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Psychology of Game Characters Design

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Kit Shang Wei

on 4 August 2014

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Transcript of Psychology of Game Characters Design

Psychology of Game Character Design
Research Interest
Based on the book "Better Game Characters by Design". Tim explained that "Katherine discusses character design not just in term of what is interesting to dissect, but also in term of what will actually enhance the game experience."

"If the characters in a game have depth, complexity, consistency, mystery, humanity, and charm, then they are going to feel real to the player, and that helps the whole game world feel real, and allows the player to suspend his or her disbelief and get lost in the world."
-Tim Schafer-
Kit Shang Wei
March 2, 2007 lecture by Katherine Isbister for the Stanford University Human Computer Interaction Seminar (CS 547). The underlying psychological principles that help to make the best game characters compelling to players are examined; taking a psychological approach to understanding their design allows us to extend the insights their designers have had into other application areas in which social and emotional principles come into play.
Process of create a game character
"Designers can improve social impressions of character by paying attention to all these factors during the development cycle"
-Katherine Isbister , p.258-
-Stanford, Katherine Isbister-
Social Surface
The psychological principles

"The saying "beauty is only
skin deep" would not exist if we did not think it necessary to struggle past this bias"
There is a few simple rules of thumb for leveraging social surface effects in character design.

Make (Almost) Everyone Attractive

Use Babyfaces to Inspire Care and Warmth, Not Respect

Trigger Stereotypes for Speed and Break Them for Depth
-Katherine Isbister , p.16-
-Katherine Isbister , p.5-
Dominance, Friendliness, and Personality
There is a few techniques for using the social interaction traits in character designs.

Sketch a Relationship Diagram for the Game

Use Cue Lists to Help Guide Animation and Dialogue Reviews

Know All Five Personality Dimensions for Every Character
The psychological principles
-Abraham Maslow-
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. A person usually does not focus on higher-level needs in this pyramid unless lower-level needs have been addresses.
Sketch a Relationship Diagram for the Game
A relationship diagram for Jak and Daxter
Use Cue Lists to Help Guide Animation and Dialogue Reviews

Know All Five Personality Dimensions for Every Character
-Katherine Isbister , p.37-
Player Qualities
In order to create a good game character, we need to under few key concepts of player


There are no easy answers in designing game character that have appeal across culture groups but some suggestions that may help aim character designs in a direction that supports transculture appeal.

Use simple human universals in character relationships.

Consider avoiding real races and cultural moments

Borrow from existing transmedia

Be true to the localization of your characters in their own world

Do not try to take on subculture or media form your team does not know well

Include designers from the target culture

Test early and often with members of the target culture
Decide whether the aim is to design the game on Cross-gender or specifically target female gamers
-Katherine Isbister , p.60-
The psychological principles

All gamers from any given national culture are not alike.

The terrain of culture (and games) is always shifting.

People of other cultures and subcultures may enjoy culture-hopping.
-Katherine Isbister , p.49-
The psychological principles

The terrain of gender and games is always shifting.

All female gamers are not alike.

Feminine game-character qualities could also appeal to males.
-Katherine Isbister , p.110-
Cross - gender
Don't accidentally leave out female gamers

NPCs should be appealing to both genders and should react in gender - realistic ways, especially if the game has a more photorealistic and mature (as opposed to cartoon) style.

Offer flexible character choices so player can choose not only which gender but how extremely gendered they want to be.
Female gamers
Design female player characters that are relevant archetypes or that offer customization.

Make sure NPCs react in ways that enchance the player's experience of her character. Consider whether NPCs are attractive and engaging to the female eye.

Consider developing deeper backstory and connections between characters.
-Katherine Isbister , p.120-
Character's Social Equipment
Character's social equipment is about an interaction partner's social and emotional experience. Those modes of expression work together to create overall impressions.



-Katherine Isbister , p.42-
-Katherine Isbister , p.135-
The Face
Some recommendations for taking game character further with face-work

Give the character's Face the right mobility

Use the Face to telegraph Intention

Use the player-character's Face to inspire and control player emotions

Use NPC faces to enchance social relationships with the player
-Katherine Isbister , p.156-
The psychological principles

Researchers have demonstrated that people use facial expressions more when others are present.
-Katherine Isbister , p.153-
The Body
Some recommendations for design's point in body part

Think between characters (such as relationship)

Use touch and interpersonal distance

Imitation : A missed opportunity

Group Dynamics

Extend a game's character-style palette
-Katherine Isbister , p.175-
The psychological principles

Researchers have demonstrated that people use facial expressions more when others are present.
-Katherine Isbister , p.153-
The Voice
Some suggestion for heightening character impressions for players using vocal cues

Focus on relationships

Give NPCs audio personality

Use voice (and music) as an emotional regulator

Voice checklist
-Katherine Isbister , p.191-
The psychological principles

Researchers point to the evolutionary roots of speech in the grunts and calls of our primate ancestors.

"Researchers who asked participants in a study to listen to male macaque monkeys found that more than 80% of the listeners could accurately identify what the dominance calls meant. (Tusing and Dillard 2000, 149)."
-Katherine Isbister , p.183-
Characters in Action
There is 2 major functions that characters play in games

Acting as the player's vessel in the game world (player-characters)

Providing social companionship and assistance or resistance (nonplayer-character)
-Katherine Isbister , p.199-
Four psychological layers that need to take time to set explicit criteria for each of it

Visceral Feedback

Cognitive Immersion

Social Affordances

Fantasy Affordances
-Katherine Isbister , p.216-
The psychological principles

"To make good design decisions about a player character, it is helpful to analyze the ways in which the player is reacting to the player character from a psychological point of view."

"When the four psychological layers of the player-character do not line up, the player may start to feel dissociated and dissatisfied with what is happenning."
-Katherine Isbister , p.217-
-Katherine Isbister , p.203-
Each social role presents unique challenges, it is posible to follow some general guidelines for optimizing social-role use in NPCs

Plan social roles

Test legibility

Focus on defining moments

Focus cut-scenes and roles

Embed roles within game play

Deeper role evolution and crossover

Balance roles

Break social stereotypes
-Katherine Isbister , p.250-
The psychological principles

"Game character interactions are usually short, targeted, functionally based interactions (not dates or marriages or ongoing coworker situations)"
-Katherine Isbister , p.225-
Final Process, Evaluation
Changes resulting from evaluation get narrower in scope as the development process unfolds. (Based on diagram from Fullerton, Swain, and Hoffman 2004)
Further Exploration
During my process of research, by reading the book "Better Game Characters by Design" that wrote by Katherine Isbister, she adding psychology concept into game character design that will create out a really great concept of game. She teaching you how to understand a game by using psychology way. The interesting part of the book is she telling you that every part of process have the psychology of it.

A good designer should apply psychology into a game character and the game too. I hope my future's game will apply those concept key that i learn from Katherine Isbister.
Katherine Isbister, (2006) Better Game Characters by Design.
Available at :http://gamifique.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/9-better-game-characters-by-design-a-psychilogical-approach.pdf [Accessed 3rd June, 2014]

Stanford, (2007) Better Game Characters by Design.
Available at : [Accessed 5th June, 2014]

Fullerton, T., C. Swain, and S. Hoffman. (2004) Game Design Workshop: Designing, Prototyping, and Playtesting Games. San Francisco, CA: CMP Books.
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