Gamasutra is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
Constructing Artificial Emotions: A Design Experiment
View All     RSS
June 17, 2021
arrowPress Releases
June 17, 2021
Games Press
View All     RSS

If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:


Constructing Artificial Emotions: A Design Experiment

October 26, 2007 Article Start Previous Page 8 of 9 Next


Let’s review what we’ve covered so far.

  • Two factor theory of emotion. Emotions are synthesized out of two parts, a physical state and a cognitive label.
  • Emotional memories. Recalling personal memories can trigger both the physical and cognitive elements necessary to induce emotion. In Bacchus, the confession mechanic makes use of this technique.
  • Relevant stimuli. Blasting the player with a set of stimuli that are likely to trigger universal emotional memories can trigger both the physical and cognitive elements needed to induce emotion. In Bacchus, the theme of the avatars and the rituals relies heavily on relevant stimuli.
  • Biofeedback. Helping the player track their physical state helps them move towards a state that is conducive towards feeling the desired emotion. In Bacchus, the biofeedback monitors and onscreen feedback make use of this technique.
  • Setting social norms. Creating isolated groups that build up socially acceptable interpretations of events can have strong influence on setting the appropriate cognitive labels for an experience. Bacchus uses online social groups and discussions with planted moderators to create an atmosphere where players are encouraged to interpret their experience as a spiritual one.

Each of these techniques attempts to use applied psychology to evoke artificial emotions. This is a fundamentally different tactic than you find used by most novelists, scriptwriters or musicians. It is worth exploring further. Instead of looking at emotion in media as a reflection of the artist’s internal muse, we can treat the player’s emotion as a system that we can model, interact with, and through the use of strong feedback systems, push toward desired states.

To simplify the situation immensely, most media, be it music, movies or books taps into emotion by rehashing pre-existing experiences. Games, though they may fall back on rehashed experiences occasionally, are uniquely capable of creating new emotionally powerful experiences. In a novel, you can read about someone falling in love. In an MMOG, you can actually fall in love. Real experiences generate vivid, new emotions.

Here is a thought. When trying to create emotion in your players, tone down with the fixation on Hollywood, camera techniques and in-game narrative. It isn’t our unique strength as a medium. Instead, explore what would happen if we, as designers, actively attempted to create and manipulate the social, psychological and physical environments of our players in order to induce artificial emotions. Toss the storyboards and scripts. Game design becomes an exercise not so dissimilar from the movie The Truman Show. You provide the carefully balanced system that sets up the appropriate physiological states and cognitive labels. The players react with predictable, measurable human drama.

In this brave new world of emotional experiences, you design interactive systems that play the player like an instrument. Except instead of tunes, they are belting out tears.

Take care,


Article Start Previous Page 8 of 9 Next

Related Jobs

innogames — Hamburg, Germany

Concept Artist - New Mobile Game
Gameloft Australia Pty Ltd
Gameloft Australia Pty Ltd — Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Lead Game Designer
Yacht Club Games
Yacht Club Games — Los Angeles, California, United States

Mid-Senior Game Designer
Hinterland Studio Inc.
Hinterland Studio Inc. — Vancouver/Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Systems Design Lead (Co-Op, Online, New IP)

Loading Comments

loader image