Effecting Player Emotion in Games Design
Q. What is Psychology, and why is a
better understanding of the ‘psychology of the user’ important to Design?
This essay focuses on the fundamentals
of psychology when it comes to emotion within design, starting off with the
uncanny valley and discussing some of the ways to avoid it or use it for
animation, and then the essay goes onto discuss the basics of look and feel, as
well as design such as colour, and then finishes with how audio can be used to affect
a person’s emotional state while playing a game.
Definition of Psychology
Psychology as it is defined by the Oxford dictionary is “The
scientific study of the human mind and its functions, especially those
affecting behavior in a given context” there are many different psychology
fields and practices that are used to study different areas of the mind, such
as user Psychology which focuses on the behavior and mental processes of a
user, HCI (human-computer interaction) is the area of study in psychology which
focuses on how people use computer and how best to make that interaction user
friendly and why that is, and UX (user experience) which’s focus is on the
end-user’s interaction with a company and its products.
The importance of Psychology
understanding of how to use psychology in design is a very important thing to
have, because it can help a designer have a better understanding of the target
audience or consumer, and help them create a product or service which is better
suited and more user friendly for that target audience than if they did not
have an understanding of psychology. An understanding of psychology is
important to design because it can better help you understand why a user might
do certain things while playing through a game, and will help let you lead a user
through a game without having to directly tell them what to do. It can also
help you shape the feelings and thoughts of the player during their time
playing in a game, by giving you the knowledge of what can trigger certain
emotional and psychological effects on a user.
The Uncanny Valley
A games designer
having a psychological understanding of a player’s emotional state
and why they might feel an emotional state to certain stimuli, for example
could be very useful during the creation of games, they could learn about the
uncanny valley effect and why it may occur when designing and animating a
character or scene within a video game.
According to the
Oxford Dictionary the definition of the Uncanny Valley is “Used in reference to
the phenomenon whereby a computer-generated figure or humanoid robot bearing a
near-identical resemblance to a human being arouses a sense of unease or
revulsion in the person viewing it.”
According to the
article “Emotion, autonomy and psychopaths: a cyberpsychologist’s take
on video games” by Cara Ellison, DR Angela Tinwell’s research suggests
that the Uncanny Valley effect is created when “human beings feel
alienated from people who do not emote in the top half of their face,” her research also
suggest that this effect might be occurring because people who display
psychopathic behavior tend to be expressionless in the top half of their face
which can trigger warning signs in others.
This research is
important because it could let a designer learn about how off facial
expressions or details as well as sound could be used to make a player feel
fear towards a character, this could be used to enhancing the gameplay experience
during a horror game. The obvious other advantage about knowing why this
phenomenon happens is that learning about it, and also the most common reasons
why this can occur can also help the designer prevent it from occurring as much
as possible, meaning that they can create a more relatable character for the
player to get attached to while they play that designers game.
Besides the uncanny
valley effect there are many other different subjects of psychology that are
important for a designer to keep in mind when it comes to designing and
animating characters for video games.
Look and Feel
Within a game the
look and feel of playing the game is a very important aspect when it comes to
design a menu or combat system, a system that just functions would not be fun
to use in a game and would become a chore for the player to use. Don Norman at
TED2003 has said “I really have the feeling pleasant things work better” he also brings up an
example of an experiment that he said that Alice Isen had performed were people
were asked to tie two pieces of string together, the experiment that Don Norman
talks about could not be found there is a chance he might be misremembering the
experiment, but ther is a similar one to the one he is talking about which was
were the experiment was intended to show the relationship between positive
affect and creative problem solving.
Five groups were
tasked with solving a problem as quoted from the study.
task” used by Karl Duncker (1945) in his demonstrations of
“functional fixedness.” In this task, the subject is presented with
the common objects of a box of tacks, a candle, and a book of matches, and is
asked to attach the candle to the wall (a cork board) in such a way that it
will burn without dripping wax on the table or floor beneath. The problem can
be solved if the box is used as a candle holder. The box can be emptied, tacked
to the wall, and used as a platform for the candle, which can then be lit and
will not drip wax on the table or floor”
were given different conditions, group one was shown a comedy film, and group
two another film that was intended as a control group, three was given a box filled with tacks, a candle, and a book of matches,
group four had the same display but the tacks were displayed as a pile next to
the empty box, group 5 had the standard display but were first shown another
task that required an innovative solution the pencil task and were shown the
the report says that
“Performance on the
candle task was improved by the facilitative display condition, the pencil task
condition, and the positive affect condition. All of these conditions produced
significantly more solutions than did the control conditions, which did not
differ from each other.”
This report provides
evidence that positive affect can influence cognitive organization, this report
is important when it comes to design because it provides evidence that how
something looks or is laid out is an important thing to keep in mind when
designing, if it is poorly laid out then the consumer could potentially
struggle to use your product, if the consumer is happy and what they are given
is easy to understand they have a better chance to use your product.
such as colour, basic things within design have a psychological effect on a
person, while simple can provide a person with a strong foundation for design
if they understand the psychological effect that these can have on a player.
Colour theory while
it is a very rudimentary thing to learn can also be a very important area to
learn about for when you are designing characters or an environment for a
videogame or basically any visual medium, having a better understanding of a
person’s psychological and emotional responses and connections to the
use of colour and colour combinations with in a design can help a designer
create both a visually more appealing character design, as well as help the
designer create a design that gives the player more of an idea about what the
character or environment is meant to be like within the game.
As brought up by
Susan Weinschenk in the book 100 things every designer needs to know about
people, it is important to keep in mind that colours can have different
meanings and associations to different countries and groups, but there are also
colours that are considered to be fairly universal such as the colour gold
tending to mean success, one of the examples given within the book is how in
the U.S white means purity and is used for weddings but for some other cultures
the colour white can mean death and is used for funerals.
An example of good
use of colour within character design would be Ganon from the most recent Zelda
game Breath of the Wild, because he is the villain of the game they use a lot
darker colour’s within his design as well as reds and oranges, which are
typically associated with aggression and heat which provides a perfect contrast
with most of the rest of the game which has a more natural setting that tends
to use greens and blues which is part of a more cool colour palette than ganon’s warmer one.
Besides the visual
cues that are used within a video game another important area to keep in mind
when trying to influence and also enhance a player’s emotional state
while they are playing a video game is the sound design that is used, such as
when more intense fast paced music within an action-packed part of a game used
to pump up a player’s adrenaline, or a more melodramatic or somber song used to
make a player feel sad during certain cutscenes within a game.
Inger Ekman in the
paper “Psychologically Motivated Techniques for Emotional Sound in
Computer Games” brings up an important point that a “silent
two-dimensional representation has limited apparent reality on its own, but
adding sound helps perceiving the pictures on screen as physical bodies” removing sound from
a scene or a piece of gameplay can have a drastic effect on a person’s emotional state,
an example of this even though not from a videogame can be seen in television
shows that use laugh tracks such as the big bang theory, the laugh track is
used to make the scene seem funny by making it seem like other people are
laughing at it so you should join in as well but without the laugh track and
just silence there instead it makes the scene seem awkward and cringe
instead.(link to video showing example below).
Inger Ekman in the
paper “Psychologically Motivated Techniques for Emotional Sound in
Computer Games” brings up a very important point about the use of sound in
video games, by writing about how sound use in films and games differ a key
point that is brought up in the paper about how games differ from films is that
“Games ask players to
become active and play. Hence, sounds must support action, respond to player
control and often survive high repetitiveness” games that overuse
certain songs or sound effects can often become grating and annoying for a
player to listen to.
An example of
effective sound design used within videogames can be seen within a classic
scene from the well-known videogame final fantasy 7. The developers of this
game Square Soft (now Square Enix) even though cutscenes were still at the time
of the games release in 1997 relatively a new thing, they were able to
effectively use music to enhance the emotion in the scene, and make the players
feel sad by having the scene quite until after aerith is stabbed and her bead
falls to the ground, then the music begins with a sad sounding piano song
intended to make the player go from a feeling of shock to sadness.
Ekman, I. (2008) “Psychologically
Motivated Techniques for Emotional Sound in Computer Games”, Proc. AudioMostly
2008, October, Piteå, Sweden, 20-26.
Ellison, C. (2013). Emotion, autonomy
and psychopaths: a cyberpsychologist’s take on video games. online The Guardian.
Accessed 8 Dec. 2017.
Alice M. Isen (1984) ,”The
Influence of Positive Affect on Decision Making and Cognitive
Organization”, in NA – Advances in Consumer Research Volume 11, eds.
Thomas C. Kinnear, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages:
Don Norman. (2003). 3 ways good design
make you happy. Online Video. April 2003. Available from:
Accessed: 1 December 2017.
Weinschenk, S., 2011. 100 things
designers need to know. 1st ed. New Riders.