Praise for Chris Bateman

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    "the most thoughtful respondent in games, barring none"
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Hi, Chris:

I think you're onto something important here, and that a significant strand within the Indian philosophy of aesthetics will support you.

Specifically, I suspect the notion of rasa is relevant to your discussion of quasi or shadow emotions. The word is found in connection with Abhinavagupta's aesthetics, which pretty much provide the foundation of Indian (and Tibetan and other Asian) philosophies of art. A rasa is a mood which can be conjured in suitably disposed others by those who can reach it in themselves and have the requisite skills to transmit it.

I have an essay, written some years ago and far from perfect, in which I suggest that Jaques' melancholy in As You Like it, Spencer's mutabilitie, the Spanish duende as described by Lorca, the American blues and various Japanese moods such as yugen and aware are all examples of rasas from different cultures. You can find my essay here -- but there are far more eloquent expressions of each of these rasas by aficionados, Lorca's terrific essay on the Duende being the example that comes immediately to mind:

This writer appears to suggest that the sublime is another such mood or rasa

Rene Daumal is another great writer who has explored the question of rasa.

Myself, I think of the rasas as a "second octave of emotions" -- which in specifically sacred contexts I can easily term "devotions".


I hope that this will prove useful, and that we can continue to exchange notes… I'm still hoping to review your book, but have been sick & "not up to par" recently.

Lovely write up. Some clarifications about my essay that may nor may not alter the points you are making.

Primary Emotions are different in type, not intensity

Consider the definition:
- Primary Emotions: Emotions felt by person A placed directly in situation X
- Shadow Emotions: Emotions felt by person A simulating person B in situation X.

There is some backing from neuroscience that these are different paths for processing experience, hence the reference to somatic marker theory and its 'body loop' vs 'as-if-body loop'.

There is a less a judgement of superiority than an acknowledgement that both paths exist. The terminology is less important to me than the concepts so if the term 'primary' suggests superiority, we could replace it with 'direct' vs 'indirect'.

I would also make the argument that games tend to be well suited to producing these primary emotions for the simple reason that games tend to put players directly in complex situations that involve decisions and emotional reactions all the time.

Evocative media such as books, movies, etc do not do this all that often. Instead, they rely heavily on shadow emotions...most such works are very much about "simulating person B in situation X". The 'turning the page' affordance creates a shallow rule space for generating interesting primary emotions. (Improv drama is a notable exception here and it is as much a game as anything else.)

So I'm not talking about intensity. I'm talking about type. And yes, these things get mixed together. Our brains are multi-channel devices that melt many means of processing reality together. Yet, these two classes of emotional response are rather fundamentally different. They are triggered using different methods and they yield different results. And as chefs, we should know our ingredients.

If anything, my promotion of primary emotions stems from the fact that they a) aren't well studied b) seem at the heart of many good game experiences and c) are often swamped by the immense amount of writing dedicated to shadow emotions. Do not mistake "Hey, look at idea A!" for "Only idea A matters". For a more nuanced application of both primary and shadow emotions, check out:

The games as art discussion is something I'll stay out of. I love redefining of the institution of fine art been seen as an (arbitrary, culturally dependent, endogenous system of value) game. Past that point we enter the realm of arguing over house rules. :-)

take care,

Hipbonegamer: Really interesting stuff you're talking about here! I love Indian philosophy and will dig into your essay as soon as I get a spare moment (possibly next year at this point!).

The reference to devotion particularly interests me, as it is suggestive of bakhti as a form of sacred fiction, and I think there's a lot to be gained in this perspective (which is prefigured in some of the Hindu philosophical schools as far as I can ascertain).

Honestly, I don't know why we're so hung up on Greek philosophy in the West when the Indian philosophy has had so much great stuff going on for so long! :)

Best wishes - and look forward to a book review, if you get around to it!

Danc: Might as well cc my Google+ reply to your notes for completeness:

I recognize what you're claiming here, but believe it might be a lot shallower than you assert. There is an argument that all emotional experience would be shadow emotion since the person in question is only ever a fictional construct. So so-called primary or direct emotions are "Emotions felt by person A simulating person A in situation X." :)

To really break these apart in the empirical sense you want to get to means breaking down the assumption of a person - your primary/direct emotions might be left to the limbic system as an autonomous entity, and it (ironically) doesn't distinguish enormously well between fiction and its alternatives. I suspect the reason primary emotions don't appear to be well studied could be that it's a lot harder to support the case for their separation than it initially appears.

Great topic, though! ;)

I'll just add: a wise person avoids playing the game of "what is art?"... but foolish people have so much fun. ;)

Take care!

Hi Chris:

The reference to devotion particularly interests me, as it is suggestive of bakhti as a form of sacred fiction, and I think there's a lot to be gained in this perspective (which is prefigured in some of the Hindu philosophical schools as far as I can ascertain).
Indeed -- as you'll see in my essay, Bhakti tradition could be very specific about the rasas.

As to the fictive aspect...


You’ll recall Jean Renoir appearing as Octave in his own movie, La Règle du Jeu? Hitchcock and others do it too, of course, and it’s figurative of a Creator taking incarnation -- or playing a role as avatar -- within creation...

Well.. with the Ramayana, we can also find the reverse!

I recall that when I was in India more than thirty years ago, I was told the Ramayana was written by Valmiki, first among poets -- and it was only afterwards, and under the poem's inspiration, that Vishnu did indeed take the form of Rama and come to earth to live out the story already depicted in Valmiki’s epic.

I just did a quick Google search to see if I could corroborate this memory, and found the following brief statement (wish I had better access to scholarly resources):

Rama was born a hundred and fifty years after Sage Valmiki wrote theRamayan. According to some the Ramayan was written in theSatyayug and Rama was born in the Tretayug.

The Valmiki Ramayan or Dhoumit Ramayan

That’s a pretty lovely tribute to the creative artist, no? The god performs what the poet has first envisioned?


... taken from a comment of mine on Bill Benzon's blog, where he was discussing Nina Paley's magnificent film, Sita Sings the Blues -- which is, btw, simply put, a must see, a masterpiece!

(Copied from G+)
Perhaps this difference of opinion stems from a discussion of how players treat a game as 'real' or 'play'.

In certain games such as chess or certain types of pretend play like attacking a weed with a stick and pretending it is a monster, there is a clear boundary between the results according to the game and the impact on real life. Your king doesn't actually die in the real world when you lose a king in chess. Nor do you feel the emotion of actually killing a living animal when you hit the weed. These situations could be described in terms of shadow emotions and this thread of "Games are absolutely defined as imaginary / leisure activities" is perhaps one of the most consistent threads in the study of games.

Yet there's another thread of games as utilitarian pursuits. When I play a game of Werewolf, I'm learning about how certain people lie and whether or not I can trust them. As you say, certain games can ruin (or make) friendships. When a child plays with sticks, they are learning critical skills about object manipulation. When the stick slips and puts splinters in your finger, the lesson is quite physical and very real. You aren't feeling pain and the associated irritation because of some simulation, but because you had a direct experience that caused an emotional reaction. (I use such blunt examples since I'm trying to be very clear...I really don't see how being upset about a splinter in your finger could be considered a 'shadow emotion'.)

I'd guess when games become more real and utilitarian, you see more primary emotions. Because the game matters and not just within the magic circle of the rules or fiction.

Consider the following spectrum of experiences, all of which are roughly identical in roles and rules, but vary in degree of 'realness': Prisoner / Guard relationships in A) Abu Ghraib B) The Stanford Prison Experiment C) A LARP in which a group of players was captured and is being guarded by another group of opposing players.

The emotions experiences in Abu Ghraib are far more in the camp of primary emotions (those derived from direct experience) than they are from shadow emotions. The emotions in the LARP are heavily moderated by the expectations of boundaries and to a lesser degree the fiction of the event.

Realm of the Mad God is an interesting example here. People 'rage quit' and experience such strong emotional highs and lows because the game doesn't quite fit the dismissive model of games as 'an activity done for fun and leisure with no utilitarian purpose." Many players passionately pursue excellence in the game and give it everything they can. Their time, social status, relationships and identity are deeply bound up in that little 8x8 pixel character. That provide are large dose of 'realness' and therefore acts a solid foundation for the generation of primary emotions.

Let's not forget that the words "art" and "artificial" are intimately connected! Per definition, nothing real can be art.

Hipbonegamer: really interesting supplemental to your earlier comment! I look forward to reading your essay as soon as I have a chance.

Danc: I think our differences go to ontological distinctions i.e. use of 'real' - and particularly in my case the concept of 'person'. Neither of us view games as necessarily leisure activities, so that's not likely to be a factor (although I don't necessarily agree that Realm of the Mad God isn't a leisure activity because of 'rage quitting' - but perhaps that's a sideline!)

"I really don't see how being upset about a splinter in your finger could be considered a 'shadow emotion'"

The electrochemical response to the splinter on the nervous system works on the limbic system, and if we were describing things purely in these terms there would be no doubt this would be empirically different from the other cases (*including* the case of humiliation and psychological torture in Abu Ghraib). But you say "being upset about a splinter in your finger" - *your* finger! That involves the brain simulating a fictive construct, the person that unites that nervous system into a unitary form. Hence my claim that even your primary emotions involve simulation (simulation of self).

In order to make this distinction hold up, you'd need to switch to empirical descriptions that would make it next to impossible to make this work in a lot of key cases that it seems you'd want to be considered primary. The Abu Ghraib example is a case in point since intuitively we want to make it a primary case but it involves a lot of fictive simulation (perhaps not in the case of waterboarding, but certainly in the case of humiliation).

We agree that there is a continuum here - my disagreement is with the placing of the line between primary and its alternatives. A great many of the experiences that most people would want to call primary could not be ascertained as such in any empirical sense - grief for a dead relative is a good example. We don't really want to make this qualify as a shadow emotion, yet in terms of empirical distinctions it uses the somatic loop you associated with shadow emotions.

As I say, the problem is with your ontology. If you make your boundary for primary emotions the direct activation of the pain responses in the nervous system, you can ground it empirically. But once you push any further than this, it will always involve the fictive-simulative element, and the real-game boundary distinction won't necessarily help us. I'm not sure what empirical criteria you could turn to that would distinguish between simulating ourselves and simulating 'others' in the way required to uphold your boundary. I suppose you can pin your hopes on mirror neurons bailing you out of this pickle. :)

None of this prevents you using your distinction - but my sense is that you want it to hold up as an empirical criterion, and it isn't going to do that very well.

Hope this is somehow clear! :) And thanks for extending our discussions. (Copied back into Google+ as well).

All the best!

Michael: "Let's not forget that the words 'art' and 'artificial' are intimately connected! Per definition, nothing real can be art."

Then if I live my life as art my life cannot be real. :)

Take care!

Picking up on Chris' last remark, with which I strongly agree:

I'd like to suggest that what's artificial is something made by artifice, an artefact. A suspension bridge that Isambard Kingdom Brunel designed is certainly an artefact, certainly artificial, and plausibly a work of art as well as craft – but it's definitely real.

If I'm right about this, the opposite of artificial would probably be natural or (if one argues that bees' honeycombs are in fact artefacts) spontaneously-occurring. Our use of artificial to mean false or unreal is a later usage, albeit one ideally suited to a world of sound-bite politics, photo-opportunities and PR.

Nice discussion really!

Btw, I feel the urge to add that "literal" and "literature" too are ultimately connected. Nothing real that can't be art, we would have to say then...

This is a great post, Chris! I mostly agree with you, but in some way Dan has a good point. There is a realness to videogames you are not quite taking into account, but I do agree that one shouldn't be bound to primary emotions. I hope this elaboration can help you guys see each other's points.

As games, videogames are the most real. That is because with videogames there is no magic circle. The only means of playing are exactly those which are permitted. In that specific sense, "Games are artificial. Videogames are not. Games have rules. Videogames do not." (DeLeon).

In the conventional version of boardgame Chess, moving a pawn sideways is physically allowed, but not allowed in the context of the game because of its rules. However in the conventional version of videogame Chess, moving a pawn sideways is not allowed at all. That limitation is very real. There are no game boundaries defined by game rules; there are just game boundaries. You simply cannot move that piece illegally. That means there's no requirement at all to hold up the game-based fiction of the experience, because the videogame holds that up on its own. In fact, in a sense you could say videogames have no game-based fiction at all, only game-based reality.

And thus, Dan is right in this sense.

The very way videogames becomes the most real as a form of games is by becoming the least real as a medium. To say that moving a pawn sideways is not allowed in videogame Chess in only partially true. Technically, there is no pawn. It's only a depiction of a pawn. Technically, you're not playing Chess, but a virtual depiction of Chess.

And so, the experience becomes real as a game, yet only does so by being fully encapsulated as a simulated fictional experience. The magic circle of games gets exchanged for the suspension of disbelief that other media has. And therefore, it is subject to those same emotional results.

And thus, Chris you are right in this sense.

But since games are simply an abstract structure for meaning, surely other structures can also become real through videogames, right? Dan's example of permadeath in an online videogame is a perfect example here. The concept of death applies to living beings. In the context of a videogame experience, a living being is a fictional thing. But within the videogame, a permadeath is real. That character is really gone.

There's no actual way to experience living as that character again like you could by simply watching a movie again or reading a book again. Since the beginning of mankind, we've never before had that ability with our fiction. And since what is happening is a fictional character dying, there's no reason at all to think that only primary emotions are relevant here. Death can cause any number of them.

Godatplay: There is much I like about your commentary here, especially your remarks concerning permadeath.

But I don't agree there is no magic circle with videogames. This to me is an odd claim.

"However in the conventional version of videogame Chess, moving a pawn sideways is not allowed at all. That limitation is very real."

Nothing prevents you hacking the game to allow this except perhaps the meta-rules some players impose. Juul and Sicart both agree that a characteristic of videogames is that the rules are unchangeable - but this claim is false. The rules of videogames are much more flexible than the rules of (say) professional sports. Difficulty is not impossibility.

Thanks for your thoughtful remarks!

Thanks Chris! I'm glad you are critiquing this idea, as I've been trying to find holes in it myself. I think you'd have to look further than hacking, though.

Hacking a videogame is an act that lies completely outside the experience of playing it. And the end result of a hacked videogame is an altogether different experience than the original, not only as a game but as a work in a medium.

The magic circle for Mouse Trap involves upholding its game rules and even the arrangement of pieces on the board, but not upholding the laws of physics. Could the game be played in zero gravity? It sure could, and the result would be fundamentally different. That doesn't mean that the physics of the interactions the game relies on are part of the magic circle. Gravity in Mouse Trap is a real limitation, the circumvention of which requires effort that lies completely outside the experience, not only as a game but as a work in a medium.

It seems that you're trying to argue for a magic circle of civilized society. To me, the walls of a building during a game of tag are real limitations. How hard is it to kick a hole in the wall so you can give yourself a shortcut? Probably not too hard, certainly less effort on average than hacking the game rules of a videogame.

But I think it's reasonable to argue that the difficulty in modifying that restriction doesn't suddenly make that part of the magic circle. With that same reason, I argue hacking does not support a notion of a magic circle for videogames.


"Hacking a videogame is an act that lies completely outside the experience of playing it. And the end result of a hacked videogame is an altogether different experience than the original, not only as a game but as a work in a medium."

The difference in experience is neither here nor there with software games, since a game-as-service (e.g. a social game) changes on a day-to-day basis and we still think of it as one game (despite the difference in experience). The same is true of the playtesters who are playing a game in development. In fact, the hacker experience is on-par with the experience of the playtesters (except the hacker does so without consent, a point I believe can be ignored). If the playtesters are playing the game - and I believe they are - then the hacker is equally playing the game. The difference of experience argument can't exclude hacking in my opinion.

"To me, the walls of a building during a game of tag are real limitations. How hard is it to kick a hole in the wall so you can give yourself a shortcut? Probably not too hard, certainly less effort on average than hacking the game rules of a videogame."

You wouldn't knock down the wall in tag for reasons that are not related to the physical exertion involved in doing so! But imagine a game of tag that took place in a warehouse full of cardboard boxes intended for recycling - then changing the landscape of play would be fair game, and might even be expected.

The fact that some players view hacking as cheating, and others (including myself!) consider it fair game is a sure sign (to me, at least!) that there is a magic circle applicable to videogames. The magic circle, as Huizinga outlines it (although the actual term owes to Salen & Zimmerman), is a socially ratified space for play - videogames provide that space in spades.

Best wishes!

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