Research on game characters

Schröter & Thon, Video Game Characters: Theory and Analysis, Diegesis 3, 2014,

Abstract: This essay develops a method for the analysis of video game characters based on a theoretical understanding of their medium-specific representation and the mental processes involved in their intersubjective construction by video game players. We propose to distinguish, first, between narration, simulation, and communication as three modes of representation particularly salient for contemporary video games and the characters they represent, second, between narrative, ludic, and social experience as three ways in which players perceive video game characters and their representations, and, third, between three dimensions of video game characters as ‘intersubjective constructs’, which usually are to be analyzed not only as fictional beings with certain diegetic properties but also as game pieces with certain ludic properties and, in those cases in which they function as avatars in the social space of a multiplayer game, as representations of other players. Having established these basic distinctions, we proceed to analyze their realization and interrelation by reference to the character of Martin Walker from the third-person shooter Spec Ops: The Line (Yager Development 2012), the highly customizable player-controlled characters from the role-playing game The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Bethesda 2011), and the complex multidimensional characters in the massively multiplayer online role-playing game Star Wars: The Old Republic (BioWare 2011-2014).

Vella, Player and Figure: An Analysis of a Scene in Kentucky Route Zero in Nordic Digra 2014,

Abstract: Discussions of the relation between the player and the figure under her control have identified a duality between the figure as ‘avatar’ and ‘character’. This paper argues that two separate dualities are being conflated: an ontological duality in the figure, by which it is both self and other for the player, and a duality in the player’s relation to it, which can be both subjective and objective. This insight is used as the basis for developing a two-axis model that identifies four aspects to the player-figure relation. This model is then put to work on a close analysis of a scene in Kentucky Route Zero (Cardboard Computer 2013), which will serve to demonstrate the dimensions of the player-figure relation.

Johansson, Strååt, Warpefelt & Verhagen, Analyzing the Social Dynamics of Non-Player Characters, Frontiers in Gaming Simulation,

Abstract: Much of the current research into artificial intelligence (AI) for computer games has been focused on simple actions performed by the characters in games (such as moving between points or shooting at a target, and other simple strategic actions), or on the overarching structure of the game story. However, we claim that these two separate approaches need to be bridged in order to fully realize the potential of enjoyment in computer games. As such, we have explored the middle ground between the individual action and the story – the type of behavior that occurs in a “scene” within the game. To this end we have established a new model for that can be used to discover in what ways a non-player character acts in ways that break the player’s feeling of immersion in the world.

Research on Game Characters, part 2

I continue my literature search on game character. Some things I have missed, popped up:

  • Hefner, D., Klimmt, C. and Vorderer, P., 2007. Identification with the Player Character as Determinant of Video Game Enjoyment. Entertainment Computing. Springer. DOI=10.1007/978-3-540-74873-1_6.
  • Christoph, K., Dorothée, H. and Peter, V., 2009. The Video Game Experience as “True” Identification: A Theory of Enjoyable Alterations of Players’ Self-Perception. Communication Theory, 19: 351–373. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2885.2009.01347.x

It seems my reading list grows.

Research on Game Character

Some new things to reading list and old ones to reread:

Lectio Praecursoria 12.5.2010

Introductory speech at my defense:

Honoured Custos, honoured opponent, ladies and gentlemen.

My research is about designing single player character-based computer games.

With character-based games, I mean games such as Thief II: The Metal Age, Fahrenheit, Ico, and Half-Life.

From the design point of view the player character, the character controlled by a player, is the most important character in the character-based games. Game designer Steve Mereztky claims that “the element that is  most likely to leave a positive lasting impression on players are the primary character or characters“, because “humans are hard-wired to respond to other humans“. However, some researchers and game designers have been critical towards whether player characters can have personality at all, because the character is controlled by a player. It is argued that the presentation of the character is irrelevant, because it does not make one to play differently. I think that this is a simplistic view that overlooks how gameplay can guide interpretation and playing experience.

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Character-Driven Game Design is Out

| Buy the book | Free PDF |

Updated 14.5.2010: Added download link.

Back cover says:

In the Character-Driven Game Design, Petri Lankoski presents a theory that illuminates how game characters contribute to shaping the playing experience. Based on this theory he provides design tools for character-based games which utilize methods and theories derived from dramatic writing and game research.

“The use of Lajos Egri’s bone structure for a three dimensional-character and of Murray Smith’s three levels of imaginative engagement with characters allows the candidate to expose the full complexity of the imaginary persons represented and controlled in a single-player game. What makes his design-center approach even more interesting is that gameplay is an integral part of it.”
Bernard Perron, Associate Professor, Université de Montréal

“Lankoski does a great job laying out the theory of primary interest to him, and making the case for the need to tether character design to game design more tightly than has been the case in the past. Certainly, too, putting attention to social networks of characters and finding useful design patterns to guide this level of game design is also of great value, and underexplored in the field.”
Katherine Isbister, Associate Professor, Polytechnic Institute of New York University


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Characters in Computer Games: Toward Understanding Interpretation and Design

This is an old paper published in 2003 containing an early version of character recognition framework developed further for my thesis. This version contains some edits compared to version available in Digra Digital Library due to quick html conversion (no foot notes, tables are lists, etc.).

Presented at Level Up Conference Proceedings, Utrech: University of Utrech, November, 2003. A presented version is downloadable at digra digital library, © Authors & DiGRA, 2003. Free for educational and research use; commercial use restricted and only by permission.

Petri Lankoski, Satu Heliö, Inger Ekman
Hypermedia Laboratory
University of Tampere

Interpretation of characters is a fundamental feature of human behavior. Even with
limited information available, people will assign personality – even to inanimate objects.
Characters in computer games will be attributed personality based on their appearance
and behavior. The interpretation of these characters affects the whole game experience.
Designing the protagonist character in computer games is different from the design of
static characters (e.g. film or literature), because the player’s actions will affect the
nature of the character. There are, however, many ways to control and guide the actions
of the protagonist and thus the character’s nature. By setting goals, scripting pre-
defined actions and choosing what kind of actions to implement, the game designer can
restrict the player’s freedom. This, together with the characterization of the character,
will affect the interpretation of the character.
Characters, Design, Interpretation

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