All I’ve really known for a while until recently is that I want to do a thesis that has to do with character design for games. I’m also very interested in psychology so if I could somehow marry the two into a thesis that would really get me motivated. I want to look at design psychology and social cognition, take what I learn from that and implement it into my character designs. When I finish my thesis I’m theoretically an expert in my field so I need my thesis to be relevant to what I want to pursue as a career. I’ve been having issues trying to find the right context to validate pursuing this topic as my thesis though. I’ve started to look up potential needs/issues that I could try to address through character design and psychology. During my search I came across an interesting term; Ludonarrative Dissonance.
Ludonarrative Dissonance, a term coined by Clint Hocking, is when a game’s mechanics and it’s narrative are in complete contrast with each other. But what does that have to do with character design? Well, at the time I was just looking for current issues with games and I just found this interesting so I kept reading and then I came across the terms Ludonarrative Harmony and Ludonarrative Resonance. Both are essentially the same thing and they are when the gameplay mechanics and story work in harmony with each other and reinforce the other. There’s also the idea of Ludonarrative Alienation (when the mechanics and story don’t go in harmony but aren’t in opposition) but that’s ultimately not in my radar of concern. The disconnect of game mechanics and story is a present, recognized problem with games and there are methods/suggestions being looked at as solutions to bridging the gap. One such article brings up Journey as an example as an elegant solution to dissonance. The article post suggest taking the written component out of the game and having the mechanics tell the story:
“The entire narrative is conveyed through scenery, music, and the actions of the player. There’s literally no way for the story to conflict with the mechanics because the mechanics are the story. Even if you refuse to reach the goal and just dick around in the desert, that’s actually part of the story; that’s how you chose to experience the adventure.” - sesquipedalianish
They’re not stating that this is the only approach to reaching Ludonarrative Resonance and do admit that it’s not applicable to all kinds of games. But it’s an approach that caught my interest and upon further reflection became a potential context for my topic.
Looking at reaching ludonarrative resonance by having the mechanics be the narrative amplified by character design informed by design psychology and social cognition.
Okay so that’s a mouthful but I’m still trying to organize my thoughts into words. By looking at having the mechanics, music, and scenery be the means of telling the story, the design is much more important in being able to communicate as much as possible since there’s no exposition or dialogue. By understanding the way people think and perceive each other (social cognition) and what different design elements communicate (design psychology) the concept artist can create characters that best compliment this style of narrative telling.