Better Game Characters by Design: A Psychological Approach

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Taylor & Francis, Jun 14, 2006 - Art - 336 pages
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Games are poised for a major evolution, driven by growth in technical sophistication and audience reach. Characters that create powerful social and emotional connections with players throughout the game-play itself (not just in cut scenes) will be essential to next-generation games.

However, the principles of sophisticated character design and interaction are not widely understood within the game development community. Further complicating the situation are powerful gender and cultural issues that can influence perception of characters. Katherine Isbister has spent the last 10 years examining what makes interactions with computer characters useful and engaging to different audiences.

This work has revealed that the key to good design is leveraging player psychology: understanding what's memorable, exciting, and useful to a person about real-life social interactions, and applying those insights to character design. Game designers who create great characters often make use of these psychological principles without realizing it.

Better Game Characters by Design gives game design professionals and other interactive media designers a framework for understanding how social roles and perceptions affect players' reactions to characters, helping produce stronger designs and better results.

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About the author (2006)

Associate Professor, Department of Language, Literature and Communication, RPI; Director of the Games Research Lab, RPI; Chair of the MS in HCI Program, RPI. Katherine is Director of the Games Research Lab at Rensselaer (RPI), where she has worked to build an undergraduate major in game design, as well as a robust program of games-related research. She is also the Chair of the MS in HCI at RPI, which she helped to redesign to address current challenges facing HCI practitioners, such as the design of games and other social and leisure applications. Katherine is a former MK Game author, having written: Better Game Characters by Design: A Psychological Approach, which was nominated for a Game Developer Magazine Front Line award in 2006. She has published work in a wide variety of venues, and has given invited talks at research and academic venues including Sony research labs in Japan, Banff Centre in Canada, IBM, the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, and others. The Games Research Lab at RPI has cutting-edge facilities for user studies, and Isbister has used the lab to research innovative methods in user testing (e.g. the Sensual Evaluation Instrument - a project nominated for Best Paper award at the CHI conference in 2006). Isbister has worked in both research and commercial settings on HCI and usability aspects of games and other products. This background, combined with strong connections to game industry practitioners, makes her well suited to put together an edited volume on games usability that is both rigorous and useful to developers in their everyday work.

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