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Lonely or Just Distant? The Role of Interpretation in the Emotional Impact of a Metaphorical Game

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When playing a metaphorical game, what is the role of the player’s interpretation in the game’s emotional impact? If players are consciously aware of the metaphor, do they experience a stronger effect of that metaphor? This dissertation extends part of the debate on deliberate metaphor (Gibbs, 2015b; Steen, 2008, 2017) into the empirical space of video games. Participants played a version of the game Loneliness (Magnuson, 2007). In the game, the player controls a square. When the player approaches other squares, the other squares move away as if rejecting the player. Since this game communicates primarily through the metaphor AFFECTION IS PROXIMITY, any change in the player’s emotions can be attributed to this metaphor. In a series of experiments, participants played the game described above, a variation on that game in which the other squares approach the player’s square, or Tetris as a baseline. Participants self-reported their emotional state before and after playing the game, and the change from before to after was the primary dependent variable. Experiment 1 established that Loneliness influences feelings of loneliness and acceptedness and piloted methods of measuring participants' perceptions of metaphor deliberateness. In Experiment 2, participants who played Loneliness were split into Aware and Unaware groups based on ratings of agreement with statements adapted from Gibbs (2015b). The Aware showed a significant change in both loneliness and acceptedness, while the Unaware and baseline groups showed little or no change. These results are interpreted based on a set of hypotheses motivated by the paradox of metaphor (Steen, 2008, 2017), responses to the paradox (Gibbs, 2015), and implicit metaphor studies (Thibodeau & Boroditsky, 2011, 2013). The overall pattern of results is consistent deliberate metaphor theory, in that conscious awareness of metaphor in Loneliness seems to be critical to its emotional impact.

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