Academic journal article American Journal of Play

How Games Move Us: Emotion by Design

Academic journal article American Journal of Play

How Games Move Us: Emotion by Design

Article excerpt

How Games Move Us: Emotion by Design Katherine Isbister Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2016. Acknowledgments, introduction, notes, and index. 192 pp. $24.95 cloth. ISBN: 9780262034265

How Games Move Us is the latest addition to MIT's Playful Thinking series, a collection of compact, interdisciplinary books designed not for a specialist audience but rather for the generally curious. In the words of the series editors, the Playful Thinking line of books is "for any reader interested in playing more thoughtfully or thinking more playfully" (p. ix).

How Games Move Us fits this charge well: with uncluttered prose, focused discussion, and modest but lively and carefully selected examples, it asks about the principal design mechanisms for creating emotion in players. The provenance of these mechanisms are choice and flow, phenomena that Isbister argues distinguish games from other mediated experiences. The meaningful decisions of the players and the investment and control consequential to those decisions give "games their unique power to create empathy and connection" (p. 2). Games, in other words, work differently from film and television, print and radio. They invite conversation and its attendant intimacy, creating a rich possibile space for evoking a range of emotions and experiences for players.

Consider embodiment, for example, or the way a game's avatar comes to signify its player's desires and decisions over time and space and through various physical and cognitive dimensions. Isbister explains that there is a "joining of player to virtual self through avatar-based action" (p. 13). Control causes connection, connection incites identification, and identification engages the emotional register, which then stimulates more meaningful control and connection. In describing, for example, both the poignant existentialism conjured by Cart Life (2011) (and its characters' struggles to balance work and home) and the provocative combination of paranoia and psychosis (and the right to religious freedom) of Waco Resurrection (2004), Isbister argues that games- and by extension, their designers-"have the capacity to take us into different emotional territory than any other medium" (p. …

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