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Title: Gaming Formalisms and the Aesthetics of Empathy
Authors: Bollmer, Grant
Keywords: Videogames
aesthetic theory
media archaeology
Issue Date: 17-Oct-2017
Abstract: In a relatively early attempt to theorize the aesthetics of games, Mark J. P. Wolf argued that videogames intrinsically privilege abstraction given the technical limitations placed on any digital image. Wolf’s claims were derived from the distinction the influential theorist Wilhelm Worringer made between abstraction and empathy, or Einfühlung, the ability to “feel-into” a work of art central for German aesthetic theory from the decades surrounding 1900. Worringer dislodged the affective qualities of mimesis from the judgment of art. But, counter to the claims of Wolf, games developed in the past several years, especially big-budget “AAA” games such as Grand Theft Auto V and Hellblade, rely on various schemas and heuristics from the history of psychology to represent facial expressions, specifically to generate a kind of empathetic “immersion” that obscures the construction of the game as a digital simulation. Games integrate motion data of human facial expressions generated through performance capture to produce digital faces that realistically simulate emotion, which are then, assumedly, empathetically mirrored in the bodies of those playing the game. Characters in games, however, are—to use a term Sergei Eisenstein developed to describe Disney’s films—“plasmatic.” Empathetic realism, then, relies on the abstraction of motion data, which have long been linked to the use of modernist abstraction to represent motion in static images and objects. Gaming formalism, as a result, relies on a dialectical synthesis of empathy and abstraction, an affective realism derived from motion that does not inherently reproduce visual reality.
Appears in Collections:1. Re:Trace Conference - Keynotes, Papers & Posters

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