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Felix Schröter, University of Hamburg
felix.schroeter@uni-hamburg.de
!
SCSMI 2014 Conference, Lancaster (PA)

June 11-14, 2014
Video Game Aesthetics

and the Moment of Awe
„In the upper reaches of pleasure

and on the boundary of fear

is a little studied emotion – awe.“
Keltner/Haidt (2003): “Approaching Awe, A Moral, Spiritual, and

Aesthetic Emotion“. In: Cognition and Emotion 17(2), 297-314.
Video Game Aesthetics and the Moment of Awe
• Introduction

• The Nature of Awe

• Awe in Media

• Awe in Video Games

• Conclusion
The Nature of Awe
http://ilifejourney.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/child-in-awe-r1.jpg
The Nature of Awe
• McDougall (1910): admiration as compound of ‘wonder‘ & ‘power‘

• Maslow (1964): peak experiences as ‘passivity‘ & ‘humbleness‘

• Frijda (1986): wonder as ‘surprise' & ‘amazement‘

• Ekman (1992): awe as possible distinct basic emotion

• Keltner/Haidt (2003): awe as ‘perceptual vastness’ & ‘need for accomodation'
McDougall, W. (1910). An introduction to social
psychology. 3rd ed. Boston, MA: John W. Luce.
Maslow, A.H. (1964). Religions, values, and peak-
experiences. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press.
Ekman, P. (1992). “An argument for basic
emotions.“ Cognition and Emotion, 6, 169-200.
Frijda, N. (1986). The emotions. Cambridge, UK:
Cambridge University Press.
Keltner, D./Haidt, J. (2003).
“Approaching awe, a moral, spiritual,
and aesthetic emotion.“ Cognition and
Emotion, 17, 297-314.
The Nature of Awe
Vastness

• anything experienced as being much larger than the self /

the self's ordinary frame of reference

• e.g. physical size, social size, or metaphysical ‘grandeur‘

Need for Accomodation
• challenge to (or negation of) mental structures

• attention focused on deviations from existing schemas

• creation of new (or updating of old) schemas

(Keltner/Haidt 2003)
The Nature of Awe
The Nature of Awe
Vastness

• anything experienced as being much larger than the self /

the self's ordinary frame of reference

• e.g. physical size, social size, or metaphysical ‘grandeur‘

Need for Accomodation
• challenge to (or negation of) mental structures

• attention focused on deviations from existing schemas

• creation of new (or updating of old) schemas

(Keltner/Haidt 2003)
The Nature of Awe
5 ‘Flavors‘ of Awe Experiences
• threat

• beauty

• ability

• virtue

• supernatural causality

(Keltner/Haidt 2003)
Awe in Media
• media as artworks attributed to ‘powerful others‘

> artifact emotions (Tan 1996)

• media as ‘displays of beauty/complexity’

> aesthetic pleasure (e.g. Berliner 2013)
Tan, E. (1996). Emotion and the Structure of
Narrative Film: Film as an Emotion Machine.
New York, NY: Routledge.
Berliner, T. (2013). „Hollywood Storytelling and Aesthetic
Pleasure“. In Shimamura, A. (Ed.). Psychocinematics:
Exploring Cognition at the Movies. New York, NY: Oxford
University Press, 195-213.
Keltner, D./Haidt, J. (2003).
“Approaching awe, a moral, spiritual,
and aesthetic emotion.“ Cognition and
Emotion, 17, 297-314.
Awe in Media
Awe in Media
• media as artworks attributed to ‘powerful others‘

> artifact emotions (Tan 1996)

• media as ‘displays of beauty/complexity’

> aesthetic pleasure (e.g. Berliner 2013)

• medial representation of awe-inspiring objects/concepts
Tan, E. (1996). Emotion and the Structure of
Narrative Film: Film as an Emotion Machine.
New York, NY: Routledge.
Berliner, T. (2013). „Hollywood Storytelling and Aesthetic
Pleasure“. In Shimamura, A. (Ed.). Psychocinematics:
Exploring Cognition at the Movies. New York, NY: Oxford
University Press, 195-213.
Keltner, D./Haidt, J. (2003).
“Approaching awe, a moral, spiritual,
and aesthetic emotion.“ Cognition and
Emotion, 17, 297-314.
Awe in Media
“Thus, the scene of Jack’s death, occurring against the
backdrop of a universe of stars and the vast depths of
the ocean […] inspires awe. Add to this the nearly
incomprehensible forces at work in the sinking of this
giant ship and the enormity of the human suffering and
death suggested by the hundreds of bodies seen
floating in the cold Atlantic, and the opportunities for the
experience of awe […] are plentiful.”
Carl Plantinga (2009): Moving Viewers. American Film and the

Spectator’s Experience. University of California Press, p. 182.
Awe in Media
“Thus, the scene of Jack’s death, occurring against the
backdrop of a universe of stars and the vast depths of
the ocean […] inspires awe. Add to this the nearly
incomprehensible forces at work in the sinking of this
giant ship and the enormity of the human suffering and
death suggested by the hundreds of bodies seen
floating in the cold Atlantic, and the opportunities for the
experience of awe […] are plentiful.”
Carl Plantinga (2009): Moving Viewers. American Film and the

Spectator’s Experience. University of California Press, p. 182.
Awe in Media
• media as artworks attributed to ‘powerful others‘

> artifact emotions (Tan 1996)

• media as ‘displays of beauty/complexity’

> aesthetic pleasure (e.g. Berliner 2013)

• medial representation of awe-inspiring objects/concepts

• medial representation of human moral virtues / life’s purpose

> appreciation (Oliver/Bartsch 2011)
Tan, E. (1996). Emotion and the Structure of
Narrative Film: Film as an Emotion Machine.
New York, NY: Routledge.
Berliner, T. (2013). „Hollywood Storytelling and Aesthetic
Pleasure“. In Shimamura, A. (Ed.). Psychocinematics:
Exploring Cognition at the Movies. New York, NY: Oxford
University Press, 195-213.
Oliver, M. B./Bartsch, A. (2011). “Appreciation of
Entertainment. The Importance of Meaningfulness
via Virtue and Wisdom“. Journal of Media
Psychology, 23, 29-33.
Awe in Video Games
Awe in Video Games
Shadow of the Colossus (Team Ico/Sony 2005/2011)
Awe in Video Games
Shadow of the Colossus (Team Ico/Sony 2005/2011)
Him
Me
Awe in Video Games
Shadow of the Colossus (Team Ico/Sony 2005/2011)
Awe in Video Games
Journey (Thatgamecompany/Sony 2012)
Case Study: Journey (2012)
Journey (Thatgamecompany/Sony 2012)
Awe in Video Games
Journey (Thatgamecompany/Sony 2012)
Awe in Video Games
Journey (Thatgamecompany/Sony 2012)
Conclusion
• Contemporary video games seek to cognitively and emotionally
address players by staging memorable ‘moments of awe’ within the
interactive gameplay.

• Two appraisals can be regarded as central to the experience of awe:
perceived vastness and a need for accomodation.

• Video games allow for the representation of physical or social
vastness (in narrative terms), but also of ‘ludic vastness’ regarding its
game mechanics and rule system…

• … as well as player skills and capabilities in the case of multiplayer
gaming (e.g. by signaling differences in social status and power).
Thank you!
Felix Schröter
felix.schroter@uni-hamburg.de
@felixjs
www.felixschroeter.de
www.cognitivegamestudies.com
www.facebook.com/cognitivegamestudies

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Awesome! Video Game Aesthetics and the Moment of Awe

  • 1. Felix Schröter, University of Hamburg felix.schroeter@uni-hamburg.de ! SCSMI 2014 Conference, Lancaster (PA)
 June 11-14, 2014 Video Game Aesthetics
 and the Moment of Awe
  • 2. „In the upper reaches of pleasure
 and on the boundary of fear
 is a little studied emotion – awe.“ Keltner/Haidt (2003): “Approaching Awe, A Moral, Spiritual, and
 Aesthetic Emotion“. In: Cognition and Emotion 17(2), 297-314.
  • 3. Video Game Aesthetics and the Moment of Awe • Introduction • The Nature of Awe • Awe in Media • Awe in Video Games • Conclusion
  • 4. The Nature of Awe http://ilifejourney.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/child-in-awe-r1.jpg
  • 5. The Nature of Awe • McDougall (1910): admiration as compound of ‘wonder‘ & ‘power‘ • Maslow (1964): peak experiences as ‘passivity‘ & ‘humbleness‘ • Frijda (1986): wonder as ‘surprise' & ‘amazement‘ • Ekman (1992): awe as possible distinct basic emotion • Keltner/Haidt (2003): awe as ‘perceptual vastness’ & ‘need for accomodation' McDougall, W. (1910). An introduction to social psychology. 3rd ed. Boston, MA: John W. Luce. Maslow, A.H. (1964). Religions, values, and peak- experiences. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press. Ekman, P. (1992). “An argument for basic emotions.“ Cognition and Emotion, 6, 169-200. Frijda, N. (1986). The emotions. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Keltner, D./Haidt, J. (2003). “Approaching awe, a moral, spiritual, and aesthetic emotion.“ Cognition and Emotion, 17, 297-314.
  • 6. The Nature of Awe Vastness • anything experienced as being much larger than the self /
 the self's ordinary frame of reference • e.g. physical size, social size, or metaphysical ‘grandeur‘ Need for Accomodation • challenge to (or negation of) mental structures • attention focused on deviations from existing schemas • creation of new (or updating of old) schemas (Keltner/Haidt 2003)
  • 8. The Nature of Awe Vastness • anything experienced as being much larger than the self /
 the self's ordinary frame of reference • e.g. physical size, social size, or metaphysical ‘grandeur‘ Need for Accomodation • challenge to (or negation of) mental structures • attention focused on deviations from existing schemas • creation of new (or updating of old) schemas (Keltner/Haidt 2003)
  • 9. The Nature of Awe 5 ‘Flavors‘ of Awe Experiences • threat • beauty • ability • virtue • supernatural causality (Keltner/Haidt 2003)
  • 10. Awe in Media • media as artworks attributed to ‘powerful others‘
 > artifact emotions (Tan 1996) • media as ‘displays of beauty/complexity’
 > aesthetic pleasure (e.g. Berliner 2013) Tan, E. (1996). Emotion and the Structure of Narrative Film: Film as an Emotion Machine. New York, NY: Routledge. Berliner, T. (2013). „Hollywood Storytelling and Aesthetic Pleasure“. In Shimamura, A. (Ed.). Psychocinematics: Exploring Cognition at the Movies. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 195-213. Keltner, D./Haidt, J. (2003). “Approaching awe, a moral, spiritual, and aesthetic emotion.“ Cognition and Emotion, 17, 297-314.
  • 12. Awe in Media • media as artworks attributed to ‘powerful others‘
 > artifact emotions (Tan 1996) • media as ‘displays of beauty/complexity’
 > aesthetic pleasure (e.g. Berliner 2013) • medial representation of awe-inspiring objects/concepts Tan, E. (1996). Emotion and the Structure of Narrative Film: Film as an Emotion Machine. New York, NY: Routledge. Berliner, T. (2013). „Hollywood Storytelling and Aesthetic Pleasure“. In Shimamura, A. (Ed.). Psychocinematics: Exploring Cognition at the Movies. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 195-213. Keltner, D./Haidt, J. (2003). “Approaching awe, a moral, spiritual, and aesthetic emotion.“ Cognition and Emotion, 17, 297-314.
  • 13. Awe in Media “Thus, the scene of Jack’s death, occurring against the backdrop of a universe of stars and the vast depths of the ocean […] inspires awe. Add to this the nearly incomprehensible forces at work in the sinking of this giant ship and the enormity of the human suffering and death suggested by the hundreds of bodies seen floating in the cold Atlantic, and the opportunities for the experience of awe […] are plentiful.” Carl Plantinga (2009): Moving Viewers. American Film and the
 Spectator’s Experience. University of California Press, p. 182.
  • 14. Awe in Media “Thus, the scene of Jack’s death, occurring against the backdrop of a universe of stars and the vast depths of the ocean […] inspires awe. Add to this the nearly incomprehensible forces at work in the sinking of this giant ship and the enormity of the human suffering and death suggested by the hundreds of bodies seen floating in the cold Atlantic, and the opportunities for the experience of awe […] are plentiful.” Carl Plantinga (2009): Moving Viewers. American Film and the
 Spectator’s Experience. University of California Press, p. 182.
  • 15. Awe in Media • media as artworks attributed to ‘powerful others‘
 > artifact emotions (Tan 1996) • media as ‘displays of beauty/complexity’
 > aesthetic pleasure (e.g. Berliner 2013) • medial representation of awe-inspiring objects/concepts • medial representation of human moral virtues / life’s purpose
 > appreciation (Oliver/Bartsch 2011) Tan, E. (1996). Emotion and the Structure of Narrative Film: Film as an Emotion Machine. New York, NY: Routledge. Berliner, T. (2013). „Hollywood Storytelling and Aesthetic Pleasure“. In Shimamura, A. (Ed.). Psychocinematics: Exploring Cognition at the Movies. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 195-213. Oliver, M. B./Bartsch, A. (2011). “Appreciation of Entertainment. The Importance of Meaningfulness via Virtue and Wisdom“. Journal of Media Psychology, 23, 29-33.
  • 16. Awe in Video Games
  • 17. Awe in Video Games Shadow of the Colossus (Team Ico/Sony 2005/2011)
  • 18. Awe in Video Games Shadow of the Colossus (Team Ico/Sony 2005/2011) Him Me
  • 19. Awe in Video Games Shadow of the Colossus (Team Ico/Sony 2005/2011)
  • 20. Awe in Video Games Journey (Thatgamecompany/Sony 2012)
  • 21. Case Study: Journey (2012) Journey (Thatgamecompany/Sony 2012)
  • 22. Awe in Video Games Journey (Thatgamecompany/Sony 2012)
  • 23. Awe in Video Games Journey (Thatgamecompany/Sony 2012)
  • 24. Conclusion • Contemporary video games seek to cognitively and emotionally address players by staging memorable ‘moments of awe’ within the interactive gameplay. • Two appraisals can be regarded as central to the experience of awe: perceived vastness and a need for accomodation. • Video games allow for the representation of physical or social vastness (in narrative terms), but also of ‘ludic vastness’ regarding its game mechanics and rule system… • … as well as player skills and capabilities in the case of multiplayer gaming (e.g. by signaling differences in social status and power).