So, I've read Daniel Cook's (Danc's) Gamasutra article. I don't like it. I don't like it because he's wrong.
"Them's pretty strong words! What makes you so sure?"
Well, because he's wrong in the same way I was wrong when I came up with it. Do you think the eyes of the White Tower are blind?
The theory is far from unique. Years ago, I personally came up with it and tested it myself. I nibbled, chewed, refined, eventually came up with key theory, as linked above. It's re-discovered by every theorist who stumbles through. It is a deeply flawed theory, for all the attractive simplicity.
However, flawed theories are fine if they allow for useful implementation. This DOES NOT.
He aggressively pursues this theory that by putting familiar emotional content in front of someone, they will feel a strong emotion. Unless that emotion is IRRITATION, that isn't so. There are dozens of other conditions required, ALL of which seem more useful to study than this theory.
For example, attention, wanting to be in the mood, not being in a different mood, being distractionless, not having shifted the context, not having shifted your feelings on the matter...
Plus, most humans feel deeply about things they've never felt personally. I've never been really hungry. Every religious Jewish person has been hungrier than me. Yet pictures of starving people upset me greatly. I'm sure you also have many zany associations that are not explained by this theory.
There are a lot of theories that might explain it. Even now, you're probably thinking, "oh, but sympathetic simulation solves that..."
... or was that just me?
The fact of the matter is that simulating intelligence of any kind is extremely difficult. It's easy to think that you HAVE solved something, but it falls apart when you try to implement it. This is not a case of the industry not listening to academics. This is a case of the academics not having a clue.
A big part of the problem is simplicity. Even if we had actual human brains hooked into the games, they would not be convincing humans. At best, they would end up like WoW characters ("LFT? lvl60shaman?"). More likely, they would end up as a state machine that occasionally got into a snit.
This is made very clear if you are familiar with how humans in isolated, extreme conditions begin to act. For example, smaller polar bases. Within a few months of isolation, their social behavior has simplified to a state machine you would be ashamed to put into a game. Plus, they tend to obsess over dumb details, such as Sunday's dinner. Lack of deep IO.
Even the most complex simulated world is so heavy-handed and low-grain that a polar base looks downright lush. Hell, a broom closet looks downright lush.
Increasing the dexterity with which an NPC can interact with the world doesn't help, because there's no significant world to interact with.
To me, it's obvious that we won't get very far by trying to simulate from the bottom up. Even trying to get a complex enough world is computationally impossible.
We have to cheat.
Danc is aware of this on some level, and is cheating by storing up elements that have been proven to cause emotions in some way for some audience subset. The idea being that once you have a stock of these elements, you can use them to do something meaningful. Something that causes emotion.
But the approach is much too heavy-handed. I don't want to see my face in a game, and I certainly don't want to see my life. I'm not even sure such a game would be psychologically safe: if done right, it would totally fuck you up.
Besides, the best stories are told by someone with a vision. They aren't remixing collected symbols, at least not on such a simplistic level. The content in their stories is carefully crafted to cause emotion, and they use content we've never experienced. I've never been on a quest to destroy a ring, or flown through a nebula, or gotten mixed up with the mafia. But these things cause a predictable emotion in me and millions of other people.
As ever, the point of a story is to say something.
I would much rather work on a system which helps game designers with THAT.
music is much better at causing emotion, anyway