Today, we have a very interesting topic regarding embodied cognition which will be extremely useful in setting an appropriate atmosphere and character perception in your game. The term embodied cognition is a philosophical term which has also been studied in psychology and it basically means that our rational thoughts are interconnected with our sensory experiences. Let's start of by having a look at these two experiments in psychology and hopefully you'll start seeing what I mean and how this applies to games:
Experiment One: Holding a cup of coffee
This study was conducted in order to determine whether temperature affects our judgement of things. What the researchers did was they had the participants hold either a cup of warm coffee, a cup of room temperature or a cup of iced coffee. Later on, the participants had to make a judgement on a particular person based on a set of information given to them. Overall, those people holding a warm cup of coffee rated that person higher in terms of traits that are related to warmth, for example, kindness. Meanwhile, those holding the ice cup rated these traits lower than the those with the standard room temperature cups. This suggests that temperature plays an important role in influencing our emotions and rational judgements of things.
So it's extremely important to consider things such as weather and season in your game. Whatever season you set your game in: Summer, Winter, Spring or Autumn will reflect the predominant atmosphere of your game - Spring and Summer (sunny, clear sky, blooming plants) will reflect a more positive atmosphere whilst Winter and Autumn (rain, clouds, snow, dead trees) reflect a more depressing atmosphere. Along with the overall weather, small things such as having the stove turned on in the background will affect our overall response. This stuff ties in neatly with a concept called the Halo Effect. The Halo Effect states that when we have just one characteristic of somebody (e.g. warmth), we tend to favor all of that person's other attributes including things such as attractiveness and over-estimating their height.
Experiment Two: Physical Stability
This was more of the same as experiment one, the only difference was instead of testing temperature the researchers decided to test physical properties. Participants sat on either stable or unstable furniture and then they had to rate a set of social relationships, given a certain description about that relationship. Those who sat on stable furniture rated these social relationships as more stable overall compared to those who sat on unstable furniture. Not only did they rate these relationships higher in terms of stability, but they also had a higher preference towards stability than those who sat on unstable furniture.
Furthermore, several other experiments were conducted to indicate things such as color, physical distance between people, making a frown face vs. a smiley face and flexing your arm vs. extending your arm can affect our cognitive judgements. Whilst we can't control things such as making the audience flex their arms or putting on their smiley face, most things else you can control, including stability. You might not be able to control the stability of the chair that your audience is sitting on, but as long as the characters in the game are on something stable or unstable, the audience will put themselves in the character's shoes and experience that feeling.
Tiny things like these matter a LOT. It doesn't just affect our perceptions of others, but it also affects ourselves and our decision making. When we feel warmer, we are more likely to do generous things and feel more trustworthy towards others. It's a beautiful phenomenon that translates extremely well into games and storytelling. Have fun!