Games, Cognition, and Emotion

University of Hamburg, 5-6 July 2013

Panel III.2: Games and Emotion II

Susanne Eichner, University of Film and TV Konrad Wolf Potsdam

Children’s Characters in Video Games. Emotional Alignment and Emotional Triggers

Films are considered as the favorite site of emotions (cf. Münsterberg), films make you cry and laugh, they make you fear for the protagonists and hope for a happy ending. Also television formats such as the soap opera or the telenovela can be considered as emotion machines, offering their spectators a save area to experience otherwise menacing conditions and emotions. Films as television have developed conventionalized formal-aesthetic and narrative methods that evoke and trigger emotions from its audience. Close-ups on facial expressions are typically used to display the emotion of a character thus helping the audience to experience emotional closeness (cf. Eder) with them. One often employed emotional trigger is the use of children’s characters to ‘catch’ the audience. The loss of a child, or the direct threat of loss in form of kidnapping or a natural catastrophe (e.g. Airforce One, Flightplan) is a common dramaturgical pinch to keep the audience at it.

Video games on the other hand are considered to facilitate first-person emotions (in contrast to witness emotions), thus relating to the interaction of the player and her agency to perform well (or bad). While first-person emotions might dominate during gameplay, the narrative embedment and the quest structure of a game allows forms of witness emotions. For instance, the use of children’s characters in the horror genre (e.g. the grey children in Silent Hill) can be considered as a conventionalized strategy to cause alienating or shocking effects. Bioshock, on the other hand, serves as an example how children-like characters (the Little Sisters) function in a more sophisticated way to evoke not only first-person emotions but also witness emotions.

My aim is to elaborate on the dramaturgical functions of children’s characters in video games by drawing on the examples of Heavy Rain (Quantic Dream, 2010) and The Walking Dead (Telltale Games, 2012). While the two examples demonstrated the variety of possibilities of emotional character alignment in video games, they concurrently point to the fact that the medium matures with its audience: While the alienating shock effect of children-like characters in Silent Hill induce tension and fear across all audiences, the parental sentiments in Heavy Rain address specifically a more mature audience.

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Eichner_Susanne_HFFSusanne Eichner is a Research Associate at the Department of Media Studies at the University of Film and Television ‘Konrad Wolf’, Potsdam. In her Ph.D. project she conceptualizes agency as a mode of reception across different media. Her research focus is on reception aesthetics, popular serial culture, video games, and the integration of an industrial and institutional focus. She is editor of the anthology Transnationale Serienkultur. Theorie, Ästhetik, Narration und Rezeption neuer Fernsehserien (Wiesbaden 2013; together with Lothar Mikos and Rainer Winter) and co-author of Die »Herr der Ringe«-Trilogie. Attraktion und Faszination eines populärkulturellen Phänomens (UVK Verlags GmbH 2007).

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