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.
- 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
- Examine how emotion and aesthetics driven game experiences influence their players.
- Create effects animation for games that uses the formal elements of art to affect a player emotionally.
- Create a relaxation driven experience in the form of interactive media where the player feels present within the game world.
- 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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