Is Affect The New Mise-En-Scene?

July 04, 2010

So I’ve been thinking about how affect is a really useful tool for designing games, and it struck me that to an extent, I’ve heard this concept before.

For the uninitiated, affective computing is a branch of Human Computer Interaction which deals with the ‘feel’ of an interface. The goal is to evaluate an interface based on whether it creates annoyance, happiness, joy, or any other specific emotion. When it comes to games, affective computing is a vital aspect of the success or failure of games. Taking it a step further, we can design games based on their affect, starting a design using the feel that we seek to achieve while using affective attributes of other games to attempt to achieve this feel.

Mise-en-scene, meanwhile, literally means “what’s put in the scene”. When referring to cinema, it thus refers to the props, set and costumes in shot, but the word has evolved to include music, sound effects and cinematography. As such, mise-en-scene has become a term meaning the “feel of the scene”, an overall attitude that a scene is conveying rather than the specific parts which make up that whole.

At this point the dots pretty much join themselves to the point that I wonder if it’s worth saying: affect for a game is equivalent to the concept of mise-en-scene in film. What’s interesting is that affect includes the gameplay and interactive components of a game, as the part of a ‘scene’ that is also created by other stylistic components. So can we use this to compare the two mediums?

I think that the answer is yes, as long as we acknowledge the fact that affect can be all there is to a game, while films usually require something more (ie. narrative). A game is fairly content to have a single level of affective content, while the mise-en-scene of a film will usually need to change. But the fact remains that consistent affect/mise-en-scene is vital to success in both mediums.

This is fairly high-level stuff, and I haven’t got any real context for it yet. It will probably inform further posts, and so I’d be interested to hear any takes on this as a method for cross-medium comparisons.