© Written by Rob Ager July 2014




In reality each of us is restricted from the day we’re born to the day we die to a single view point. That seen through our own eyes. Occasionally we get a glimpse of what the world might be like from outside our own eyes by looking at ourselves and the world reflected in mirrors or as seen in photos, on CCTV display monitors or pre-recorded video footage, and a lot of people find these unfamiliar viewpoints uncomfortable in the sense that their perception of themselves often mismatches what they see in these simulated external viewpoints.

Movies almost universally have us depart from reality by showing us a story seen through the shifting eyes of an invisible observer whose view point flips from one angle, time or place to another hundreds of times during the story. Only occasionally do we see events within a movie through the eyes of a character within that story. Usually it’s very brief and some movies have us see things through multiple characters eyes, which again departs from reality. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a feature movie which involved the audience viewing events only through the eyes of a single character. I’m sure it has been attempted though and the fact that it hasn’t caught on after over one hundred years of cinema is a strong indication that people aren’t seeking a movie experience that matches reality. They are happy to just be a fly on the wall whose viewpoints unrealistically chop and change to show the story in the most interesting and stimulating way.

In the early days of video games viewpoints were nearly always from the third person – the player looking at their game character externally as they controlled that same character’s actions. And they loved it. Games like Pac Man and Asteroids were huge hits and today a good percentage of games are still played from completely unrealistic third person perspectives, many simply adopting a sort of God’s eye view of the action. The psychology of this is interesting because controlling a character while seeing them from outside the character’s own viewpoint is sort of akin to being a military officer or commander issuing orders to troops, but never actually taking direct part in the battle themselves. We’ll get a little more into that subject later.

Going back to the earliest video games, eventually we were able to play first person perspective games, but the graphics left a lot to be desired. It took over 30 yrs and thousands of games to progress to today's near photo-realistic (by comparion) visuals seen through the eyes of the player's character, yet third person gaming is still popular. I’d be interested to see some sort of experiment done to test whether gamers react with more emotional intensity depending on whether they’re playing a game involving a first or third person perspective. Games like Doom 3 and Alien Resurrection (first person perspective games) certainly gave me a few scares in the dark, but then so did Silent Hill and Resident Evil (third person perspective games). And there are plenty of horror movies that scare the hell out of people with third person perspective scenes. From what I can tell audiences are equally capable of reacting to both.