Recently, my mother has been playing Dragon Age: Origins. She recently finished her character’s back story (human noble) and met up with the King at the ruins of Ostagar, the game’s opening battle. When she attended a meeting with Teyrn Loghain, the game’s sub-villian (I say sub-villian because he’s a tool and it is not the overlying purpose of the game to overthrow him), she looked at me and said, “Ooooh, something tells me he’s baaaaaaaaaaad. Is he the bad guy? I bet he’s a bad guy.”
And she’s correct, he is a bad guy. How did she know this? Let’s ask:
Me: What made you think he was a bad guy?
Mom: He had dark circles under his eyes, insisting on doing that stupid light thing. He looked dirty. I didn’t like his attitude.
Me: Anything else?
Mom: He had shifty eyes and I just didn’t trust him. And he disagreed with everything everyone was saying.
This video from Penny Arcade, discusses the differences between graphics and aesthetics. It is Teyrn Loghain’s aesthetic appeal which tells us he is not a good guy. Specifically, the video lists emotional aspects under the heading of aesthetics. Watch this video and we’ll move on.
Did you watch it? Awesome. at 2:35 the narrator tells us that “Aesthetics give the player the emotional context the experience, it helps them enter the right frame of mind, to suspend disbelief and become completely immersed.” Let’s get back to Mom. Just now she witnessed, for the first time ever, the Darkspawn horde. Her reaction was fear. “I don’t think I’m going to like this game,” she said. “I have to fight all those things?”
Admittedly, the first time I saw the horde I had a similar reaction. But why? It’s just a digital rendering of these fictitious monsters. It’s not like they’re outside my front door or anything. It probably has something to do with the sharp teeth, the implied height, the grungey appearance, low light, and smeared blood which accompany the horde wherever it goes. In my previous post, Circles, Squares, and Triangles… Oh my…, I outlined how three basic shapes (circles, squares, and triangles) each have a certain emotional aethetic. Circles are safe, squares are less safe, triangles are totally unsafe. Let’s see how many triangles we can find in the horde.
Ignoring all the sharp point teeth, there are roughly 14 triangular shapes in just that image of the horde. That’s hardly a comforting thought. You may have noticed some of the heads are circular.
There are only 6 circular shapes, and inside those circular shapes are a plethora of triangular shapes which I don’t care to count. I think that creates a false sense of security. That round shape could imply that those particular darkspawn are not a threat. Then they get closer and rip you to shreds. How comforting. But let’s back away from them for now and get back to Teyrn Loghain and his dirty hair.
How would you feel about Loghain if he weren’t dirty? Look at the picture on the left byDeviant Artist JariGrimshaw. The armor’s the same, the facial structure is the same, the hair looks cleaner. The left Loghain is canon to the game. He is evil and he looks it. His complexion is poor and he looks unwashed and un-rested. His hair (although unchanged in the right) looks dirty because his face looks dirty. There are enormous purple bags beneath his eyes. But Loghain on the right–well–he’s downright smashing! No bags under the eyes, clean shaven face, his hair looks washed and taken care of. I could trust the Loghain on the right (if I didn’t already know he murders the King and frames me for it).
Now, I know we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but we can certainly judge a video game character by his or her appearance. We’re usually right about our visual instincts.