How the visual design of video game antagonists affects perception of morality

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University of New Brunswick


Antagonists play an important role in video games, as they often act as the source of a game's main challenge. A key part of how antagonists are experienced is through their visual design. Antagonists differ from other characters in that they are typically viewed as being immoral. However, there is limited research focused specifically on how antagonists are visually designed, and how this affects players' perceptions of antagonist morality. To build this understanding, we gathered people's ratings of 105 antagonists. By examining the correlation between the prominence of antagonists' visual attributes and how “bad” participants perceive a character, our findings provide new insight into the design of characters. We also show how the antagonist designs in our sample show a spectrum of morality and are not always perceived as purely or clearly immoral. We provide an improved understanding of game design practices and explore how they can be better studied and supported.