DiGRA 2007 & Game Characters

This post contains notes and my comments on papers relating to game characters (presented at Situated Play, DiGRA 2007 conference).

Player-character dynamics in multi-player role playing games.
Anders Tychsen, Doris McIlwain, Thea Brolund & Michael Hitchens

Anders Tychen et al. conducted series of experiment where they were interested in the relation between a player and game character. They argue that this is due to game designers common view in which the personality of a player controlled character (PC) is seen to disrupt playing experience when the PC and player have different personalities. However, there is no (empirical) evidence to support that view, the authors points out. In conclusion, the authors note that they did not find any evidence that a complex personality of a PC would influence negatively to playing experience. Moreover, the study suggests that the complexity of a PC correlates to the playing experience positively. The authors also note that they did not find any evidence that difference between the players and characters personality have negative impact on playing experience. As the participants of the study where from two different cultures the results are likely to be applicable to a larger population, the authors emphasize.

I fought the law: Transgressive play and the implied player
Espen Aarseth

The paper, as in the proceedings, have very little to do with game characters. However, Aarseth, in his presentation, insisted that character as a concept is useless in studying games (at least types he plays like Half-Life). He claims that the concepts of implied player, interface addresse, and avatar/vehicle would be better; he maintain that distinction between the player and implied player is important. Yet, he did not explain what character means. The claim might be grounded in relation to some games (like vibrators) than many computer games (in the paper Aarseth presents very broad definition: “Games are facilitators that structure player behavior, and whose main purpose is enjoyment.”) Moreover, It seems that Aarseth’s claim is not grounded, as empirical evidence proved by Tychen et al. (in above-mentioned paper) implies otherwise. In addition, I think that my argument in the paper Goals, affects, and empathy shows the value of the concept of character.

Ghastly multiplication: Fatal Frame II and the videogame uncanny
Laura Hoeger & William Huber

The authors provide psychoanalytical reading of Fatal Frame II. They build their reading on uncanny as described by Ernst Jentsch and Freud. Uncanny to them is, the authors describe, a mental state in which one cannot differentiate the living and dead or animated and inanimated. The real is contested. Mismatch of categories contribute to experiencing disgust or repulsion. The authors argue that Mio, the player character, “oscillates between recognition and non-recognition of her twin, imagining her touch or presence in empty space.” The authors note that uncanny, as described in literary or film theor, is not sufficient in context of games: gameplay and interpretation of events are tied together. They argue that “[t]he player’s own impetus to complete the game becomes the mechanism by which the uncanny is represed, in the interest of operational success, only to arise anew.” There is no happy ending; only relief the player is able to get is to stop being in control of Mio.

Avatar categorization
Daniel Kromand

Kromand associates an avatar and protagonist (thus I interpreter that by avatar he is discussing game characters in his paper). He propose that Murray Smith’s distinction to central and acentral identification is useful in categorizing avatars (I am not sure where the terms come, as Smith1 discuss on central and acentral imagining, which are processes of a viewer). Kromand describe that the player sees a central character as themself (and associates this to 1st person view) while acentral character is seen emotionally as the other (in contrast to Smith who do not claim that point-of-view (POV) “shots somehow wire us directly into the mind of a character”2, i.e., central imagining, but “POV shots can function as powerful prompts to central imagining, though not in quite the same way as devices prompting mimicry and automatic reactions”3). Using the concepts proposed by Smith is strange choice when utilizing the concept that differently. Dispate that, the idea of category seem to be useful. The another concept for categorizing proposed by Kromand is open–closed scale. The closed avatars, he explain, have predefined set of properties that do not change in course of gameplay. The qualities of open avatars can be determined by a player. This categorization creates two-dimensional space in which different avatars can be placed (placing an avatar to area in the system, which can points to general catories open–central, closed–central, open–acentral, and closed–acentral).

Exporing the uncanny valley in Japane video game characters
Edward Schneider, Yifan Wang & Shanshan Yang

Schneider et al. presents an quantitative study where they explore (Mori’s) uncanny valley and virtual character. They had 60 informants who rated 75 characters in the terms of how human and how attractive–repulsive a character is. They propose that their study support Mori’s argument on uncanny valley. However, the use of familiar characters (e.g., Mikey Mouse and Snooby that scored low human scores and rather high attractiveness score) throws doubt about the validity of results presented by the authors.


  1. Smith, M. Engaging characters. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995, pp. 95–106.
  2. Smith, M. Imagining from the inside. In Allen & Smith (eds.) Film Theory and Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 418.
  3. Ibid, p. 417.

Published by lankoski

Petri Lankoski, D.Arts, is a Associate Professor in Game Studies at the school of Communication, Media and IT at the Södertörn University, Sweden. His research focuses on game design, game characters, role-playing, and playing experience. Petri has been concentrating on single-player video games but researched also (multi-player) pnp and live-action role-playing games. This blog focuses on his research on games and related things.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: