Blog: An empathy-driven way to design games

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The Interactive Empathy and Embodiment (IEE) framework is an cutting edge, sensory design strategy to recreation design and interactive media that makes use of conventional craft ways to intensify the player-audience’s bodily enjoy of gameplay. 

You’ll be able to bring to mind sensory design as operating inside-to-outside, wherein the design procedure begins by way of defining the participant’s kinaesthetic state (regarding bodily activity-based aesthetics) prior to orchestrating exterior answers that evoke this predetermined enjoy. Drawing near the sport construction procedure from a sensory viewpoint—versus a regulations, goals and mechanics-driven means—allows readers to actively discover answers to the next ideology:

What if empathy, now not battle, was once the organizing theory of recreation design?


2020 was once a difficult 12 months for everyone, which is why the 2-part e book is unreservedly FREE (with the opportunity of giving a donation), for the reason that want for interactive reports that advertise empathy and reconciliation is at an all-time excessive. The IEE framework subsequently hopes to nudge the business in a extra conscientious route and supply recreation design in a structure this is obtainable to everyone. 

The next is an extract from the Advent of Quantity 2: Framework Walkthrough. Volumes 1 and a pair of are to be had as a FREE obtain on Gumroad. 


Coming from a standard figurative artwork background, my viewpoint of recreation design has at all times been at odds with conference: as a procedure that begins by way of the definition of regulations, goals and recreation mechanics for producing gameplay. The aesthetics of one of these recreation design means are handled as a byproduct of the foundations and mechanics and feature the bottom precedence within the construction series referred to as M-D-A (mechanics > dynamics > aesthetics). Many builders really feel that that is the one method that interactive reports will also be produced.

As mentioned in Quantity 1: Form Language and Composition Basics (IEE Basics) of this framework, a commonplace conceptual error is to outline the “A” for aesthetics to imply visible aesthetics. Video video games are inherently an interactive medium and their inventive construction is rooted in player-activity, which calls for motion. So may just aesthetics be approached from a unique perspective to upend the established M-D-A construction?

Gesture drawing

My non-public strategy to recreation design is very much knowledgeable by way of gesture drawing—the apply of drawing a are living type inside a restricted time, which will also be as brief as 30-seconds or 1-minute (examples under). The relevance that gesture drawing has to interactive media is that it in a similar way comes to an individual (participant) gazing a dynamic topic (gameplay) and making split-second selections prior to reacting with corresponding pencil strokes (controller inputs). Identical to a participant reacting to on-screen exercise and directing their avatar’s motion by way of an analog stick, an artist captures existence and motion the usage of a minimalist set of traces of various aesthetic high quality. In each circumstances, the artist and participant have a singular and private alternative to include the aesthetics that they understand visually—bodily channeling the topic’s power throughout the act drawing/gambling.

The classy high quality of each line in those 1, 2 and Five-minute gesture drawings, by way of Chris Solarski, should put across the dynamic power of the type.

My gesture drawing enjoy—greater than another inventive apply—has led me to broaden a technique that approaches the sport design procedure with an emphasis on aesthetics over regulations and recreation mechanics. Titled Interactive Empathy and Embodiment (IEE), the framework promotes a high-level sensory design means for recreation design, even supposing the ideas are similarly related to interactive media like digital actuality (VR), augmented actuality (AR) and cross-reality (XR).

The evolving definition of video video games

The IEE framework’s sensory means accordingly defines “video video games” as interactive enjoys intentionally designed to evoke a kinfolkaesthetic reaction. The participant’s kinaesthetic reaction could also be the exhilaration of victory, happiness, unhappiness, and another facet of human enjoy. You might really feel that this all-encompassing definition is just too extensive and that some gaming genres will also be de facto categorized as “video video games” (i.e. role-playing video games) and different genres (i.e. strolling simulators) as “now not video games” or “interactive artwork.” The wider counter argument contends that business pioneers assisted in shaping our commonplace belief of what video video games are/don’t seem to be, however our working out of the medium and its aesthetic scope is constantly rising and evolving. The mainstream definition of video video games will subsequently proceed to amplify accordingly till “video video games” is very easily related to all of the vary of interactive reports to be had to us—as advised by way of recreation dressmaker and educational Eddo Stern, who expressed the next observation at a games-as-art panel dialogue at swissnex San Francisco in 2012: “don’t exchange the title, simply wait.”

Deepening the in-game enjoy

It was that unfashionable recreation field artwork would provide richly detailed Hollywood-style motion and results however the in-game product, whilst nonetheless entertaining, delivered an unspectacular pixelated enjoy. That is now not the case, with in-game graphics matching the constancy promoted on their covers.

Unfashionable recreation field artwork promised Hollywood-style results however the in-game product was once delivered pixel graphics, similar to Defender (1981) by way of Williams Electronics. [Images from 8-bit Central]

Dramatic units like non-interactive cutscenes are arguably the brand new unfashionable field artwork—designed to emotionally-embellish in-game reports that relatively stay slender in aesthetic scope.

Cutscenes observe the similar conference as unfashionable recreation field artwork—promising emotionally-resonant reports whilst the in-game product is diminished to exploring a slender aesthetic vary. Uncharted four: A Thief’s Finish (2016) by way of Naughty Canine

This isn’t to mention that titles like God of Warfare (2018) and Uncharted four (2016), pictured above, are dangerous. Reasonably the other. They’re on the reducing fringe of what’s lately imaginable in recreation design. Then again, to paraphrase and amplify on Anita Sarkeesian’s precious steering: it’s each imaginable, or even vital, to revel in media whilst concurrently being essential of its problematic facets and inventive weaknesses, in an effort to assist establish the business’s subsequent point of development.

The IEE framework objectives to assist treatment this disconnect between cutscenes and the in-game enjoy by way of providing design equipment for shaping the in-game kinaesthetic enjoy, thus bringing the emotional constancy promised by way of cutscenes into the palms (and our bodies) of gamers all the way through gameplay. To reach this, designers will likely be required to assume much less about what gamers will likely be doing and extra in regards to the brief kinaesthetic nature of the individual they are going to turn into whilst gambling.

Bodily, non-verbal communique

The act of defining (or re-defining) video video games is vital if we need to amplify the medium’s inventive possible. A kinaesthetics-driven means is the most important facet of this re-defining procedure as a result of an individual’s outward-facing bodily state is the most important for communique and producing empathy. In reality, round 90% of communique comes to bodily parts like facial expressions, gestures and posture, with handiest 10% given to verbal communique. And what units interactive media excluding different storytelling bureaucracy is the lively participation of the viewers. The very phrase “interplay” implies an interrelated and inherently kinaesthetic exercise between folks, or between an individual and digital entities.

This interplay is immensely vital as it signifies that designers have the original alternative to be in contact with a player-audience throughout the tactile senses of contact and motion—the distinguishing factor of interactive media, which units it excluding different artwork bureaucracy. In consequence, whilst cinematographers abide by way of the primary of display, don’t inform, interplay designers should one-up their craft with the primary of transfer, don’t display.

It’s by way of no twist of fate that the phrase “emotion” has deep etymological hyperlinks to “movement”—originating from the Latin phrase “emovere” (“movere” which means to transport). And, because the influential choreographer of contemporary dance, Martha Graham, was once fond of claiming: “motion by no means lies.”

Through activating the participant’s frame we will be able to have an effect on their thoughts and feelings. The IEE framework subsequently makes a speciality of the player-audience’s kinaesthetic sensations with the purpose of heightening embodied empathy against avatars, gadgets and actions inside the intangible digital worlds that they inhabit. This is the reason the time period player-avatar is regularly used right through the framework, to emphasise the heightened kinaesthetic connection between the participant and their digital illustration within the recreation global.

Replicate neurons

Kinaesthetic expression will stay very important even after science perfects neuro-control (permitting the human mind to without delay interface with a pc). The paintings of David Freedberg and Vittorio Gallese—see Movement, emotion and empathy in esthetic enjoy (2007, Tendencies in Cognitive Sciences)—amongst others, has demonstrated how mirror-neurons give us the facility to enjoy empathy against noticed topics even if no overt motion or touch is concerned. This extends to the reputedly “passive” enjoy of appreciating a static paintings like a portray or sculpture.

The video montage connected under of parkour and skateboard “fails” offers you a heightened sense of your reflect neurons at paintings. Whilst staring at the video, pay shut consideration to sensations for your frame. You’ll to find that, now not handiest are your muscle tissue brought on by way of each and every affect, however that the sensations you’re feeling relate to the particular frame portions being impacted.

Take note of the sensations for your frame based on each and every affect. [Clips sourced from YouTube videos by FailArmy and RibeiroSK8]

Needless to say what you simply skilled was once brought on by way of non-interactive video clips considered on a static, two-dimensional virtual show. There’s no overt interplay between you and the exercise happening on-screen and but you kinaesthetically empathized with each and every athlete to a lesser or better stage.

This proves that even media that we regard as passive reports are repeatedly performing on our bodily senses, even supposing the consequences are extra regularly skilled on a subtler, unconscious point. This neurological phenomenon means that interplay designers have the possible to make use of digital proxies to cause kinaesthetic sensations in explicit frame portions of the player-audience. An identical kinaesthetic sensations happen in gamers of classics like Pong (1972), who “really feel” the collisions between the paddle and digital ball, even supposing the unconscious starts bracing itself for affect as quickly because it anticipates collision will happen.

The must-watch rubber hand phantasm (sometimes called the frame switch phantasm) additional proves that we will be able to bring to mind our our bodies as simply incidental to our sense of self. Like Mario’s hat in Tremendous Mario Odyssey (2017), our frame is able and keen to include any topic that we follow. This tenuous courting between thoughts and frame is partially the explanation why gamers of The Stroll VR (2016), pictured below-left, mechanically include the French acrobat, Philippe Petit, who carried out the unique tightrope stunt featured in The Stroll (2015) movie, pictured below-right.

From left: gamers of The Stroll VR (2016) mechanically include Philippe Petit, the tightrope-walking protagonist of The Stroll (2015), despite the fact that they’re gambling within the protection of closed room. [Images by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment]

Our our bodies are forced to react, and the extra enjoy we now have with an exercise or object the better the kinaesthetic empathy.

Like Neo’s frame bodily reacting to digital stimuli in The Matrix (1999), by way of the Wachowskis, neuro-controls is not going to invalidate the desire for interplay designers to form the kinaesthetic enjoy of gamers.

Neuro-controls can’t nullify those sensations since kinaesthetic responses are a herbal human reaction mechanisms. Participant’s will at all times want some type of bodily outlet, like Neo’s frame convulsing when “jacked” into the digital matrix. A fully passive bodily state isn’t imaginable exterior of complex meditation.

The query will subsequently without end stay: what kinaesthetic affect do interactive reports have at the player-audience—regardless of the advance means?

The Interactive Empathy and Embodiment framework serves to offer builders the equipment to start answering this large query. And, similar to the 2000+ years of conventional craft that experience come prior to video games, the primary equipment to fixing this query contain the standard apply of drawing and two specific conventional craft ways: form language and composition. The basics of those ways are widely tested in IEE Quantity 1: Form Language and Composition Basics.

A piece in growth

Please observe that Interactive Empathy and Embodiment is a piece in growth. It can be the fruits of 15+ years of study, apply, and recreation construction (to not point out the 2000+ years of conventional craft ways on which it’s based), it however calls for intensive checking out and additional construction. I’m mindful that the framework has variety and inclusivity problems and I’ve but to analyze how my paintings holds up towards precious analysis within the fields of information feminism, incapacity, black, indigenous and folks of color (BIPOC), and LGBQTIA+, which might be exterior my instant space of experience. I subsequently humbly welcome reviews and comments that may assist amplify the framework’s scope to rightfully recognize a good wider vary of peoples and historical contributions to conventional craft. The good thing about IEE being in a download-able PDF structure, over a traditional e book, is that it may well readily be up to date.

I’d additionally be thankful for help with proof-reading, enhancing and translations, since I’m hoping to have the framework to be had in a couple of languages.


Concerning the writer

Chris Solarski’s began paintings in video video games at Sony Laptop Leisure’s London Studio as a personality and setting artist prior to creating a career-defining detour into figurative oil portray. The peculiar mixture of recreation artwork and classical artwork sooner or later ended in Chris authoring Interactive Empathy and Embodiment—a sensory design framework that adapts conventional craft to interactive media with the purpose of heightening kinaesthetic empathy and embodiment. Chris has additionally authored two books on recreation artwork and storytelling in video games which can be counseled by way of the likes of Murderer’s Creed founding member Stéphane Assadourian, and Cyberpunk 2077 point dressmaker Max Pears. Chris’ paintings has been described as gaming’s similar to Robert McKee’s screenwriting vintage, Tale (1997), and Joseph Campbell’s common storytelling construction. Chris has had the excitement of presenting on the Smithsonian Museum’s landmark The Artwork of Video Video games exhibition, Disney Analysis, SXSW, Google and FMX, to call a couple of. 

Please consult with for more information.

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