Calleja’s Theory of Affective Involvement Part 2: Emotional Affect During Gameplay

‘The rhetorical strategies employed in the design of game environments are geared toward creating specific emotional responses. Nevertheless, the effects they are intended to have are not necessarily those that materialize during play. This discrepancy can be due to a variety of factors, ranging from a player’s lack of interest in the particular game or genre, interruptions from other sources demanding attention, a personal interpretation of represented events that diverges from those intended by designers, or, quite simply, ineffective design. Although designers cannot dictate absolutely the specific effects of their creations, the design choices made will tend to encourage a particular kind of reaction or emotional response from the players.’  Calleja, G (2011). In-Game. London, England: The MIT Press. 139-140.

It could be argued that Calleja presents us with something key to be considered when creating work that relates to gaming. Game design relies on effective design, but also on the engagement of the player, which, as he explains, can vary depending on a number of factors. This poses an important challenge in digital performance design, asking the designer to consider some of the aforementioned variables when creating work. We can pursue an emotional response but cannot dictate this to an immersant, when they are within the designed work. This, therefore means that immersants, or in game theory, players, will have a variety of experiences from the same piece of work. Perhaps, we may consider this as valuable, rather than negative, and use the variety of emotional response as input for further creative work. In gaming, beta testing allows small groups of video gamers to play pre-release versions of games, in order to feedback to the development team regarding positives, negatives, and experience. Perhaps, then, it may be pertinent to consider beta testing some concepts in mixed reality with small numbers, to understand what possible challenges may be faced regarding response, before delivering it as a final piece of work.

‘Graphics are often the first aspect of a digital game to capture the player’s attention, both when shopping for a new game and upon first playing it. It is no coincidence that major game-reviewing sites, along with the game publishers themselves, include links to screenshots and videos of gameplay.’ Calleja, G (2011). In-Game. London, England: The MIT Press. 140.

We can derive from this that the presentation of visual elements in digital gaming is, as he explains, often the first thing to affect a player. We are, then, to consider how mixed reality performance may present itself pre-performance and how it may manifest when the immersant engages with it for the first time. From a sensorial perspective at least, what the challenges are in how content is delivered. Dilemmas are presented, for example, if promotional work is done for these experiences, do we use screenshots/stills? How do these then get presented as there are usually many more elements than just visual in mixed reality performance. And, when in the position of an immersant, how are combination of media delivered, and are visual elements the most instantly recognisable feature? One could argue that, much like the narrative trajectories of mixed reality performance, there may be such a concept as sensorial trajectories to explore, in the design of the experience for the immersant, as mixed reality is not wholly dependent on digitally created environments.

‘Some genres are more dependent on specific forms of graphical and audio representation than others. An FPS set in World War II will often strive to reproduce a sense of being in the period and will thus depend on a degree of verisimilitude.’Calleja, G (2011). In-Game. London, England: The MIT Press. 140.

It is important, from Calleja’s explanation of graphical and audio representation, that any model for creating mixed reality work that takes note of gaming notions, is flexible in its ability to accommodate variation in these elements. Rather than an explicit description of what visual/audio constructs must be in place, we must consider that they are elements that add to the immersive nature of gaming, and thus, gaming influenced mixed-reality. Calleja goes on to explain:

‘Take, for example, two FPSs set in World War II: Medal of Honor: Allied Assault (2015 Inc., 2002) and Red Orchestra: Ostfront 41-45 (Tripwire Interactive, 2006). Medal of Honor draws its visual style strongly from contemporary Hollywood movies about World War II such as Saving Private Ryan (dir, Spielberg, 1998) and Pearl Harbor (dir. Bay, 2001). The lighting and palette employed in the game as well as the dramatic action portrayed on-screen are reminiscent of these movies, with several scenes reproduced wholesale either in cut scenes or as playable level sections. Red Orchestra takes an altogether different approach to the World War II setting, with its graphical style and audio effects both conveying a stronger sense of historical accuracy.’ Calleja, G (2011). In-Game. London, England: The MIT Press. 140-141.

This notion of taking factual influence from an era, or creating a Hollywood-styled visual presentation is something that is an interesting thing to consider when approaching creation of work in mixed reality as well. Therein lies a challenging area of mixed reality, particularly when approaching horror as a genre; how much of a ‘real’ experience do you want it to feel when creating work? Or do we consider how slick we can create a work, taking on a highly produced feeling, similar to that of Hollywood film, or, large scale theatre production. One could argue, that in the case of Blast Theory’s work, which has been explored greatly in this blog, due to the very real elements involved, it is difficult for an immersant to distance themselves from emotional affect during a performance. And, as the work is often less restrictive than say a film script, it could be argued as a much more personal journey, dependent on content. Horror as a genre has the potential to move in so many thematic directions, and thus we must consider the amount of digital environment and realism and balance between the two in creating work, in order for it to be affective and immersive.

‘Games are also great at allowing players to experience taboo subject matter in a safe environment. Audiences go to see thrillers for a reason: their lives typically aren’t that thrilling or perilous, and movies give them a vicarious thrill. The thrill in a game is less vicarious and more direct, though of course the player is still ultimately safe. The adversaries in horror game can be dark and twisted, in the best cases evoking real-world horrors that most players would not typically think about, further emphasizing the horror of the experience.’ Rouse, R. (2009). Match Made in Hell. In: Perron, B Horror Video Games: Essays on the Fusion of Fear and Play. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company Inc. . 20-21

We see here, from another perspective in the field of video games, that horror video games are an appropriate vessel for pursuing potentially taboo concepts and content, and that this is part of their appeal. With this in mind, if we are to look at what was explored prior in the balance of real things in the physical space of reality that we have come to expect, and that which is digitally generated; horror may present itself as a very explorative area to create mixed reality for, to explore the spectrum of mixed reality with horror concepts, which may challenge the way in which we are affected by the experience, as we may feel a more ‘real’ and physical connection with the mediated elements. This, of course, brings us to some of the explorative opportunities offered through emerging technologies such as VR, which merge the real and mediated self in gaming environments, and how this may be applied to exciting new mixed reality performance concepts, something which the author of this blog is excited to explore further.

Can You See Me Now? and Uncle Roy All Around You are distinctive in the way they support performances the span “online” and “on the streets” participants. They simultaneously occupy multiple points on the mixed reality continuum that we discussed in the introduction and can be thought of as generating a hybrid rather than an augmented or virtual reality experience.’ Benford, S Giannachi, G (2011). Performing Mixed Reality. London, England: The MIT Press. 42.

We can see from this, that in the mixed reality work of Blast Theory, participants, or as we have addressed, immersants, exist and operate in a number of different realities. This is a key feature of their work and something that can differentiate this work from video gaming when we are building systems. This is, of course, dependent on thematic and narrative concepts that work in order for the systems to complement them, however this style of work utilises simply cannot exist with solely programming nor narrative and story structure.

We can see from the above study, in order for work to be affective in it’s presentation, all visual/audio must have a relationship and a balance, and stylistically, those involved in the creation of the work must have an emotional response in mind. Whether this manifests itself as they believed is an area of intrigue, as it cannot be wholly determined by those involved in the creative process. We have established that digital delivery of dark and troubling themes allows for a safe environment for immersants to experience horror/fear without the real threat. We have also realised that part of the possibilities offered from mixed reality is the ability for different immersants to engage with a piece in different digital spaces, as well as other variants such as time, due to the ever-increasing variety of technology at our disposal. Mixed reality has the potential to bridge gaps between filmic fear, affective and interactive gaming environments, and interaction between a variety of immersants through innovative networking in mixed reality, to find new forms of horror.

 

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