecompany, 2009).

“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).

Games have the possibility to create unique, personal and emotional experiences that push emotional and experiential boundaries in art.

 

An example of a little explored emotion in interactive media is that of introspection, relaxation and meditation. (Abertay University TV Channel, 2014). Successful games such as “Flower” (thatgamecompany, 2009) and “Proteus” (Key, Kanaga, 2013) approach this, however many directly meditational games, such as Robin Arnott’s “Soundself” (Arnott, 2013) and Owen Harris’ “Deep” (Harris, 2015), exist only as trade show installations and are certainly far from the mainstream. Considering that games are known for producing feelings of freedom and escapism (Kremers, 2009), feelings experienced during meditation (McGee, 2008), it is hoped that meditational games can form part of the fabric of conventional gaming, becoming ingrained into the mainstream in the same manner that once-controversial narrative games and “walking simulators” have become (O’Connor, 2014).

It has been proven that flow theory and immersion are key elements in creating catharsis and escapism in games (Chen, 2006). When used together, they help create Player Presence, a theory rooted in studies of virtual reality that states that a player is present in a game world when it becomes their dominant reality (Mestre, 2006). This idea echoes the concept of being present in meditation, where the practitioner is encouraged to concentrate fully on the current moment, allowing them to relax and forget worries tied into the past or future (McGee, 2008). It is hypothesized that by utilising Player Presence, a game can be created that evokes meditational feelings.

 

A number of artistic strategies can be utilised to create presence and immersion within virtual environments. One of these is ambience and atmospherics, elements that build the character of the space and support the artist’s intended mood (Kremers, 2009). This is often created though lighting and effects work, with an effects artist aiming to convey ideas rooted in emotion, but without the representational aspects of character or environment (Blizzard Entertainment, 2012).

Due to this, comparisons can be drawn between effects art and 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).

Non-representative art encourages the viewer to be introspective and create their own meaning, with meditation being a large influence on the work of many abstract artists (Furniss, 2007). These animations create feelings of euphoria and timelessness (Furniss, 2007) and use meditational imagery to enhance the emotional impact of their pieces. This suggests that influence may be drawn from abstract art to create a meditational experience, with interactive media being a suitable medium as

These kinds of work rely heavily on personal interactions” (Furniss ,2007).

A toolset to support the audience in these personal interactions is provided in the shape of the formal elements. When designing for emotion, regardless of the choice of medium, they communicate meaning (Gamasutra, 2013). Techniques such as shape association and colour psychology (Stirgis, 2000) can be used to support the artist’s vision and intended meaning.

“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).

This project aims to create a relaxing, meditational experience that pushes for diversity within the emotional bounds of interactive media. In addition, it seeks to explore effects art as a vehicle for player presence.

 

 

2.1 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 to create player presence and relaxation.

2.2 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 where the player feels present within the game world.
  4.  
  1. Contextual Review 

3.1 Aesthetics, Emotion and Presence

3.1.1 Aesthetics Led Design for Emotion in Games

Game design is a suitable medium to cause emotional impact and speak to the inner self, as the audience actively participates and contributes to the experience (Kemers, 2009). The control over content that a game developer has allows them to predict some of the emotions of the player and enhance, alter, reward and reflect upon these (Kermers, 2009).

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 create emotion 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).

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 through the dynamics, you can create successful games” (Gamasutra, 2013).

 

“A Light in Chorus” (Warsaw, Johnson, 2014), “one of the most unique and visual experiences of the year” (Flint, 2015) 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).

 

By focusing on feeling first, Johnson and Warsaw have created a piece of interactive media that not only provides emotion unique to gaming, but proliferates it though every component of the game. The art style (figure 1), inspired by sonar and intended to capture that night time feeling, directly influences the mechanics, in which light is played with, swapped and created (Stuart, Webber, 2015). This link is what creates “a beautifully constructed and gentle experience with plenty of charm” (Warr, 2014).

Figure 1 – Sonar inspired artwork from “A Light in Chorus” influences the mechanics to create a quiet, night time feeling (Johnson, Warshaw, 2014).

3.3.2 Flow States and Player Presence

When meditating, a practitioner expects to find themselves in a timeless state, where they are aware and present in the current moment (Grossman, 2004). A similar feeling, known as a flow state, is experienced whilst playing games and performing tasks. In his studies on happiness, Csikszentmihalyai defined flow as a state in which

 

“Concentration is so intense that there is no attention left over to think about anything irrelevant, or to worry about problems.” (Csikszentmihalyai, 1990)

He also states that

Self-consciousness disappears and the sense of time becomes distorted.”(Csikszentmihalyai, 1990)

There is a distinct parallel between meditative and flow states, therefore flow theory could be a powerful tool when designing a meditative game experience.

Csikszentmihalyi developed a series of theories to aid the emergence of a flow state, the most relevant of these being the idea of a “Flow Zone”, sometimes referred to as “The Zone” in video game circles. (Chen, 2006) This is the space where the activity that a person is performing is balanced between providing challenge and being appropriate to the participant’s abilities (Figure 2). A challenge that is too punishing provokes anxiety, whereas one that is effortless creates boredom (Kremers, 2009). The flow space is a safe zone, where “psychic entropies like anxiety and boredom would not occur” (Chen, 2006).

Figure 2 – Flow diagram illustrating feelings when challenge and skill intersect. (Csikszentmjhalyi, M, 1997)

As a game designer, flow states can be achieved by creating clear goals with manageable rules, allowing the player to achieve these goals within their capabilities, giving the player feedback when they have completed them, and eliminating all distractions (Chen, 2006).

Along with their resemblance to meditation, flow states are comparable to immersion in video games, where the player loses track of time and forgets external pressures due to being drawn into the game (Chen, 2006). It is clear that digital environments and visualizations can be used to immerse the player in a virtual space, creating a flow or meditative state;

“Virtuality is conceptualized as a sub-component of interactivity: for us in digital environments, 3D display technologies are a meditating presence.”(Gingrich, Emets, Renaud, 2014)

Immersion is a perceptive and psychological phenomenon that can be seen as a physical reality or as a subjective condition. To be immersed, there must be a degree of absorption into an environment, with either the exclusion of the real world, or the media reality being the dominant actuality. (Gingrich, Emets, Renaud, 2014)

This is a vague concept, however the factors that contribute to an immersive experience can be analysed. Presence, a form of spacial immersion, has been defined as the sense of being in a mediated environment with the perception of non-mediation (Witmer, Singer, 1998). Presence is a psychological, perceptual and cognitive consequence of immersion, where the player feels they exist within the virtual environment they are immersed in (Mestre, 2006).

Wibel and Wissmath found that “spatial presence can intensify existing media effects such as enjoyment” (Wibel, Wissmath, 2011), cementing presence as a powerful tool for creating enjoyable media. However, it is more than that, being especially useful within interactive media that aims to provoke emotion. A present player will experience natural reactions and emotions while interacting with the game (Kuntz, 2013). Tavinor’s theory of AAM and HCE, as discussed earlier, comes into play here, as these natural emotions are a real version of HCE, where a player is truly moved by something they now feel is real, even though they continue to be aware of its virtual nature.

Along with special presence, a player can be made to feel present when a sense of cognitive presence is developed. This is when the mind, as opposed to the senses, believes it is a part of the virtual environment. To create this, the player must believe that their actions have a credible effect on said virtual environment, which stems from a sense of coherent game rules, with expectations being met (Kuntz, 2013).

Kuntz suggests that presence is easier to generate within a non-realistic styled environment, as the human brain expects real life physics and feedback when it is given something that is visually real (Kuntz, 2013). When the player accepts a stylized, non-realistic environment as their “new real”, only the previously mentioned game rules apply, and when combined with the idea of coherence, create a new reality for the player to be present within (Kuntz, 2013).

It is clear from the idea of presence that interactivity can be described as a perceptive reality. On top of dominating the senses, how real this feels is determined by the engagement and personal involvement of the user (Gingrich, Emets, Renaud, A, 2014).

3.2 Methods for Creating Presence

A number of strategies exist to create presence and immersion within virtual environments. Ambience and atmospherics are one of these. Ambience is a method of creating mood that is linked heavily to an environment and focuses on creating a believable world though elements that build the character of the space (Kremers, 2009). Effects art is commonly used as a device to generate this (Kremers, 2009). An example can be found in David Cage’s “Heavy Rain” (Quantic Dream, 2010). The bleak and desperate mood of the game is conveyed though natural elements of the environment. The low saturation of the dark, overcast sky and the oppressive, heavy dripping of constant rain effects induces a low mood in the player, without including any unnatural elements (Figure 3). This is representative of the mood of the central character, whose earlier, happier life is depicted though bright sunlight (Figure 4). This juxtaposition makes the effects more powerful and meaningful to the player.

Figure 3 – Dark lighting and oppressive rain and cloud effects echo Ethan’s feelings in “Heavy Rain” (Quantic Dream, 2010).

Figure 4 – In contrast to Figure 3, bright, open global illumination-style lighting is used to show the more positive times in Ethan’s life (Quantic Dream, 2010).

A second example of effects as an ambient device can be seen in the environments of “Bioshock” (2K, 2007). These are littered with destruction related effects such as sparks, water dripping, fire and smoke, communicating the idea that the player is exploring a city in complete disrepair (Figure 5). This heightens the sense of danger that the player feels, affecting their emotions by assuring them that not only should they worry about the game’s enemies, the environment could kill them too.

Figure 5 – Leaks and explosions heighten the player’s sense of danger in the environment of “Bioshock” (2K, 2007), making them aware that the city is falling apart around them.

Atmosphere is slightly different from ambiance. Though it also produces presence and emotion in an audience, it often involves unnatural elements in addition to natural ambience (Kremers, 2009). Colour, light and shape are used deliberately to heighten drama or emotion, with the audience being aware of this, but still moved. An example of this technique, commonly used in film, is use of colour in “The Shining”. Reds and blues are used as the predominant colour in different scenes to show either violence or loneliness as the main emotion. Foreshadowing to the film’s violent nature can be seen though the colour use in set design, where red is used to an unnatural level (Figure 6).
Figure 6 – Unrealistic overuse of reds in “The Shining” (Kubrick, 1980) foreshadows the violence of the narrative.

Increasing believability by suggesting that a game level is part of a real world that the player is not the centre of is an effective way to aid presence. Including flora and fauna can add a natural feel that suggests a whole ecosystem at work, whilst also adding vibrancy and interest to the game (Kremers, 2009).This can be seen in “Proteus” (Key, Kanaga, 2013) where the combination of a rich ecosystem and procedural sound effects create a beautiful and immersive virtual playground (Figure 7).

Figure 7 – The inclusion of Fauna in “Proteus” (Key, Kanaga, 2013) adds to the richness of the virtual world.

Another common method used to anchor players into a game experience is through use of temporal grounding. This is when an area appears natural because it possesses older architecture, wear and tear and natural foliage. References to the world’s past or personal histories of characters can also be included to enhance the richness of the world (Kremers, 2009).

It is a concern that specificity within temporal grounding may be distracting within a mediational game, as players may associate negative feelings with certain spaces. Imagery used within guided mediation tends to be open and unstructured, calling upon the practitioner to develop their own image (Leuner, 1969), elevating the risk of these distracting thoughts. As this is not possible within most visual media, Auge’s theory of non-spaces could be used as an alternative.

Auge states that places are defined by history, culture and language (Auge, 2009), so they are temporally grounded. Without these it is a non-place. One of the main differences between places and non-places is that places are organically social, whereas non-places are isolating (Auge, 2009). While existing in a non-place, a person loses their identity, and takes on the new identity that the space assigns them;

“a person entering the space of a non-place is relieved of his usual determinants. He becomes no more than what he does or experiences in the role of passenger, customer or driver. Perhaps he is still weighted down by the previous day’s worries, the next day’s concerns, but he is distanced from them temporarily by the environment of the moment…the passive joys of identity-loss.” (Auge, 2009)

The aim of meditation is to be present in the moment and to forget the worries of everyday life (Grossman, P, 2004) and this certainly seems to be a product of the non-space. Perhaps the design methods that cause people to distance themselves from each other, become anonymised and give into pre-defined narratives in an urban design context, can be used to bring them closer to themselves, explore how they feel within and give them power to warp those narratives in a game context.

”what reigns there is actuality, the urgency of the present moment…the passenger in non-space has the simultaneous experiences of a perceptual present and an experience with the self” (Auge, 2009).

3.3 Use of the Formal Elements to Aid Presence and Meditation

3.3.2 Strategies for Meditation in Film and Game Design

The artistic direction and visual strategies used within games are a powerful tool.

“The visual direction used in a level touches every other aspect of the level’s design. It simply cannot be left till last; it is the designer’s responsibility that the consequences of related choices be well understood and implemented” (Kremers, 2009).

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 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) (Figure 8). The use of interdisciplinary techniques to create focus within games provides a strong link between the work of meditational film makers and game designers.

Figure 8 6- A comparison of the use of attention fixing. Screenshots from “Lapis” (Whitney, 1966) and “Diablo 3” (Blizzard Entertainment, 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 is similar to Hunike’s description of aesthetic led design (see 3.1.1). With mediational artwork and emotionally affecting games sharing this emotion first tactic, it appears to be a strong technique for assuring a reaction from players.

This may come in the form of a poetic structure in place of a narrative, determined by colour and audio, as seen in “Pixeljunk: Eden” (Q Games, 2009).

“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, focused on aesthetic design over story or mechanics, can create “an instrument for meditation – microscopic, universal, and personal.” (Moritz, 2004)

 

3.3.2 Applications of Shape and Colour to Game effects

To communicate their themes, effects artists can use shape association, which plays a huge part in our understanding of visual arts. The roundness and complexity of shapes are fundamental to understanding the emotions they provoke

(Lu, et al, 2012). Curvilinear designs are associated with safety and warmth, squares and straight lines with stability 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).

 

Not only does the type of shape communicate emotion, but the context and juxtaposition of these meaningful shapes. In a Stanford University study, it was found that images with very round or sharp shapes had strong emotional content, as did images containing many angles (Lu, et al, 2012). Balanced images, with a variance of shapes, were more likely to be emotionally neutral, as the perception of shapes is influenced by their context and surrounding shapes.

 

Colour schemes are also used in art to communicate feeling, as studies have proven colour’s effect on emotion, behaviour and body (Withrow, 2011). There is a link between emotions such as happiness, showiness, forcefulness, warmth, elegance and calmness and colour attributes such as hue, lightness and chroma (Ou, et al, 2004).

 

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).

When designing the holy monk character (figure 9) , Blizzard’s art 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 denote 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 shifting colour scheme indicates progression though varying levels of visual interest. The initial stage of the game makes use of a tight, monochromatic colour scheme, with a deep navy blue as the main colour (Figure 10). Later stages of Pixel Junk: Eden heighten visual interest though use of wider colour schemes and strange shapes, providing a visually engaging gameplay landscape (Figure 11). These added levels of visual engagement act as a reward for the player when meeting gameplay goals, tying the mechanics and the artwork of the game together in a strong aesthetic package.

 

 

Figure 10 – The first stage of “Pixel Junk: Eden” (Q-Games, 2009) uses dark, muted colours and a monochromatic scheme.

Figure 11 – In contrast, later stages of the game use wider colour schemes and make use of interesting shapes to provide a visually engaging gameplay landscape (Q-Games, 2009)

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).

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)

Harper discusses this symbolism within level design for games, stating that games do not necessarily need explicit goal messaging when it is implied within the virtual environment. Games are a strong medium for providing symbolism and audience-generated meaning, as the player must engage with the piece.

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Analyzing Interview Data

I picked out quotes from the interview and analysed them based on the questions I’m trying to answer.

5.2 Qualitative Study

Data gained from post play session interviews was split into categories. These were: participants’ feelings, level of interaction and level design, stylistic choices and use of effects and lighting. This allowed the interviews to be analysed in smaller chunks, revealing which parts of the experience produced the desired aesthetic and what needed to be improved upon.

5.2.1 Participants’ Feelings

Whist playing the game, participants appeared to be present in the game world, with many of them reporting feelings of “being in the world”.

“I just love going in and ignoring, this probably sounds bad but just ignoring real life, just throwing myself in and that’s why I love things like this.” (Participant D)

“I was right in the world” (Participant D)

“It kind of makes me feel a lot more closed off from what’s going on around us.” (Participant A)

These quotes describe feelings of presence and show that the game does allow the player to enter it as their dominant reality. Participants reported feelings of relaxation, though did not mention any kind of link between their present state and their relaxed feelings.

“It was pretty relaxing” (Participant C)

“There were no negative feelings” (Participant C)

“I was relaxed to start with but it was more relaxing” (Participant H)

Despite the connection not being made by participants, with 7 out of 9 users reporting feeling more present and more relaxed in the questionnaire, along with talking about “being in the world” and feeling fairly relaxed, it seems fair to conclude that there is a link between feelings of presence and feelings of relaxation and loss of worry. As mentioned throughout this paper, presence in virtual environments can be compared to the present and timeless feeling derived from meditation, and it appears that telepresence can in fact create these feelings itself.

The strongest evidence for this conclusion can be found within Participant D’s interview.

“My answers on that are so vastly different, because I’m always nervous, but when I play things like that I really throw myself into them, so the one before is just nervous, anxious, but when about when I’m playing it is just completely not.” (Participant D)

During the interview, they mentioned constant feelings of nervousness that can be alleviated though game playing, in particular the playing of games that evoke audience participation and feelings of presence. This feeling was described as

“Going in and ignoring real life and throwing myself in.” (Participant D) This is clear evidence for presence in virtual environments as a tool for elevating stress and anxiety, as the removal of the real world mimics the mindful, worry-free state achieved during meditation.

5.2.2 Level of Interaction and Level Design

The level of interaction within the game was generally well received, with the players noting a direct correlation between the project’s aesthetic purpose and the design of the virtual space.

“I feel like I was deep in the world without having to do anything, I was just there…I was a passerby.” – Participant D

“There was no depth to your playing, but you felt in it” – Participant D

“I didn’t feel I could change the world I was in, I was just walking though it” – Participant E

For participant D, the minimal level of interaction juxtaposed against existence in a game world provided a strange feeling of disassociation whist remaining fully present. The way they described this feeling was reminiscent of mindfulness meditation, described by Mark Williams and Danny Penman as observation of thoughts without participation or judgement (2011).

The two separate areas – the hub and the forest – seemed to be distinct to players, and the space between them helped guide the audiences’ interpretation of the work. Regarding the hub area, participant I saw it as

“A space you’d find that nobody goes, kind of like a space where you could think and relax” (Participant I)

The area was designed as both a sanctuary for the player from the possibly less relaxing experience of the main level, and as a metaphor for themselves. As the travelled the forest, gaining more life experience or exploring their own mind, they improved the hub by way of additional plants, just as they would improve themselves by addition of experience or personal growth.

“I felt that space at the beginning, that was you” (Participant I)

This was certainly felt by players, leading them to engage in interpretation of the themes of the work.

“It was different times of day I’m guessing, is that what the theme was?”(Participant F)

“I started looking for more story than there is, started going what is that tree, like what is this rock? Its just a rock but like but maybe there’s a reason too, I always do things like that, and that just gets you into it more, you’re more invested in it because you’re like, what does this all mean?” (Participant D)

“There’s no dialogue or text or anything, you just create, and I love things like that” (Participant D)

The emergence of audience interpretation is very encouraging, as it represents a strong engagement and interest in the work that is similar to the level of interaction found within the abstract works studied previously. This supports the argument that interactive media is a strong medium for audience engagement and exploration of theme, message and self.

Participants appeared to enjoy the exploration aspect of the game and felt that the space gave the illusion that it was fairly large.

“Even in a small space there’s that feeling that it was actually much bigger than it was, it gave a larger than life feeling.” (Participant I)

“Once I figured out there was a pattern to it I went into immersive game mode and just sort of wandered about.” (Participant F)

“You were in an enclosed environment but it felt like there was a lot going on” (Participant A)

“There was a lot to explore in that little area” (Participant A)

This was important, as there was a balance between achievability and allowing the player freedom to be found here. It appears that this balance was achieved, with players being aware of the small area, but not feeling hampered by that and still gaining an urge to explore. As with the hub and level separation, this exploration is integral to the theme of the game, as it is representative of the player’s exploration of self.

5.2.3 Stylistic Choices

The art style was generally well received, however there was a certain lack of expertise that hindered the collection of useful data. Stylistic choices were often described as “cool”, or “pretty”, showing that the art style was appealing, however it is difficult to ascertain which elements were responsible for its favourable reception.

“It feels like a lush and vibrant world” (Participant I)

“Vibrant colours helped” (Participant A)

“It was colourful and mysterious” (Participant C)

The one element that was frequently mentioned was colour choice, with particular reference to vibrancy. Highly saturated greens were utilised throughout the game, as literature based research suggested that green is a visual cue for relaxation and that high saturation, as a non-realistic application for colour, can generate feelings of presence. It appears that this assumption was correct, with participants describing this application of colour as helping relaxation, inducing a feeling of lush nature and creating a mysterious atmosphere. Whilst these interpretations may not match the intended aesthetic, it is clear that participants saw colour choice as a very deliberate artistic act, causing them to, yet again, question the meaning and theme behind the work.

This idea is further reinforced by Participant G, as they discuss the appeal of unique art styles.

“If a game has a really unique art style I’ll go for it” (Participant G)

Audiences appear to view games that possess art styles that diverge from the norm as works to be interpreted and engaged with. This is backed up by contextual research, which describes the effect of non-realistic worlds on player presence. With this in mind, it can be seen that stylistic elements could have been pushed further within the game’s visual style, in order to increase presence and engagement. Participant D’s comment also refutes the main argument against doing this, that utilisation of mainstream art styles promotes commercial appeal, as they state that unique visuals is a draw for them when purchasing a game. No other participant mentioned the art style in terms of commercial viability, so as a case of one opinion versus another, this data is inconclusive.

5.2.4 Use of Effects and Lighting

The issue that arose in regards to level of expertise with style choices was also present when discussing use of effects and lighting. Effects were again described as “pretty”, which does suggest a level of commercial appeal, but is shallow in terms of analysis. Feelings produced by effects art were mentioned to an extent, but were not as in depth as would have been desired.

It seemed to be generally agreed by participants that the effects contributed towards their relaxed moods, though the idea that this could happen was mentioned in the participant information sheet, and it is felt that this could have led to bias. Participant I in particular emphasised the influence of effects on their experience.

“All of the particle effects were nice and added to the thick atmosphere that you could feel. When you were in it you weren’t thinking about other things you have to do…when I was in it I was in that zone, the effects and sounds helped to build that.” (Participant I)

Two other participants mentioned how particular effects changed their feelings. The rain effect, a motif often used in meditational media, that utilised calming blue colours, relaxed players as expected. The exit indicator, a ribbon effect on the tree, was described as happy, possibly indicating that the circular movement and shapes found in this effect had an impact on Participant E’s positivity.

“The rain, that was quite relaxing” (Participant A)

“The tree at the end was all happy” (Participant E)

There was a mixed feeling about the night level and the fire effect in it. Several participants said that the darkness unnerved them, whereas others mentioned that the fire felt homely and safe.

“Bit more nervous because it was dark” (Participant E)

“Nothing bad’s going to happen because I’m at the fire” (Participant E)

“The fire just gave me a bit of uneasiness” (Participant A)

The darkness was intended to represent a calm, still, night, but it appears that this message was not effectively communicated to the game’s audience. It certainly appears that this lighting state was detrimental to the intended aesthetic, with players feeling nervous because of it. The uneasiness experienced by Participant A could have been caused by angular shapes in the fire and the strong red colour in the lighting. However, it could also be argued that this red is what gives the reassurance to Participant E that they are safe.

The ribbon effect was also discussed by participants, with the idea that it can be used to leave the level being clear to them. Participant I felt that this effect reinforced the theme of the game, their interpretation of it being a symbol for progressing beyond the constraints of the garden they had built.

“The ribbon effect, when you saw that you were passing more into something more than day to day, something more special than that, something you’ve built.” (Participant I)

Overall, players enjoyed the effects in the game, even if they were unable to articulate why.

5.2 Qualitative Study

Data gained from post play session interviews was split into categories. These were: participants’ feelings, level of interaction and level design, stylistic choices and use of effects and lighting. This allowed the interviews to be analysed in smaller chunks, revealing which parts of the experience produced the desired aesthetic and what needed to be improved upon.

5.2.1 Participants’ Feelings

Whist playing the game, participants appeared to be present in the game world, with many of them reporting feelings of “being in the world”.

“I just love going in and ignoring, this probably sounds bad but just ignoring real life, just throwing myself in and that’s why I love things like this.” (Participant D)

“I was right in the world” (Participant D)

“It kind of makes me feel a lot more closed off from what’s going on around us.” (Participant A)

These quotes describe feelings of presence and show that the game does allow the player to enter it as their dominant reality. Participants reported feelings of relaxation, though did not mention any kind of link between their present state and their relaxed feelings.

“It was pretty relaxing” (Participant C)

“There were no negative feelings” (Participant C)

“I was relaxed to start with but it was more relaxing” (Participant H)

Despite the connection not being made by participants, with 7 out of 9 users reporting feeling more present and more relaxed in the questionnaire, along with talking about “being in the world” and feeling fairly relaxed, it seems fair to conclude that there is a link between feelings of presence and feelings of relaxation and loss of worry. As mentioned throughout this paper, presence in virtual environments can be compared to the present and timeless feeling derived from meditation, and it appears that telepresence can in fact create these feelings itself.

The strongest evidence for this conclusion can be found within Participant D’s interview.

“My answers on that are so vastly different, because I’m always nervous, but when I play things like that I really throw myself into them, so the one before is just nervous, anxious, but when about when I’m playing it is just completely not.” (Participant D)

During the interview, they mentioned constant feelings of nervousness that can be alleviated though game playing, in particular the playing of games that evoke audience participation and feelings of presence. This feeling was described as

“Going in and ignoring real life and throwing myself in.” (Participant D) This is clear evidence for presence in virtual environments as a tool for elevating stress and anxiety, as the removal of the real world mimics the mindful, worry-free state achieved during meditation.

5.2.2 Level of Interaction and Level Design

The level of interaction within the game was generally well received, with the players noting a direct correlation between the project’s aesthetic purpose and the design of the virtual space.

“I feel like I was deep in the world without having to do anything, I was just there…I was a passerby.” – Participant D

“There was no depth to your playing, but you felt in it” – Participant D

“I didn’t feel I could change the world I was in, I was just walking though it” – Participant E

For participant D, the minimal level of interaction juxtaposed against existence in a game world provided a strange feeling of disassociation whist remaining fully present. The way they described this feeling was reminiscent of mindfulness meditation, described by Mark Williams and Danny Penman as observation of thoughts without participation or judgement (2011).

The two separate areas – the hub and the forest – seemed to be distinct to players, and the space between them helped guide the audiences’ interpretation of the work. Regarding the hub area, participant I saw it as

“A space you’d find that nobody goes, kind of like a space where you could think and relax” (Participant I)

The area was designed as both a sanctuary for the player from the possibly less relaxing experience of the main level, and as a metaphor for themselves. As the travelled the forest, gaining more life experience or exploring their own mind, they improved the hub by way of additional plants, just as they would improve themselves by addition of experience or personal growth.

“I felt that space at the beginning, that was you” (Participant I)

This was certainly felt by players, leading them to engage in interpretation of the themes of the work.

“It was different times of day I’m guessing, is that what the theme was?”(Participant F)

“I started looking for more story than there is, started going what is that tree, like what is this rock? Its just a rock but like but maybe there’s a reason too, I always do things like that, and that just gets you into it more, you’re more invested in it because you’re like, what does this all mean?” (Participant D)

“There’s no dialogue or text or anything, you just create, and I love things like that” (Participant D)

The emergence of audience interpretation is very encouraging, as it represents a strong engagement and interest in the work that is similar to the level of interaction found within the abstract works studied previously. This supports the argument that interactive media is a strong medium for audience engagement and exploration of theme, message and self.

Participants appeared to enjoy the exploration aspect of the game and felt that the space gave the illusion that it was fairly large.

“Even in a small space there’s that feeling that it was actually much bigger than it was, it gave a larger than life feeling.” (Participant I)

“Once I figured out there was a pattern to it I went into immersive game mode and just sort of wandered about.” (Participant F)

“You were in an enclosed environment but it felt like there was a lot going on” (Participant A)

“There was a lot to explore in that little area” (Participant A)

This was important, as there was a balance between achievability and allowing the player freedom to be found here. It appears that this balance was achieved, with players being aware of the small area, but not feeling hampered by that and still gaining an urge to explore. As with the hub and level separation, this exploration is integral to the theme of the game, as it is representative of the player’s exploration of self.

5.2.3 Stylistic Choices

The art style was generally well received, however there was a certain lack of expertise that hindered the collection of useful data. Stylistic choices were often described as “cool”, or “pretty”, showing that the art style was appealing, however it is difficult to ascertain which elements were responsible for its favourable reception.

“It feels like a lush and vibrant world” (Participant I)

“Vibrant colours helped” (Participant A)

“It was colourful and mysterious” (Participant C)

The one element that was frequently mentioned was colour choice, with particular reference to vibrancy. Highly saturated greens were utilised throughout the game, as literature based research suggested that green is a visual cue for relaxation and that high saturation, as a non-realistic application for colour, can generate feelings of presence. It appears that this assumption was correct, with participants describing this application of colour as helping relaxation, inducing a feeling of lush nature and creating a mysterious atmosphere. Whilst these interpretations may not match the intended aesthetic, it is clear that participants saw colour choice as a very deliberate artistic act, causing them to, yet again, question the meaning and theme behind the work.

This idea is further reinforced by Participant G, as they discuss the appeal of unique art styles.

“If a game has a really unique art style I’ll go for it” (Participant G)

Audiences appear to view games that possess art styles that diverge from the norm as works to be interpreted and engaged with. This is backed up by contextual research, which describes the effect of non-realistic worlds on player presence. With this in mind, it can be seen that stylistic elements could have been pushed further within the game’s visual style, in order to increase presence and engagement. Participant D’s comment also refutes the main argument against doing this, that utilisation of mainstream art styles promotes commercial appeal, as they state that unique visuals is a draw for them when purchasing a game. No other participant mentioned the art style in terms of commercial viability, so as a case of one opinion versus another, this data is inconclusive.

5.2.4 Use of Effects and Lighting

The issue that arose in regards to level of expertise with style choices was also present when discussing use of effects and lighting. Effects were again described as “pretty”, which does suggest a level of commercial appeal, but is shallow in terms of analysis. Feelings produced by effects art were mentioned to an extent, but were not as in depth as would have been desired.

It seemed to be generally agreed by participants that the effects contributed towards their relaxed moods, though the idea that this could happen was mentioned in the participant information sheet, and it is felt that this could have led to bias. Participant I in particular emphasised the influence of effects on their experience.

“All of the particle effects were nice and added to the thick atmosphere that you could feel. When you were in it you weren’t thinking about other things you have to do…when I was in it I was in that zone, the effects and sounds helped to build that.” (Participant I)

Two other participants mentioned how particular effects changed their feelings. The rain effect, a motif often used in meditational media, that utilised calming blue colours, relaxed players as expected. The exit indicator, a ribbon effect on the tree, was described as happy, possibly indicating that the circular movement and shapes found in this effect had an impact on Participant E’s positivity.

“The rain, that was quite relaxing” (Participant A)

“The tree at the end was all happy” (Participant E)

There was a mixed feeling about the night level and the fire effect in it. Several participants said that the darkness unnerved them, whereas others mentioned that the fire felt homely and safe.

“Bit more nervous because it was dark” (Participant E)

“Nothing bad’s going to happen because I’m at the fire” (Participant E)

“The fire just gave me a bit of uneasiness” (Participant A)

The darkness was intended to represent a calm, still, night, but it appears that this message was not effectively communicated to the game’s audience. It certainly appears that this lighting state was detrimental to the intended aesthetic, with players feeling nervous because of it. The uneasiness experienced by Participant A could have been caused by angular shapes in the fire and the strong red colour in the lighting. However, it could also be argued that this red is what gives the reassurance to Participant E that they are safe.

The ribbon effect was also discussed by participants, with the idea that it can be used to leave the level being clear to them. Participant I felt that this effect reinforced the theme of the game, their interpretation of it being a symbol for progressing beyond the constraints of the garden they had built.

“The ribbon effect, when you saw that you were passing more into something more than day to day, something more special than that, something you’ve built.” (Participant I)

Overall, players enjoyed the effects in the game, even if they were unable to articulate why.

“It was just really pretty, just really good” (Participant D)

Looking at Test Data

So I have finally gotten round to analyzing the data I collected weeks ago during testing. Shameful I know…my to do list is a bit ridiculous at the moment. Good news however, looks like I’ve proved my research question right! Or at least as far as I can, its a small sample group and none of this stuff is completely conclusive. Disregarding that though, I’m really pleased that I’ve been on the right track, even if its been a largely overscoped and unfocused one at times.

The mean, mode and median of overall positivity, comparable negativity and comparable positivity values from all of the questionnaires was taken in order to give an overview of the data. On average, a participant’s overall positivity rose by 5 points, their comparable positivity rose by 2 points, and their comparable negativity lowered by 4 points. This suggests that while the game does promote positivity, it is better at lowering negativity, and is able to help with stress, worry and nervousness.

This is supported by deeper analysis into how often and how large changes were. The largest change in values was seen by the statement “I feel I have a lot on my mind”, with 3 out of 9 participants changing this value by 4 points. Participants were also generally less stressed after play, with 3 users shifting the value by 1 point and 2 shifting it by 4 points.  However, this can be contested by the fact that the statement “I feel nervous” was the least likely to shift of all the values, with 4 out of 9 participants making no change to this number. It is worth noting here that very few testers’ answers implied that they were nervous in the first place.

Generally, positive values changed less, but were more consistent. 8 out of 9 player reported feeling more relaxed, but 7 of these changes was only by one point. Only 4 participants reported becoming more positive, but most participants ticked agree or strongly agree before play for “I feel positive”, so, like nervousness, this may be more of a reflection on the moods of the participants chosen. Feelings of Presence were consistent, with 7 participants changing their answer to “I feel present in the moment” by 1 point, and 1 changing it by 3 points. It was hoped that there would be a larger shift here, however the consistency of answers proves that the game does in fact make a player feel present.

In addition to looking at the questionaries, I listened back to the interviews and pulled out some quotes I thought could be useful. They’re not as good as I remembered them being, and its a shame that most of what I’ve been told about the art style is that its “cool” or “pretty”. It might be worth doing some testing on artists to get a more informed opinion.

Participant D

“I feel like I was deep in the world without having to do anything, I was just there.”

“I was a passerby.”

Participant F

“Once I figured out there was a pattern to it I went into immersive game mode and just sort of wandered about”

Asked what theme was.

Participant I

“It feels like a lush and vibrant world”

“Even in a small space there’s that feeling that its much bigger than it was, it gave a larger than life feeling.”

“A space you’d find that nobody goes, kind of like a space where you could think and relax”

“I felt like someone had taken away my comfort blanket”

Fire = “Point of safety”

“All of the particle fx were nice and added to the thick atmosphere that you could feel. When you were in it you weren’t thinking about other things you have to do…when I was in it I was in that zone, the effects and sounds helped to build that.”

Looked for meaning within the work.

“The ribbon effect, when you saw that you were passing more into something more than day to day, something more special than that, something you’ve built.”

“I felt that space at the beginning, that was you”

Participant E

“Bit more nervous because it was dark”
“Nothing bad’s going to happen because I’m at the fire”

“It’s a starry night, its fine”

“The sparkly things sitting around you, floating about, that was good”

“Fire was a beacon”

Participant G

“I was relaxed to start with so it was more relaxing I guess”

Curiosity

“It was really pretty”

“If a game has a really unique art style I’ll go for it”

Participant H

“I was expecting more interaction”

“I felt like I was in the now kind of this,  I was interested in the world and the greens of the moss and the rocks was sorta yellow, that was kinda weird, so I was going round behind the rocks and stuff, just exploring stuff”

“The sun rays coming though during the day time stuff, the golden sparkle stuff you’ve got floating around were quite cool.”

“Really bright greens, really yellow greens, that’s pretty cool…Ooh is there something interesting about this rock?”

Description of Test Analysis

Data created through the quantitative study was analysed using a system that defined an overall positivity rating and a set of comparable values representing the number of positive answers versus negative ones. The overall positivity value describes the general shift of a participants answers, where the compatible values show exactly how a user is affected. This study recognizes that becoming happier and becoming less stressed or anxious are not the same thing and therefore they shall be quantified separately.

Overall positivity is defined by the sum of the values assigned to each questionnaire answer. Questions defined as positive statements (for example, “I feel positive”) were assigned a value of five for ” strongly agree”, with these descending towards a one for “strongly disagree”. Negative statements (for example, “I feel stressed”) were assigned a value of one for ” strongly agree ” ascending to a five for “strongly disagree”. An increase in this value between the first and second questionnaire shows a generally improved mood, whereas a decrease shows a generally worsened one.

TestingDiagram

The comparable set of values takes the positive statements and negative statements as two groups and assigns them each a value. Here, ” strongly agree” begets a five and “strongly disagree” a one, regardless of which group the statement belongs to. These values are totalled to create a number out of fifteen the represents how positive or negative the participant is feeling at each stage. These can then be used to determine whether the participant has become less stressed and anxious or happier.

Data created though qualitative study was analysed though particular opinions or statements that were actively looked for and though discussion of the player’s experience. Statements that were actively looked for were comments regarding how the player felt, how relaxed they were, how present they were, what they thought of the level of interaction and how the effects and art style affected their feelings and experience.

Testing Sessions

I had a really positive set of test sessions today! Every participant seemed to enjoy the game, but everyone had something different to offer in their opinions. Looking forward to analyzing this data. I did six tests, all of which took around 10 minutes each. I filmed each participant playing and recorded each interview. They played the mechanics level, which had positive results, but it would be nice to be able to test on the current level soon.

Analyzing Qualitative Data

I had a listen to the recording I made for participant A and looked at the notes I had for pariticpant B. Not really sure how to analyse this data, I had another look at the lecture slides on this but I’m a bit stumped. Here’s my notes for now.

Participant A

Felt like there was a lot happening/to explore

Relaxing

Rain = Relaxing

Fire = Uneasy

Day/Night, subtle but effective, enjoyable

Gate was ambiguous (due to lack of movement?)

Sound contributes to feeling of presence

Not a great deal of feedback for the player

Vibrant colours contributed to feeling

Visual style supported the experience

Tree at the end was enticing – stands out

Found bugs

Thought E to interact, but preferred trigger proximity

Participant B

Weather was a good indicator of progression

Noticed Hub Changes

The interactivity of the gate was not obvious

Weather was enjoyable

Rain was calming

Player moved too fast

Felt very relaxed

You don’t have to think, just observe

More interaction would contribute to a greater sense of immersion

For now, I’m going to look at comments that were made frequently and the order in which participants gave their feedback.

Both of these participants talked about the progression and the fx first. They then moved on to talk about interaction, then art. This suggests that progression and fx are the things that stand out the most to the player, however they may also comment on this first because the participant information sheet does say that fx is important to the project.

Both participants said that the game was relaxing, the rain effect in particular made them feel relaxed and the weather system was enjoyable. They also both said that it was not clear that the gate could be interacted with.