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GAME STUDIES

Designing Better Game Characters

Book: Better Game Characters by Design
Looking beyond gorgeous graphics and sophisticated storylines, experts in the game industry are placing greater emphasis on developing games that involve players at the emotional level. A new book written by Katherine Isbister, associate professor of language, literature, and communication, explains how concepts from psychology and social science can be applied to character design to create powerful social and emotional connections with players.

Better Game Characters by Design (Morgan Kaufmann, June 2006) reveals that the key to good character design is leveraging player psychology. Designers who understand what’s memorable, exciting, and useful to a person about real-life social interactions, and can then integrate that knowledge into their designs, can create more realistic characters that players can identify with on an emotional level, according to Isbister.

“It’s not uncommon for moviegoers to cry or cheer in response to the experiences of an individual they’re watching on screen. Why shouldn’t we develop game characters that are so lifelike they can elicit these emotions from players?” says Isbister. “As we move from plot-driven action to more character-based stories, the ability to connect with players throughout the game-play — not just in cut scenes — will become essential.”

In the research-based book, Isbister explains how to carefully consider and appropriately assign a character’s traits — its voice, face, body, interactions with players and non-characters — to achieve the most realistic results. She also discusses how player factors such as gender and culture can influence character perception.

The book provides game design professionals and other interactive media designers with a framework for understanding how social roles and perceptions function in a variety of contexts, and for discussing the principles of sophisticated character design and interaction.

Better Game Characters by Design, which is accompanied by a DVD featuring clips from popular games as examples of concepts and best practices, includes extensive illustrations, game references, and interviews with game designers.

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