Modeling the Semiotic Structure of Game Characters

Vella Daniel
2014 DiGRA '14 - Proceedings of the 2014 DiGRA International Conference

When game studies has tackled the player-character, it has tended to do so by means of an oppositon to the notion of the avatar, with the result that the ontological and semiotic nature of the character in itself has not been given due attention. This paper draws on understandings of character from the fields of narratology and literary theory to highlight the double-layered ontology of character as both a possible individual and as a semiotic construction. Uri Margolin’s narratological model of character signification is used as the basis for developing a semiotic-structural model of the player-character that addresses its specific medialities and formal nature – a task which is performed through illustrative close examinations of the player-characters in The Last of Us (Naughty Dog 2013) and Gone Home (The Fullbright Company 2013).


Player and Figure: An Analysis of a Scene in Kentucky Route Zero

Vella Daniel
2014 DiGRA Nordic '14: Proceedings of the 2014 International DiGRA Nordic Conference

Discussions of the relation between the player and the figure under her control have identified a duality between the figure as ‘avatar’ and ‘character’. This paper argues that two separate dualities are being conflated: an ontological duality in the figure, by which it is both self and other for the player, and a duality in the player’s relation to it, which can be both subjective and objective. This insight is used as the basis for developing a two-axis model that identifies four aspects to the player-figure relation. This model is then put to work on a close analysis of a scene in Kentucky Route Zero (Cardboard Computer 2013), which will serve to demonstrate the dimensions of the player-figure relation.


Player Character Design Facilitating Emotional Depth in MMORPGs

Eladhari Mirjam Lindley Craig
2003 DiGRA '03 - Proceedings of the 2003 DiGRA International Conference: Level Up

How can we create computer games facilitating emotional depth in the playing experience? When entering into a persistent virtual game world the player leaves the body behind. It is up to the game designer to create a virtual body with skills, needs and drives necessary for survival and pleasure in the game world. Would it be sensible also to create a virtual mind for the player to possess and evolve? Can models like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and ‘being-values’, or the personality trait model popularly called ‘the big five’ be used for character design in a way that suits massive multi-player game form? Based upon a view of the player character as the concentrated mirror of the functionality of an RPG game and adding features inspired from psychology, cognitive science and behavior science, this paper presents the high-level system design of a virtual mind for the player to possess in a MMORPG. The mind model is being implemented in a research demonstration game in which game play emphasizes emotional engagement and dramatic interaction. This research is conducted in the Zero-Game Studio within the frame of the open research MMORPG Ouroboros.


The Player Character as Performing Object

Westecott Emma
2009 DiGRA '09 - Proceedings of the 2009 DiGRA International Conference: Breaking New Ground: Innovation in Games, Play, Practice and Theory

Engagement in games is manifest through a player’s representation of action in game. The main mechanism for this engagement is through direct control of a player character. This control mechanism can be seen as a form of puppetry in which the player manipulates a game figure ranging from the abstract to the super-human. Through a focus on the player character, this paper posits that it may be productive to conceive of the player focus as one akin to that of the puppet artist, or puppeteer, and discusses one approach to unpacking the abstract sign systems of gameplay in this setting. The player character acts out the movements of the player and marks her progression in game. A doubling happens in this action, between the physical movements on the controller and the representation of agency on screen. As a player I act, then watch the results of my action on screen, always already audience to my own play practice. One ongoing challenge for games studies is the framing of the relationship between the player and her player character. From a phenomenological perspective this has been conceived of as an instrumental extension into the game world. Using the ‘binocular lens’ of performance analysis semiotic work is necessary to balance our sense of the improvisational act of digital game-play. The player binds to the lived experience of game-play through engagement with the sign systems at play in a specific gaming experience. Puppetry has existed across world cultures, as entertainment, ritual and celebration, and broadly involves the animation of inanimate performing objects. The insertion of objects between the performer and the audience allows for different, and deeper, levels of signification than live actors alone can offer. Puppets consist a developed form of performing object, one that moves. The fascination with puppets reaches far back into history, revealing our yearning to play god, to exert domination over our human experience. Similarly, the seductive illusion of control plays a central part in the appeal inherent in digital game form. In the modern setting much work on puppetry remains relatively hidden across a broad spectrum of fields, from computer science to anthropology. However performance theorists such as Tillis introduce a broad semiotics to conceive of the multitude of ways we engage with puppetry. Other theorists have engaged in embracing digital and mediated puppet form, not least in games studies in areas such as machinima and alternate-reality gaming, yet attention has been slow in broadening the application of puppet theory to player characters. Tillis offers a focus on signs of design, movement and speech as core to building an aesthetic of the puppet. For the player character signifiers of affect and control require addition to any such tentative schema. This paper argues that the metaphor of the puppet offers a useful frame for the central figure of our game-play focus by allowing for a kind of ‘double-vision’ that enables a player character to be seen in two ways at once, ‘as a perceived object and as an imagined life’. Using the tools of performance analysis this paper addresses the liminal relationship between player and player character in the flux of play. The intention is to offer an explication of the range of methods, whether stylistic, instrumental or kinesthetic, deployed in