How the Visual Design of Video Game Antagonists Affects Perception of Morality

Reyhan Pradantyo, Max V. Birk, Scott Bateman (Corresponding author)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
87 Downloads (Pure)


The visual design of antagonists—typically thought of as “bad guys”—is crucial for game design. Antagonists are key to providing the backdrop to a game's setting and motivating a player's actions. The visual representation of antagonists is important because it affects player expectations about the character's personality and potential actions. Particularly important is how players perceive an antagonist's morality. For example, an antagonist appearing disloyal might foreshadow betrayal; a character who looks cruel suggests that tough fights are ahead; or, a player might be surprised when a friendly looking character attacks them. Today, the art of designing character morality is informed by archetypal elements, existing characters, and the artist's own background. However, little work has provided insight into how an antagonist's appearance can lead players to make moral judgments. Using Mechanical Turk, we collected participant ratings on a stimulus image set of 105 antagonists from popular video games. The results of our work provide insights into how the visual attributes of antagonists can influence judgments of character morality. Our findings provide a valuable new lens for understanding and deepening an important aspect of game design. Our results can be used to help ensure that a particular character design has the best chance to be universally seen as “evil,” or to help create more complex and conflicted emotional experiences through carefully designed characters that do not appear to be bad. Our research extends current research practices that seek to build an understanding of game design and provides exciting new directions for exploring how design and aesthetic practices can be better studied and supported.
Original languageEnglish
Article number531713
Number of pages19
JournalFrontiers in Computer Science
Publication statusPublished - 16 Apr 2021


  • video games
  • morality
  • visual design
  • empirical methods
  • antagonists
  • bad guys
  • character design
  • visual attributes


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