Fog in the Valley: The Consequences of Abstraction on Narrative, Empathy and Immersion in Depictions of War
A downloadable thesis
“I would like to say to those who think of my pictures as serene, whether in friendship or mere observation, that I have imprisoned the most utter violence in every inch of their surface.”
This thesis aims to explore the development of depictions of war throughout media history, its relationship to culture, narrative, and play. With regard to present day videogames, the advancement of technology in the past decades, and the aim for increased immersion through photorealism and motion capture animation, pitfalls have emerged that challenge the ideals of developers, audiences, and scholars. One of these pitfalls is figuratively falling into the uncanny valley, a phenomenon first examined in 1970 by Masahiro Mori. He discovered a drop in familiarity when objects such as robots, prosthetics, dolls etc. approach human likeness. Subsequent studies have explored neurological responses to the uncanny valley as Mori coined it, as well as in entertainment media such as animation films or digital games, and discovered that the repulsion the uncanny valley provokes inhibits empathetic responses in the audience. One solution to evade the uncanny valley has been part of human culture and the arts for as long as anyone remembers: Abstraction. It plays a major role in visual arts, communication, animation, and has been part of videogames since their inception. The influence of abstraction on the reception of images has been observed in a study, that confronted the participants with a documentary photograph and an abstract painting. The aim was to understand if abstract depictions are more engaging than photorealistic ones and if and how the possibility for personal interpretation, that abstract art offers, influences this effect. It is necessary to critically investigate the uncanny valley with regard to depictions of war, since it is a topic that needs empathy to be fully understood.
Keywords: Videogames, abstraction, war, media studies, uncanny valley, empathy, game art, CGI
CW: graphic violence, death, blood
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