The Dissertation

The Dissertation at the end the of my degree has been a source of joy and stress since my first year, I was thinking then what would I want to write about and how would I even start. With several ideas rolling around my head I thought I would never choose, over the summer I did choose but I soon realised that I may have either a) bitten off more than I can chew or b) have found a topic that I could talk too much about. In the past few weeks it has mutated again and I am almost feeling like I am back at square one, as the one thing I keep being told at Uni is that the Dissertation is supposed to be a piece of writing that proves you can synthesis information from different sources and present them together in a cohesive argument.

However my love of bread crumb trails and research led me into areas where I would almost be writing a new research paper and not a Dissertation. (At least that’s what my tutor hinted at when getting me to scale back my writing!) 🙂

Needless to say I still have a lot of work to do and a few important e-mails to sort out once I figure out what it is exactly I want to say and to ask. (As even though I have been discouraged from finding out anything new to add to my Dissertation that doesn’t mean I can’t and formulate a larger piece of writing afterwards.) 🙂

Anyway I got asked on G+ recently what my Dissertation is about, and even though I have answered this a few times now, as with good game design it is the iteration that leads you to the final goal. As I answered the question in the comment box I realised that it was turning into a large expanded answer, so I thought it better to get written down here. It is not until the past week that I have managed to pin-point exactly what it is I am trying to talk about and express so I have been reluctant to post too much about it before I knew I could talk about it more confidently. So here goes…

My Dissertation topic is centring around emotion in games, an often talked about subject as of late, even more so due to ThatGameCompany‘s success with their games that ‘broaden the emotional spectrum’ of gaming. It is in fact their games that inspired me to look more into this subject, it is not a new interest of mine either, just one that has gained more weight recently for me and the realisation that as much as I like to play games as they are fun, I do also think that they can be as emotional and as engaging as some of the best books, films or pieces of music. That and games can do so in a way that is more engrossing than film/book/music due to the interactivity that games and game like experiences can offer.

Anyway I am reading, researching and writing about the use of game mechanics to convey and evoke emotions, for the purposes of the University hand in I am doing this using Flower and Papo & Yo to compare and contrast each games’ use of their aesthetics, mechanics and over all game like qualities in the expression of the designers intended emotion. Not that one game achieves this and the other doesn’t, in my opinion they both achieve an emotional response in the player and convey that emotional ethos of the designers quite well, just at opposite ends of the spectrum, and it is that which interests me. As it ties back into my belief of games offering that emotional engagement so that games can be used to make us feel many different things as well as also be fun past times, not all films make us feel and think some are just there to entertain, and the same should be said for games.

Papo & Yo

Image From: JTM Games


Image From: That Game Company

Their interactivity is their blessing and curse, as games and play are seen as childish or entertaining past-times is becomes difficult for games to be used in any other way. Which is a shame as I believe that they have a means unique to the medium to allow for emotional expression in a way that no other medium can match due to that interactivity. (To note I do also use the term ’emotions’ in a specific sense and a broad sense meaning that I think artistic expression, characters and story are all an expression of emotion, it is what drives us as people, we respond to things based on how they make us feel and as social creatures emotions are core to our interactions with others.)

The way I view it is that each medium has a unique means to express the creators intended emotion or is there for the creator to use to evoke a particular emotion in the audience of the piece. With animation it can use the ‘squash and stretch’ of the characters, human or not human to convey emotion, the subtle little movements can be exaggerated and there are whole books about animations ability to convey emotion through it’s means of production. The same can be said for film, using the techniques of lighting, music, setting, camera angles to showcase emotions or to draw the audience in and evoke emotions in them. Great artworks again use similar techniques to provoke that emotional response in the viewer, drawing heavily on the psychology of colour and shape to frame that emotional message. Books, lacking the visual flair of the above instead focus on the detail, giving the reader worlds and characters that they can relate to through the use of language and description designed to evoke a desired emotion to keep the reader engaged and invested in the story. Then there is music, a medium that can be used in all of the others (yes artwork and books – think of audio book’s use of subtle music to highlight the story or art installations where sound and vision come together to form something different to film), music is a common denominator, it’s powers over people’s psyche is an interesting subject that I love to read about but would never feel qualified to articulate in much depth. Mainly as I am bias as I love music and believe that it can help improve moods and create connections between people, either through something simple as the music evoking memories or something more complicated to do with sound waves and their effect on the brain.

Games have and borrow all those techniques and then add in the ability for the audience to then move about in that virtual world, to allow the player to immerse their imagination in a world that they not only observe but unlike other media have a measurable effect on. They can chose the camera angle, they can decide the pace of the story, they can create their own play space in the game that the designers didn’t even intend. That feedback loop of games creates for a more intense experience, even more so when a game can achieve that state of flow and the player loses track of time and the world around them to that of the game. (This of course is a double edged sword as with everything it has to be enjoyed in moderation…) As such games are a powerful entertainment tool, creating hours of enjoyment from one product, they can be single player or multiplayer, quick puzzles to solve whole whole worlds to explore. With such flexibility to the output it is no wonder games have become popular and therefore being used as a means of expression not just entertainment.

Of course all of this is only an invitation to the audience, films don’t make people cry or laugh if they don’t want to, each medium extends and invitation to feel, and the audience is then free to use that invitation or ignore it. (Roughly quoted from the Film Structure and Emotion System by Greg M. Smith.)

Which is what brings me back to my topic and using Flower and Papo & Yo to compare and contrast those emotional experiences, they have been created by two different teams in different countries, with two different creative leads and two different core emotional subject matters, but they both try to convey those emotions primarily through their game play. (As with most things this also of course can be subjective, more so with Papo & Yo, but any piece of art or experience or music track’s emotional impact is subjective as emotions themselves are subjective.)

Reading back on this now I am not sure if this does all make cohesive sense to anyone but me, as I have been thinking and reading about this subject for so long now. So to sum it up in a nutshell…

My Dissertation is about the use of emotion in the creation and experience of games, notably can a particular emotion be expressed via a computer game and can that emotional message be conveyed using the aspect that is unique to games, their mechanics. To do this I am using Flower and Papo & Yo due to their contrasting emotional messages to asses how they each aim to achieve those different emotional experiences using all the methodologies available to them. Then against a backdrop of readings into the psychology of emotion and how music and film create emotion to then see if the two games still borrow techniques from other mediums or do manage to achieve emotional engagement through mechanics.

Well not quite sort enough for the title yet, but I’m told that’s the last thing you write anyway. 🙂

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