Affective Games: How iOpiates Elicit an Emotional Fix

Affective Games: How iOpiates Elicit an Emotional Fix

Jonathan Sykes (eMotionLab, Glasgow Caledonian University, Scotland)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61692-892-6.ch016
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Abstract

Video-games, like movies, music and storybooks are emotional artifacts. We buy media to alter our affective state. Through consumption they impact our physiology and thus alter our affective world. In this chapter the authors review the ways in which playing games can elicit emotion. This chapter will discuss the increased power of video-game technology to elicit affect, and show how the mash-up of traditional and interactive techniques have delivered a richness of emotion that competes with film and television. They then conclude by looking forward to a time when video-games become the dominant medium, and the preferred choice when seeking that emotional fix.
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Introduction

As I sit here in my apartment and look around the room I feel surrounded. The mass of media has taken hold of my home - books overflow bookshelves, DVDs and CDs are barely contained by the racks, a giant screen TV hides the beautiful print that hangs on my wall, and hi-fi speakers dwarf the coffee table. I share my life with all this technology, all of this media, but what is it for? I know its purpose, the reason it exists is to entertain me - but to what end? What does it mean to be entertained? It seems much more than simply passing the time. It is about changing the way I feel. Unhappy with my current affective state I am constantly looking to experience something outside my natural emotional repertoire. I need emotional stimulation. I want to experience fear, amusement, anger, sorrow. I am an emotion junky.

Being an emotion junky I am always looking for a supplier. Historically the largest dealer of affect altering product has been the film industry. Hollywood understands the monetary value of emotion, having peddled affective products for nearly 100 years. To maintain the flow of content to an addicted public, the film industry has developed many tools and techniques to elicit an emotional experience. They know the power of narrative, the importance of soundtrack, and the effect of aesthetic. But have we have reached the limits of traditional, linear technology? Although established media such as film and television might once have been the opiate of the people, there is evidence to suggest that interactive entertainment will soon eclipse linear media to become the iOpiate of the people. Video-games now outsell Hollywood box-office (Rosenberg, 2009), and traditional media struggles to hold attention as we multi-task between web-browsing, texting and watching television. This chapter will discuss the increased power of video-game technology to elicit affect, and show how the mash-up of traditional and interactive techniques have delivered a richness of emotion that competes with film and television. I will then finish by looking forward to a time when video-games will become the dominant medium for managing our affect. However, before I begin I shall define some of the terms used.

There is much debate concerning the terminology used in emotion research. Many researchers will use the terms ‘affect’, ‘emotion’ and ‘mood’ interchangeably, or like Norman (2002) stick to the term ‘affect’ to avoid making distinction between them. Here I will use the term ‘emotion’ to refer to a brief subjective feeling that is in response to some stimulus - such as the momentary feeling of fear we experience when watching a horror movie. I differentiate emotion from the term ‘mood’, which I use to represent longer episodes with no discernible stimulus - such as an extended bout of depression. I will use the term ‘affect’ as a general reference to our emotional experiences.

Of pornography, Supreme Court Justice Potter Steward once said “I shall not today attempt further to define [pornography]... but I know what it is when I see it”. Most of us intuitively know what it means to ‘play’, but much like pornography, defining play turns out to be extraordinarily difficult. What appears playful in one context might seem very different in another. I find shopping to be an excellent example. Making lists, choosing items, queuing to pay, trudging home with heavy bags - none of this strikes me as fun. But on a Saturday at the Farmers’ Market I see couples happily choosing their evening meal; on the high street groups of young women seem to be at play as they enjoy the fellowship of clothes shopping with their closest friends. And what about a child running after a ball on the beach? They often seem much more at play than a professional soccer player lining up for a penalty kick. I will therefore follow Supreme Court Justice Potter‘s example and defer definition of play - as we all know what it is when we experience it. To those readers who would like to better understand the nature of play, I direct you to Huizinga (1938), Caillois (1958) and I also recommend Egendfelt Nielsen et al. (2008) for a superb review of play and game taxonomy.

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