Better Game Characters by Design
A Psychological Approach
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About the author
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.
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.
; June 2006
365 pages; ISBN 9781482282825Read online
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Title: Better Game Characters by Design
Author: Katherine Isbister
In the press
"If the characters in a game have depth, complexity, consistency, mystery, humanity, and charm, then they are going to feel real to the player, and that helps the whole game world feel real, and allows the player to suspend his or her disbelief and get lost in the world. Everything the player does will be more exciting if they're doing it for someone, or with someone, or in opposition to someone who feels real. Simply put, good character design helps the player to have what we all know can be an amazing, unforgettable experience. This book is not just about making great characters, but also about making great games.
- from the foreword by Tim Schafer, Double Fine Productions
"Katherine Isbister skillfully draws upon various psychological constructs elevating game development to a more comprehensive level. Taking a Psych 100 class? This book transforms the sometimes stuffy theories of Freud, Skinner, Rogers and Maslow into fresh and entertaining relevancy as the author weaves these ideas into game content. The next time you play a favorite video game, read this book-that game will take on a whole new light and who knows you may be able to ace that psychology final.
- Pauline Pedersen, Course Director, Full Sail Real World Education
"The notion of using psychological principles in games continues to be of great interest to the games industry, but few researchers have been able to discuss in depth how psychological research can actually be applied to game design. Katherine Isbister's book not only makes complex psychological concepts accessible to the games community, but also demonstrates its application in current games through the use of concrete examples (on retail products), and possible design tips and recommendations.
- Randy Pagulayan, PhD, User Research Lead, Microsoft Game Studios
"Katherine Isbister has crafted a text that covers a far greater scope of psychological concerns than I would've previously thought possible, and each area of psychology she covers has the potential to bring games to higher level. For any individual studying, teaching, or working in Game Design this is a must-have text.
- Robin Koman, Associate Course Director, Full Sail Real World Education
"A valuable tool for applying effective principles of psychology to create readable, entertaining and high-impact game characters-a must-have for today's game developer.
- Andrew Stern, co-creator of the interactive drama Facade and the virtual pets Dogz and Catz
"Well researched and perceptive, this book offers new insights on creating more emotionally engaging game characters. If you have ever been curious about the psychology behind better character design, this book is a must read!
- Nicole Lazzaro, President, XEODesign, Inc.
"Isbister has delivered an impressive package that will leave you wondering about Sonic the Hedgehog's need for speed and Lara Croft's potential trust issues long after the button-mashing session has ended.
- Animation, September 2006