Leading with the Face

In my previous post about the embodied playtest (where we tested the first designs with actors), I comment on how I want to vary the emotional end-point of experience. What I found during the playtest is that the testers could feel a bit bad about themselves, or at least be shocked at the end of the their session. I want to ensure there is at least one positive end-point to a session. So last night I flicked open Katherine Isbister’s book “Better Game Characters by Design: A Psychological Approach,” and funnily enough I opened the book at a section on emotional feedback.

The section is about how the design of faces can influence the player’s emotional experience. Specifically, the section talks about mirroring and how people involuntarily mirror other people’s facial expressions, which then influences their own emotional state. What this means is that the design of a face in your game can then directly influence the emotional state of the player. Indeed, what stood out for me was Isbister’s comment:

Good character designers direct player emotions by using player-characters to underscore desirable feelings (such as triumph or suspense) and to minimize undesirable ones (such as fear or frustration). [page 151]

Isbister refers to the design of Link from The Legend of Zelda: The Windwaker to illustrate the point. As you can see with this moment in The Windwaker, the designers guide the player’s emotions through Link’s (the player-character) emotions. He is about to shot out of a cannon, but his emotions shift from fear to determination (see at 1:53). What happened during the embodied playtest with the actors, is that a robot session or “scene” I had designed to be one that facilitates player-empathy was more disturbing than intended. A large part of that was the delivery by the actor. She did a great job of feeling and communicating with her face the trauma the robot is feeling. This, coupled with the text I had written, sent the scene into a much more negatively-intense experience than I had planned. This is why work in directing as well as writing, so I can be a part of all the elements that shape the experience. So while I can temper the experience with my writing, I will also work with Simon (concept artist) and Paul (modeler and animator) to temper the experience via facial expression. This means it isn’t a case of the facial emotions duplicating the emotion of the dialogue (interface text), but of adding more complexity to it. And importantly, as Isbister notes, accenting the moments I want the installation visitor to be lead to. The lead emotions rather than all of them.

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