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Affect based game mechanics

When talking about emotion in games it is important to note whether one discusses the emotions of the player or emotions that are somehow represented in a game. Emotion have been a hot topic for a few years now, both in the game industry and in the research field, where one often find work in the area labelled as affective computing. In digital games, notably, the most represented emotion is fear (and often anger), which is something  the game design- and research community have tried to address - asking how we can have more versatile emotional systems in games.*

When talking about emotion based game mechanics we talk about emotions that are somehow part of the game. That is, we are not talking about the player's emotions. 

Not only emotions are used as metaphors in game play mechanics - all sorts of mental processes, can and are, being used in game design and AI research as metaphors. A mental process is anything that we do with our mind. Affective mental processes is a more narrow concept:  Affective mental processes can be dispostions (to certain things) and affective reactions such as affects, emotions, feelings, and passions. Often, when building such software one need to implement an appraisal system, that is, a system for how certain individuals are to feel in a system about what happens in it.** 

Affect based game mechanics are game mechanics that use the metaphors of affective mental processes as part of the game rules, and where these representations are part of the game dynamics when the game is played. 

In games where a player has a representation or an avatar the affordances for what a player can do often change depending on how the character 'feels'. The Mind Module can be used as part of agent architectures to provide game entities with a system for emotions, that then can be represented and used in a game rule system provided that emotional values that the mind module can understand is used in the game world. 

That emotions is something that can profoundly change what someone can do is a prominent theme in fiction, one of the well known examples is the incredible Hulk. In the comic, the main character, the withdrawn Dr. Banner, turns into the large, green, incredibly strong, Hulk whenever he gets too angry, or when is life is in danger. An example for games using mental states in game play is Psychonauts from 2005, where the main character Raz's, and the player's, task is to help other characters in the game to overcome their fears of memories in the past. Another mentionable adventure game is Ico, where there is an emotional connection between the two main two characters. In Will Wright's the games in the Sims series characters that the player control can feel various levels of frustration or happiness depending on whether their needs are fulfilled, and they can "feel" emotions such as love towards other characters in the game. How characters feel toward each other governs what the player can make the characters do when they interact with each other. This is also to case for the social simulation game PromWeek which is available for play via Facebook. 


Mirjam Eladhari, 
Malta, July 2012



*See for example Workgroup reports from Project Horseshoe: 
**A well known and often used system is the OCC model. (The Cognitive Structure of Emotions, A Ortony, G L Clore, A Collins (1988), Cambridge University Press)