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Using color to convey Depression

Discussion in 'Game Design' started by Habitablaba, Apr 28, 2017.

  1. Habitablaba

    Habitablaba

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    I'm noodling around with a game idea about Depression, and I want to use color do convey if/when a character is depressed. Super high level: everyone is depressed, you go around and cheer them up. When depressed, they will look one way (this is where I'm asking for help), and when they are not depressed they'll be very colorful and full of life.

    I know that color has strong ties to emotions, so I want to use it to get the idea across as much as possible. My original thought was to make everything grayscale when it was depressed, and add color back in as you help them out of their depression.

    Is gray depressing enough, though? Would browns work better? Is there, perhaps, a color combination I could use that would work even better than a monochrome solution?

    I'm sure the best way to know is to just build the thing and put it in front of users and see what they think, and I do plan on doing that. Right now I have some tech stuff I need to prototype, and I'm prioritizing that first right now, and so I thought the next best thing that I could do that would keep me thinking about it was to post here and get some advice.

    Anyways, thank you in advance for any/all help
     
  2. LaneFox

    LaneFox

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    IMO if you want to convey some real emotion you can do it in other ways like scene elements that make it clear why something is depressing instead of sort of 'artificially' supplementing a new color palate to notify users that things are now supposed to be depressing.

    But, that's just my opinion. Plenty of artsy perspectives on this topic to go around and I don't mean to say that the color palate is useless by any means.
     
  3. Habitablaba

    Habitablaba

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    Sure, I totally agree. This isn't going to be a story heavy game, which I imagine flies in the face of trying to convey complicated emotional states, but that is the challenge I've set forth for myself.

    I'm asking specifically for color-based ideas in this thread, but I do welcome comments and suggestions about other ways to convey the theme.

    In that regard, the scenic elements are definitely something that I'll want to look at. What sort of symbolism conveys Depression to you? Perhaps large, skyscraper type buildings all uniform and devoid of embellishments?
    Depression often comes with feelings of detachment and isolation from the environment and those around you, so maybe I can have depressed people cause crowds to part, or do some sort of clever overlay work to make interesting scenic elements lose their color and details as the person passes by. Maybe make them move slower as well.
     
  4. Farelle

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    I think it depends on the surroundings aswell, while I think desaturating a character to show depression, makes most sense in my opinion, since depression is about practically "loosing emotions" or feeling empty and numb and only feeling the bad, but grey tends to take on colors it's surrounded with, so if the backgrounds are very colorful it might be necessary to either have a small radius around the character desaturate aswell or a seperating element/line/color, that could enhance it's effect, like a black aura of sorts, red if you want it to look threatening, blue if you want to go the more sad route....
    in general, sharp edges can also help making it seem more dramatic, which I'm not sure if that's 100% fitting for depression, but it might be strong visual element that something is wrong....again, it all depends on the surroundings and overall style of the game aswell
     
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  5. Habitablaba

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    This is good! I wonder if I could do something like a cell shader with thick outlines, but make the outlines blue instead of black. I think you are correct about needing to desaturate the environment as well. I'm not sure if I should desaturate the entire environment, and let the happy people have an aura that saturates the environment or maybe the other way around. On the other hand, I could make the whole environment bland, and then when someone is brought out of depression, have them explode in color, adding color back to the environment, too
     
  6. Socrates

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    If this is a game about making a group of people not depressed and your goal is to un-depress all of them, you could have the local aura for depressed/not and then have the background's overall level adjust based on the total depression amount.

    Washed out greys or blues would certainly fit into the stereotype of being sad/depressed. Going sepia could also work, and might stand out more depending on how you do the rest of the background and objects.


    As for possible other game mechanics, helping someone "escape the custard" could be an interesting. This 15 minute TedX talk might interest you: A new plan for anxious feelings escape the custard! Neil Hughes TEDx.


    Then some thoughts beyond just the game mechanics:

    Something to consider with this game, though, is going to be how you handle the concept of depression. Depression as a mental illness is not something you can just "fix" with a few actions. People who suffer from actual depression or who know people who do are likely to react negatively to this subject matter if it's handled poorly or insensitively. You may just be safer having it be a generic "sadness" instead of using a word that contains a lot more connotation and actual medical issue like "depression".

    Probably 2-cents too much, but: An article on Gamasutra about depression and video game makers/players I liked is linked here.
     
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  7. Kona

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    As for the colors, greys and blues as @Socrates mentioned. And don't make stuff too colorful, make stuff bleak and... well depressing.

    Green / Green-blueish are other colors that are often used to create a "sickening" feeling. Make a google search for "psychology of colors" and you will surely find more tips. :)
     
  8. Teila

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    Interesting article. But I have to wonder....

    I have a son who plays video games for his depression. The problem is that the only time he feels happy is when he is playing video games. So after a few hours of playing, he will come off and be angry, irritable, as if real life gets in the way of the games. I limit play time because his behavior is bad enough to affect the rest of us. Medication has helped but it sort of bothers me that playing video games is touted as a cure for depression.

    I can see how it might relieve stress or maybe allow one to escape, especially in a an MMO, but to use it as a form of self medicating seems like an iffy idea.

    But..if this article is correct, then maybe the OP should drop the sad colors and make a game where the depressed character learns how to see the colors. When I think of my son, I am hoping that his achievements, and he has many, will make him see that real life has the same challenges and even bigger and more real awards than a video game. It is difficult though. A game that helps a depressed person navigate the anxieties and worries and lack of confidence and come out into a better place, not cured, but instead feeling a bit more hopeful might be interesting.

    I would love to see a study of how depressed gamers use the rest of their time. Do they have a full-filling job? Could they have one? Do they have a family? How about friends that are not online? Does escaping into a virtual world really aid the depression or does it just give a temporary reprieve? Is there a feeling of not belonging to the real world after a long game session? How does that affect depression?

    I don't know and am not wise enough to know it all, but I am curious. This is something that hits our family every day and we try to cope. Mental illness is not just an individual illness...it effects the entire family, just like addiction.
     
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  9. Habitablaba

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    These are all great points.

    I know that Depression is not the same thing as sadness, and I am not aiming to trivialize it as something you can just have fixed quickly.

    My goal is to make games that are more than just shooting a bad guy because he's looked at you funny. I want to make games with social implications; games that matter. I want to change the world. I know these are lofty goals and I know I am just one person, but I have to try anyway.

    With that in mind, I am giving myself the easy-out of saying that I'm currently just working on the Proof of Concept for this game, and I am not going to die on this hill. I really want to make this game, I think it is important. But at the end of the day, if I can't make it without trivializing a serious medical condition, or trivializing its treatment as "drugs!", then I'll drop the whole thing and work on something else.

    Thanks, everyone for your input so far, it has been hugely helpful.
     
  10. Farelle

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    hm....in my own dealings with depression...I can say that one very important element for me to learn was, that I can only help myself...which doesn't mean that others can't, but that I need to develop tools to deal with my depression. You could call it tools or keys or something like that...and while it is not the same as a "cure" since that probably just doesn't work that way, but i could imagine it could work as an element in a game. Help people, by helping them to learn to help themselves. Make their world colorful gradually through own progressing and experiencing of the world, make them colorful through gaining trust in someone else by taking them how they are and however they feel and not judge them for feeling the way they do....
     
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  11. Martin_H

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    Have you evaluated whether it would be more efficient to focus on acquiring money to then use that to change the world? I mean money seems to be the most universally useful thing to change something.

    With games you'll always have problems of aligning people who would benefit from your message, with people willing to play your game. E.g. if you make a game with an anti-homophobic message, homophobes won't play that. I don't see how a "cheer 'em up" game would appeal to people with mental illness, as the whole concept of "just cheer 'em up and they'll feel better" probably feels insulting to them.

    I'd be interested in an A/B comparison study how much better or worse the effect of online forum interaction is compared to escapist gaming.

    edit: just realized this could be interpreted as a sort of snarky remark, but it wasn't intended that way. I'm genuinely curious. This article ( http://www.cracked.com/blog/5-ways-to-stay-sane-in-era-non-stop-outrage/ ) got me thinking and I've started to see most of my online activity in a negative light. In terms of "how bad is this for me?", I'd rank gaming (singleplayer offline!) relatively low, but I have nothing to back that up of course.
     
    Last edited: May 1, 2017
  12. Teila

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    I did not take this as a snarky remark. I think it depends on how you use the forum. If you use it to learn or grow from other's experiences, I think it is a good thing. But if you use it to troll other people, do things you would not otherwise do because of the anonymity of the forums, then it could be a negative thing for you and others.

    Some examples...my daughters are teen artists and sites with artists can have a positive or negative effect based on the site. At first, Deviant art was a great experience for them. They connected with other artists and really enjoyed the experience. Later, as they got older, they started noticing the cliques and the negativity of some groups and not are looking at moving to Art Station which is more professional.

    My son, on the other hand, gets caught up in really nasty infighting on some of the Youtube channels. I am not sure this helps his stress or anxiety levels. lol

    Unity forums are really my only forum use and while it can be distracting, I get to have some cool conversations with people like you. :) As one who works from home and is surrounded by my teens and young adult college student most of the time, it is nice to talk to grown ups. lol Not that my son isn't a grown up, but we will always have a mom/son relationship.

    So, imho, I think forums can be good or bad, depending on how you use them and what you want to get out of them. The article you linked to is interesting and I have to agree. It is why I use the ignore function on the forums quite liberally. Rage is not something I really need in my life. As one person once told me, it is important to surround yourself with positive people, not always optimistic people, but people who have a positive impact on your life. That means people who disagree, but people who do it in a way that is constructive. We all fail at that sometimes, but it is the attempt that matters. :)

    I don't think gaming is bad for you. I do think that it can become a crutch for certain people. I have had friends who used alcohol or drugs to escape and gaming is probably better than that usually. It is when the gaming becomes more important than other aspects of your life that it can hurt. Like any compulsion or addiction, if your family is suffering, if your work is suffering, if you are in more pain when not drinking, doing drugs, or playing games, then it might not be healthy. Of course there are a lot of crutches. Maybe the "rage" in forums is one of those. We justify a lot by saying we are 'relieving stress' and that may be true, but if it just causes more stress in the long term by hurting your relationships with others or your ability to cope, then our justifications may not be valid.

    edited to add...this is all my thoughts and musings. :) So take it all with a grain of salt.
     
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  13. Habitablaba

    Habitablaba

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    Here's the thing.
    Yes, having a surplus of funds is a great way to affect change. I don't have that. Most people don't. And so, there exist other ways to change things. Do I honestly think I'm going to sit down and write a game that changes the world? No, not really. But I had an idea, and I thought it was an interesting design challenge, so I came here to ask about a specific part of the design.
    Perhaps my failing was providing too much context.

    I thought I'd made it clear, but maybe I haven't, that I don't want to make a game that trivializes a complex mental state like depression. Nor do I want to make something that trivializes the treatment of depression to something like "just take these drugs" or "just think yourself happy" or "take my hand if you want to live."
    I remain unconvinced that I can't do this. If I ever do become convinced that I can't, I'll kill the project.
     
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  14. Teila

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    I say go for it. Try it, get some testers, and see what happens. It is something you want to do and it will always be there in the back of your head if you do not try. That is exactly why I am making the game that I am making. :) Sometimes they just get into your soul. lol
     
  15. Resin

    Resin

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    Cool colors and desaturation are traditional shorthand for depression. I would suggest looking at some German Expressionist paintings and early film, the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari comes to mind as an excellent example of environment reflecting internal state. Often asymmetry or sharp contrasting lines pointing towards the subject can convey a sense of disturbance. I would not undervalue the importance of a good soundtrack either.
     
  16. Not_Sure

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    I think the best way to convey depression is in a stream of contrasts.

    Point in case:



    Just being shadowy, cold, and grey isn't enough.

    You need to highlight it with contrasts.

    In your case, maybe have happy people around the depressed person.

    But also, make sure to convey it in the animations, in their posture, and in the area surrounding them.


    EDIT: That said, I am a little skeptical of the "cheering people up" idea. Where I work I'm constantly having to fend off a torrential down pour of "Smile!" written on windows and "uplifting" Facebook drivel. When in reality those sorts of things only work on people who want them to work on them and to the average person who is legitimately depressed will have the opposite effect and feel more disconnected and less accepted.

    More often than not a lot of people with depression need validation for their so called "negative" emotions, rather than being told that there's something wrong with them for feeling the way they do.

    This is exactly why places that are rated the highest in happiness are also the highest in suicides.

    And it's exactly why listening to depressing music can make you feel better.

    And it's exactly why "misery loves company".

    It's very difficult to deal with depression when everyone around you is telling you that you're wrong for not being happy.

    Instead we should be validating these people and building a sense of empathy.

    And sometimes, well sometimes there's something genuinely wrong with the chemistry of their brain and they may need medication.

    Cocaine addicts, like Robin Williams, often obliterate their serotonin receptors and are unable to process happiness on a chemical level.
     
    Last edited: May 4, 2017
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  17. FlyingRobot

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    I was researching this for a similar project of making a game addressing depression due to disability.

    My project is not progressing as I'm stuck with the actual game mechanics :(, but I can share some findings.

    1. You first need to decide what exactly do you want, you need to visualize depression or you want the player to feel depressed/sad.

    2. Any video game is an anti depressant at it's core. It uses activities to progress and feedback to report, which is exactly the reward mechanism of the brain. So whatever you do in a video game will be fun. Not depressing.

    3. Players/people usually use association when deciding what to think when you use a particular color. It generally comes from their visual experience and that can vary. Like sepia may induce the feeling of vintage in someone while feeling of rotten in others. It's never a universal feeling.

    4. Music playing in the background can help building the mood a lot. My game was association of music with depression.

    5. Most importantly you can invoke the feeling of sadness in player through the game mechanics. How the world behaves with him. With the narrative. With some dis-balanced unfairness in the game justified by the narrative so that the player won't rage quit. I think this is more applicable in video games than color or music. Players see video games as puzzles, they don't associate with it close enough to be affected by it, until you break the conformity and put players in situations/choices which can relate to them deeper than the puzzle level.

    Some food for thought : How will a player feel if his/her gameplay/bad choice is responsible for the player character going through an additional ordeal.
     
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  18. Martin_H

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    That's not even close to how anti-depressant medication works. You might want to read up on some related wikipedia articles. The mechanism you describe sounds a lot more like stimulants/drugs. Anti-depressants typically just "make the good neuro-transmitters go away less quickly".

    I wouldn't agree with that either. I've had some very depressing multiplayer experiences. And games like "This war of mine" have many reviews of people describing how intensely sad they made them feel.
     
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  19. FlyingRobot

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    Exactly, that is why I suggested the combination of narrative and puzzles that are somewhat humanly unfair to invoke the feeling of sadness.

    I'm well aware of 'This war of mine'. Inspired me to make this game
    https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.MissingLinkTrust.Missing

    Which experimented with player sadness and fear and received pretty interesting responses.

    My point was, you have to move away from the way generic video games are designed.
     
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  20. Martin_H

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    Ah, I see. Sorry if I misunderstood you. I remember reading about your game here. Mad respect for taking on such a dark topic! I have a pretty high tollerance for bleakness in games, and I've had a lot of fun with This war of mine. I found it to be a very compelling and engaging experience that kept me playing all night. But your game is firmly out of my comfort zone, and I wouldn't want to play it because I'd anticipate to find it really depressing with a lasting effect. I think that's a good thing, you've certainly made a memorable game that rises above the banality of instant-gratification feedback-loops. Good job!
     
  21. Socrates

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    I am going to throw in something on this point. I read FlyingRobot's "anti depressant" to mean "counter to being depressed", not as in the various medications. Of course I could be wrong. The reason I read it this way is that as someone who has experience with depression myself and throughout my family tree, I know that things like the feel good success in a game or the challenge of solving problems in a game can actually help fight the depression. It is by no means a full-on treatment, but video games used properly can be helpful. (Please note I said "Used Properly". I recognize that there are as many or even more ways to use them improperly to hide yourself away.)

    The same can be true of watching a good action movie, doing crafts, or viewing standup comedy. There is the adrenaline surge, the sense of accomplishment, or the spark of humor and laughter. They're not a drug and do not replace the drugs (if such are needed), but they can be things that either help chip away at depression or help hold the mood at its current level.
     
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