Future Cinema

Course Site for Future Cinema 1 and Future Cinema 2: Applied Theory at York University, Canada

Summary of How Games Move Us: Emotion by Design

Hi everyone! Here are some notes for the Isbister reading and the questions for tomorrow.

Last week we talked about world building, and explored the use of spectacle, illusions and storytelling to bring a physical space to life. Scott Luka’s explored many physical spaces, from casinos to theme parks, and talked about how to design these spaces to be immersive and meaningful to visitors. This week, we explored design in terms of game mechanics and the emotional impact they can have. Katherine Isbister is a human computer interaction and games researcher, with a focus on emotion and social connection. She argues that games should be taken more seriously, with an understanding that not all games are the same.

In this book, she aims to prove that games have the ability to influence player’s emotions more than any other medium. Katherine Isbister outlines different techniques that game designers use to engage players, using a variety of games to highlight the diversity of games and the emotions that they can draw out of players. She begins by laying out two unique features of games: choice and flow. With each chapter she explores a particular aspect of game design and how each one specifically impacts the players socially and emotionally. Each chapter builds off the ones before it, adding more ways to look at each game mechanic and element and introducing new ones. Here is a brief overview of the chapters and how they tie together:

1 A Series of Interesting Choices: The Building Blocks of Emotional Design
This chapter focuses on single player games. It looks at how avatars and NPCs are used to encourage players to put themselves in a game and to become invested in that world and its characters
“Because players make their own choices and experience their consequences, game designers have unique powers to evoke emotions—such as guilt and pride—that typically cannot be accessed with other media.” (69)

2 Social Play: Designing for Multiplayer Emotions

Expanding on the previous chapter, particularly in terms of choice and avatar, Chapter 2 looks at multiplayer games and how they create a social setting for players to build unique identities and form real relationships.

“In multiplayer gaming, the meaningful actions that make up each individual’s gameplay experience combine to create real social experiences between players, despite the “virtual” nature of the world they find themselves in.”

3 Bodies at Play: Using Movement Design to Create Emotion and Connection

Chapter 3 focuses on the body and physical movement in gameplay. It looks at movement based controllers and attachments that simulate real sensations like pain, and how they connect player’s bodies to the virtual world of the game. It also looks at screen-less games that rely on promixity to other players in cooperative or competitive gameplay, or a mixture of both.

“When you swing and parry and duck and cover for real, you feel it more both in your body and your mind. You’re using your body to amp up the play experience.” (119)

4 Bridging Distance to Create Intimacy and Connection

This chapter expands on the other chapters by looking at identity building and social interactions in networked games. It talks about how communities are built through these games and how they have a similar emotional effect on players as communities in the real world.

“Like the anthropologist returning home from a foreign culture, the voyager in virtuality can return to a real world better equipped to understand its artifices.” (189)

Whether games use the ways we navigate identities to let players build characters and bond with NPC’s or other players, or uses their physical reactions to get players invested in the game world, Katherine Isbister sees games as things that draw from the real world to create an emotional connection in players. Many of the techniques she mentions can be applied to the design of future cinema, particularly interactive and immersive forms. Her exploration of the social and emotional aspects of world building can be taken from games to give new types of cinema a layer of immersion.

Question 1
When discussing a game set in the Waco siege she says, “Inhabiting the persona of the cult figurehead at the heart of the episode is a unique way to experience the “extreme psycho-social phenomenon” of the historical event…Waco exposes the potential of games to reopen problematic cultural episodes or issues for visceral reexploration, toward deeper understanding and continuing conversation. ” (42-43) These representations of horrific events (the Rwandan genocide in Hush, the Holocaust in Train) are very different from film, because it gives the “viewer” a role in the story beyond observer, and makes them actively participate.In this type of representation how do you ensure that the real experiences of these events aren’t being trivialized?

Question 2
Earlier in the term we discussed the unique feeling of watching movies in theatres with strangers, and how powerful some people find that collective experience of cinema. Can the social aspects of MMOs as described in Chapter 4 be used to improve the collective experience of types of Future Cinema?

Question 3
A lot of the things Isbister describes have traditionally been seen as purely a part of games, although some things like decision making and interactivity have become a more accepted part of experimental cinemas. Are there any aspects of game design that you feel would not suit the medium of cinema or would make it more game than cinema?

Not strictly relevant to the presentation but interesting links if you’re into game design:

Ethics of fiction (relevant to ARG’s +our discussion of worldbuilding last week)

NPCs with Agency (brings up the idea of making games more than “entitlement simulators”)

Tue, October 3 2017 » Future Cinema