Thesis: Perception

Mapping and Re-focusing

This week, I drew a map of the subjects of interest to my thesis and how they relate to each other. It seems as though the idea of perspective or viewpoint shifting is not what I’m most interested in. I thought back to a starting point of my project: the idea of turning a clever visual comparison into an interactive experience, and the idea of representing the wonder I felt at watching animated credit sequences in the context of a game.

Previously, I was focusing a lot on the idea that the shifts were switching between different spatial relationships, but I wasn’t doing a lot of research on how this was being accomplished.

I want to understand what happens when one is continually experiencing transitions that make use of the fact that the game is a 3D space represented in 2D. (Transitions that may require one to understand the space as 3D, then as 2D, then as 3D again.) How does this change the interpretation of the space and the general experience of the player? What is the difference between achieving this in a 2D medium vs. an interactive 3D one?

Shigeo Fukuda

Recent research on the history of minimal poster art led me to Shigeo Fukuda. He was an artist known for creating posters emphasizing anti-war, using illusion and simplicity (Heller, 1). Fukuda’s posters have a lot of visual strength. They are simple and evocative. They remind me of my fascination of visual minimalism in posters and comics and how they can create a very strong sense of a world. (My next post will be about how story may or may not fit in with the project)


Left: Fukuda, Shigeo. Victory 1945. 1971. N.p. Winner of the Warsaw Poster Contest
Middle: Fukuda, Shigeo. Exhibition Keio Department Store. 1975.
Right: Cooper, Clay . End gun violence initiative for the AIGA. 2013. N.p.

Visual Perception

Visual perception is a large area of study. There are a few books from the OCAD library I’m reading to get an idea of the key theorists and to find the most relevant sub-areas. From my research so far,  I can guess that these areas are:

  • Perception of 3-dimensional shape
  • Perception of space
  • Visual illusion and cognitive biases
  • Ambiguity vs. specificity of visual information

One of the books is called 3D Shape : Its Unique Place in Visual Perception, written by Pizlo Zygmunt, a professor from Purdue University (Indiana). Zygmunt includes a history in the theoretical understanding of the perception of shape, including key theorists such as Hermann Von Helmholtz.


A Necker cube is a good example of a multi-stable image (I’ve written more about multi-stable perception in a previous post), and is often used when talking about visual perception. I found a relevant paper by psychologist Richard Gregory on perceptual illusions. Around page 172, Gregory differentiates between optical/sensory illusions and perceptual illusions, which he explains come from “misinterpretation by the brain of sensory information”. He includes images of the Necker cube by Swiss crystallographer and geographer Louis Albert Necker, who described it in a letter as “a rhomboid (which) reverses in depth, sometimes one face appearing the nearer, sometimes another.” (172).

In addition to this research, I am taking a class on cognitive science, where a lot of these ideas are discussed.


Have people been researching or theorizing about how ideas in visual perception apply to games or interactive 3D experiences?

Lev Manovich’s The Language of New Media has a chapter called Illusion, Narrative, and Interactivity where he compares different types of media and the types of illusion they create. Manovich explains that in 3D game worlds, elements such as the GUI appearing after cut-scenes and  “level of detail” (where objects gain lower poly models based on their proximity to the player character) constantly reveal the machine behind the illusion (206). Manovich explains that “as the user navigates through space, the objects switch back and forth between pale blueprints and fully fleshed out illusions. The immobility of a subject guarantees a complete illusion; the slightest movement destroys it” (206). Questions about suspension of disbelief could connect theories of visual perception with game design. Challenging the way a player perceives the game world, a designer may wonder how their relationship to it differs from other games, and what affect this may have on things like engagement or spatial presence.

Manovich’s book is also a link between games and film. For example, he goes on to compare the experience of illusion in interactive media with that of traditional film, which he claims “aims at all cost to maintain the continuity of the illusion for the duration of the performance” (207).

I’m still looking for more research that could link visual perception ideas with game theory or design ideas.

Works Cited

Gregory, Richard  “Perceptual illusions and brain models” Proc. Royal Society B 171 179-296. Published to web January 3, 2008. Web. January 18, 2016.
Heller, Steven. “Shigeo Fukuda, Graphic Designer, Dies at 76.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 19 Jan. 2009. Web. 18 Jan. 2017.
Manovich, Lev. The language of new media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002. Print.
Pizlo, Zygmunt. 3D shape: its unique place in visual perception. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2010. Print.

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