Aesthetic Emotions in Digital Games: The Appeal of Moving, Challenging, and Thought-Provoking Player Experiences

Julia Ayumi Bopp

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


Film, music, literature, and the visual arts are all acclaimed for their capacity to afford emotionally rich experiences, including aesthetic emotions typically considered negative and challenging. Games, in contrast, have been argued to be less effective at evoking a similarly broad spectrum of emotions due to their inherent focus on gameplay and mechanics. Concurrently, efforts in player-computer interaction have mostly concentrated on fun, flow, and need satisfaction. As a consequence, several empirical and conceptual gaps in our understanding of the player experience remain: We know little about what kind of aesthetic emotions players feel, to what extent they value such experiences, how games evoke these emotions, and what the outcomes of such experiences may be. This thesis addresses these research gaps in five empirical studies. Results from Publication I, Publication II, and Publication III showcase that players experience a range of aesthetic emotions in games, typically associated with other art forms. Games also afford unique aesthetic emotions, such as remorse and a sense of responsibility. Publication I and Publication III highlight that players enjoy and appreciate such aesthetic emotional experiences, in some instances, precisely because of games evoking intense negative feelings. Moreover, Publication I, Publication II, and Publication III identify means through which games facilitate aesthetic emotions, including tough decisions, as well as attachment to and loss of game characters. Players' personal experiences and memories also shape the gaming experience, highlighting how games can profoundly impact players in different ways. Notably, Publication IV showcases games' potential for affording aesthetic epistemic emotions, experiences that prompt reflection on the self and others. Finally, Publication V provides insights on how a VR game specifically designed to stimulate reflection fostered understanding and empathy for others in distress, both in-game and in real-life. This thesis contributes to empirical and conceptual problem-solving in player-computer interaction. First, it provides empirically based descriptions of the hitherto little explored phenomenon of aesthetic emotions in games and their potential outcomes. Second, it contributes to a more nuanced understanding of positive player experience and helps to clarify concepts such as emotional challenge and character attachment. Finally, the thesis highlight game aspects that play an important role in affording aesthetic emotional experiences, and outlines avenue for future research.
Translated title of the contributionAesthetic Emotions in Digital Games: The Appeal of Moving, Challenging, and Thought-Provoking Player Experiences
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Mekler, Elisa, Supervising Professor
  • Hämäläinen, Perttu, Thesis Advisor
Print ISBNs978-952-64-0111-9
Electronic ISBNs978-952-64-0112-6
Publication statusPublished - 2020
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


  • player experience
  • emotion
  • aesthetic emotion
  • games


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