Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Creating Emotions Through Play-Character (Part I)

In Part I of this article, graduate student Nick LaLone considers Johan Huizinga's notion of play-character as a pathway to invoke emotions in games.

Video games most often use single person events to create emotion. Some examples here are Death of Aerith in Final Fantasy 7, Permanent Death in Steel Battalion, Modern Warfare 1's Nuke Sequence and subsequent single person death. However, a successful event in profit-driven capitalist societies means that you get one shot at it. After that shot, the reproduction of that event becomes nearly ubiquitous. The death of the pure romantic interest, huge dramatic loss of innocent lives, and other circumstances all become part and parcel of the video game, while many of these reuses add something or take it away (Nuke sequence replaced with killing civilians, etc).

In short, all successful events quickly become rationalized, predictable, and a safe way to generate revenue. Invoking emotion becomes procedure. Now, why do things become procedure? First, like all fields of competition, companies have to do what others do in order to even out the playing field. Second, It requires enormous amounts of research to find a new way to generate emotion in a way that will make players want to buy your game.

However, there is another mode of eliciting emotion that many people do not cater to. We will call this mode by a term familiar to most ludologists: "play-character". The idea of the play-character comes from the book Homo Ludens by Johan Huizinga. He defines the play-character in an abstract fashion:

It is through this playing that society expresses its interpretation of life and the world. (47)
What he means here is that the way we play is the way society interprets the world. To play is to tap into the play-character, to play is to interpret life.

Huizinga continues saying that as culture continues, “the original relationship between play and non-play does not remain static” (47). Essentially, the play-character, culture’s interpretation of “life and the world” is constantly in motion. In monetary terms, tapping into this is to reach an abstract portion of society that has moved on; to find a way to make money on the past. For, while the play-character ebbs and flows, this play-character is only viewable after it has long since regressed or changed. We typically call this the spirit of the age and tend to block it off in decade form.

Creating Emotions Through Play-Character (Part II) 

Nick LaLone is a graduate student working on an MA at Texas State University-San Marcos. When the video games are turned off, Nick can be found writing about modernization theory, gender, and social media. His work on these subjects with regard to video (and board) games can be found at www.beforegamedesign.com.


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