While researching last night, I fell into this incredibly fascinating rabbit hole of “perceptual causality and animacy”. The idea that humans, when they see an object move, give it significantly more emotion and meaning than it explicitly has. It turns out Yale has a whole department called the Perception & Cognition Laboratory where they study this. There are quite a number of interesting visual demos on their website.

Wolfpack Effect

One of the first ones I saw was the “wolfpack effect”. A bunch of triangles randomly floating around a circle. In one version, the triangles are oriented with respect to their direction of travel, while in another, they always face the circle. The latter heuristic creates a rather profound impact on the viewer’s perception of the scenario. watch both versions and compare for yourself:

Travel-facing triangles

Circle-facing triangles

Read more about the Wolfpack Effect here:

Launching Effect, etc.

There is also a collection of simpler scenarios, like Michotte’s “launching effect”, which you can find here:

Heider and Simmel (1944)

In addition, I learned of the infamous Heider and Simmel animation of 1944, which is a couple very primitive shapes moving through space which has the power to make most people feel an immense amount of emotion:


In hindsight, these ideas are the foundation of essentially all animation design. I had just never considered that people may have scientifically categorized or experimentally studied the various aspects of the incredible imaginative power of the human mind.

Surely there are many applications of these ideas in game design, as well as many other areas of design. Perhaps you can think of some way to apply to this to your own work?