Annotated Bibliography

Annotated Bibliography, Research and Enquiry

Burgess, J. and Jones, C. (2020). ‘The Female Video Game Player-character Persona and Emotional Attachment’. Persona Studies. [Online]. 6(2). pp.7-21. Available at: [Accessed: 7 November 2021].

This study examines the emotional connection to and interpersonal effects of adopting a character persona in a designed single-player context. Focusing on the game Horizon Zero Dawn, a story-based game featuring a female protagonist, the researchers surveyed players from broad demographics about their experience. Although participants were predominantly male, the vast majority reported strong emotional attachment to the player character, as well as to non-player-characters they interacted with; players reported being able to identify with and feel immersion in the game via a female avatar regardless of their gender. This research could be expanded to include multiple games, and there was likely bias by surveying only existing fans of the game. That said, these conclusions are an important indicator in an industry where female characters are underrepresented and often stereotyped, and aligns with my interest in promoting more marginalized representation in games.

Comerford, C. (2021). ‘Coconuts, Custom-Play & COVID-19: Social Isolation, Serious Leisure and Personas in Animal Crossing: New Horizons’. Persona Studies. [Online] 6(2), pp.101-117. Available at: [Accessed: 7 October 2021].

The author of this study surveyed several thousand participants on their experience playing the multiplayer island simulation game Animal Crossing: New Horizons during the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. His findings were that the game created a sense of routine, escapism, and self-expression in a world full of positive reinforcement and small-dose success. The game became a form of socialization during a particularly isolating time. This survey also discovered that most players settled into fictional roles as a substitute for the uncertainty of their real-world lives, providing insight into the adoption of fictional personas and revealing patterns in community dynamics based on those roles. I personally find these types of games particularly captivating, and their rise in popularity is a clear trend. This study helped clarify which elements of these games appeal to players, and inspired me to focus my own stylized artwork on this genre.

Cook, H. (2015). Character Creation: Why We Make Avatars And How They Affect Us. [Online] Game Informer. Available at: [Accessed: 16 October 2021].

Character customization, previously existing primarily in the online RPG space, is now a staple across different game genres. This article cites several studies, along with anecdotal and survey evidence, to argue that player avatar designs have a strong impact on gameplay and narrative choices. This effect holds true both in cases where characters are designed by an outside source (developers or researchers in a study), and when the player customizes their own avatar. While this is not a complete survey and likely excludes some demographics of gamers, this opens up ideas of deliberate character design (to guide the player into certain behavior, to create additional roleplay possibilities), and of the importance in providing diverse customization options.

Kung, J. (2019). Should Your Avatar’s Skin Match Yours?. [Online]. Code Switch. Available at: [Accessed: 23 October 2021].

This article discusses the phenomenon of playing as a character of another race within multiplayer videogames. It’s fairly condemning of the concept, mainly citing negative examples where non-PoC players abused customization options or, at the least, gained a false sense of activism with a persona they could shed immediately afterwards. The article is limited in scope, with little discussion on the positive elements of both minority players being able to play characters that do look like them, and whether placing oneself into another identity has any impact on empathy or anti-racist views. It does emphasize that many of the issues stem from non-white characters having stereotyped traits or roles, and therefore the importance of creating diverse characters that do encourage positive interactions. With too many studios recently making tone-deaf choices with regards to racial representation, it’s clear that game developers, myself included, need further education on the topic.

Miketić, N., Pinćjer, I. and Lilić, A. (2018). ‘Integration of the Visual Elements of Art and Personality Factors in Process of Character Design’. Proceedings of 9th International Symposium on Graphic Engineering and Design. [Online]. pp.533-539. Available at: [Accessed: 27 October 2021].

This paper seeks to codify methods for conveying character personality via specific visual elements of their design. It discusses the use of archetypes, such as the hero, villain, or trickster; pulling visuals associated with these categories is a simple way to assign specific traits to a character in the mind of the player. The authors explore the way changes in facial expression, eyeline direction, and body posture, as well as elements of traditional art such as line and silhouette, can affect character portrayal. This analysis could be expanded to break out of a reliance on stereotypes, as it does not delve into nuance, but is helpful to character artists in providing a starting framework with areas to focus on in initial design. It also made me more conscious of the impact of first impressions by the characters I create.

Pradantyo, R., Birk, M. and Bateman, S. (2021). ‘How the Visual Design of Video Game Antagonists Affects Perception of Morality’. Frontiers in Computer Science [Online]. 3(531713). Available at: [Accessed: 20 October 2021].

Often, villains that are morally ambiguous lead to more nuanced and engaging interactions for the player. This article seeks to codify antagonist appearance and the message that it conveys about the character’s background and motivation. It found that most game villains were perceived as having more neutral morality (rather than classified as purely ‘evil’), and the more popular designs avoided stereotypes in favor of unexpected or even empathetic traits. It brings up several areas of note for villain design: focusing on mouth expressions, skin texture, and age were powerful tools to convey morality. These results are particularly useful for visual character designers, as they suggest specific strategies for conveying character personality and emphasize the benefits of creating morally grey characters for player engagement.

Skowronski, M., Busching, R. and Krahé, B. (2021). ‘The effects of sexualized video game characters and character personalization on women’s self-objectification and body satisfaction’. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. [Online]. 92, p.104051. Available at: [Accessed: 19 November 2021].

This study explored the correlation between sexualized player characters in The Sims 4 and changes in the female participants’ body satisfaction, controlling for personalization, priming, and the Proteus effect. While exposure to sexualized, idealized imagery in other media has been clearly shown to shape self-image, the paper did not find such a correlation in the game studied, perhaps because advertisements and film depict an ‘other’ for comparison while games’ interactivity create a melding of identities, or that playing as a character with agency overcame feelings of objectification. It is significant in its lack of findings, particularly compared to its closest parallel study (on the online game Runescape) which found contradictory results. This suggests that perhaps the feelings of objectification exist primarily through interpersonal interactions with others and are less important in single-player games. Overall, this certainly challenged my preconceived notion that hyper-sexualized character design is inherently harmful.

Sparks, M. (2019). Metafocus: Avoiding the Uncanny Valley in VR & Serious Games. [Online]. Learning Solutions Magazine. Available at: [Accessed: 18 November 2021].

The uncanny valley is a well-understood phenomenon, but the clearest ways to avoid it often require high budget or complex technology, and the effects are exacerbated in VR or other full-experience mediums. The author seeks to examine what elements of character design may trigger feelings of unease and otherness in players of e-Learning or training games. The uncanny valley is encountered somewhere between heavily stylized and photo-realistic characters; while high realism is achievable, it requires more resources than stylized animation, which the article concludes is the recommended choice. Stylized design can be exaggerated or minimalist, with the former enabling more emotional connection and immersion. While this discussion is not specific to my field, taking note of this criteria is useful as I attempt to establish my personal artistic style for character design.

Stuart, K. (2014). The identity paradox: why game characters are not us, but should be. [Online]. The Guardian. Available at: [Accessed: 1 December 2021].

This article examines the player-protagonist relationship in games. It argues that the interactivity means that player perception of the character lies more with their self and actions than it does with designer intent. This is strongest in first-person, where the player identifies with their character and only tenuously notices the existence of the PC. This is in contrast to third-person games, where the relationship may be seen as control or manipulation, or more positively, as co-operation. An uncanny valley exists between the character’s intentions and morality, and the player’s actions and narrative choices. I found the author’s feelings of disconnect with most characters thought-provoking, as I’ve personally had the opposite experience. The article’s attempt to categorize why this is – focusing on action more than character growth, creating un-empathetic personas, a lack of immersive technology – provides insight into how to make the player-character relationship impactful for a wider range of people.

Tosca, S. and Klastrup, L. (2009). ‘“Because it just looks cool!” – Fashion as character performance: The Case of WoW’. Journal For Virtual Worlds Research [Online]. 1(3). Available at: [Accessed: 25 October 2021].

Appearance customization and equipment choices are a staple part of MMORPGs. This study polled a large group of World of Warcraft players to determine the importance and role that fashion plays in their interactions. It found that the majority were not only aware of other players’ appearances, but actively crafted their own aesthetic as a means of personal expression, achieving power and status, or even as a uniform to convey their chosen role. Although this is an older study, its conclusions remain applicable: while complexity and options for character customization have expanded, player interaction and messaging through visual appearance remains a staple of online multiplayer games. As an aspiring character designer, it’s important to provide a wide variety of costume customization, and to be conscious to scale appearance (greater aesthetic complexity and opulence) alongside equipment stats.

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