Games, Cognition, and Emotion

University of Hamburg, 5-6 July 2013

Panel III.1: Games and Emotion II

Felix Schröter, University of Hamburg

My Avatar and Me. Toward a Cognitive Theory of Game Characters.

Research on fictional characters has been of high importance for cognitive film studies since its dawn in the 1980s. Cognitive theory has been successfully applied to the modeling of character reception in literature and film (Eder 2008), for explaining emotional responses to film characters (Plantinga/Smith 1999), and for the analysis of narrative structures and character constellations (e.g. Grodal 1997). In contrast, video game characters have been largely neglected by cognitive theorists. In this paper I argue that cognitive theory can (1) help us understand how we experience video game characters and respond to them on a wide range of cognitive, affective and bodily levels, and (2) provide a theoretical framework for developing a conceptual model for the analysis of video game characters.

In order to develop a heuristic model of game character reception I draw on existing research on characters in other media as well as studies that apply cognitive psychology to video games in general (Grodal 2003, Frome, 2006, Arsenault/Perron 2008). It is argued that game characters can be experienced in at least three different ‘modes’: as fictional beings with certain ‘diegetic’ properties, as game pieces with certain ludic properties, and as representations of other players (referring to their function as avatars in the social space of a multiplayer game). In addition, different levels of information processing can be distinguished for each mode, ranging from the primary perception of images and sound to higher cognitions like the construction of mental models or aesthetic reflections on the character’s presentation.

The proposed model does not only help to better understand different emotional responses to game characters but can also inform the development of a heuristic model of game character analysis. The last part of the paper discusses how such an analytical model could look like and how it can be applied to specific research questions.

– Arsenault, Dominic / Perron, Bernard (2008). “In the Frame of the Magic Circle. The Circle(s) of Gameplay”. In: Perron, Bernard / Wolf, Mark J.P. (eds.). The Video Game Theory Reader 2, pp. 109–132.
– Eder, Jens (2010). “Understanding Characters”. In: Projections 4(1): 16–40.
– Frome, Jonathan (2006). Why Films Make Us Cry but Videogames Don’t: Emotions in Traditional and Interactive Media. PhD Thesis, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
– Grodal, Torben (1997). Moving Pictures. A New Theory of Film Genres, Feelings, and Cognition. Oxford.
– Grodal, Torben (2003). “Stories for Eye, Ear, and Muscles. Video Games, Media, and Embodied Experience”. In: Wolf, Mark J.P. / Perron, Bernard (eds.). The Video Game Theory Reader. New York, pp. 129–155.
– Plantinga, Carl / Smith, Greg (Eds., 1999). Passionate Views. Film, Cognition, and Emotion. Baltimore.

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Felix Schröter is a Research Associate at the Media and Communication Institute of the University of Hamburg. He holds a Master’s degree in media studies and is member of the Graduate School Media and Communication within the Research Center for Media and Communication at the University of Hamburg. From October 2010 until July 2011 he worked as a Junior Researcher on projects at the Hans Bredow Institute (Hamburg), especially on a project on the reception of moving images in converging media environments. His research interests include transmedial character theory, game studies, cognitive film studies and theories of media reception. His Ph.D. project is concerned with the reception and analysis of video game characters.

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