Multimedia Tools and Applications

, Volume 78, Issue 10, pp 13565–13591 | Cite as

Fighting the game. Command systems and player-avatar interaction in fighting games in a social cognitive neuroscience framework

  • Alan D. A. MattiassiEmail author


Videogames often require players to control an avatar in order to act on the virtual world. In many cases, such as in fighting games, the avatar’s body often shares biological features with the player’s body, such as a human-like figure and a highly detailed and realistic movement. Many studies in social cognitive neuroscience focus on how humans understand biological actions, and in particular other humans’ actions. Models and theories that put in tight relation perception, imagination and execution of actions have recently impacted the field of human cognition and provided a considerable paradigm shift. However, the impact of these theories has been largely focused on modern mimetic interfaces, such as virtual reality, but only slightly affect traditional interfaces even if they still comprise the large majority of the human-computer interaction. Fighting games mostly use non-mimetic interfaces, such as traditional gaming pads, so that the player needs to act with a very restricted range of movements, limited to fingers, hand, wrists and arms muscles. While the player’s movements don’t match the avatar movements, the in-game meanings of the button presses, i.e., command system, may facilitate or interfere with the ability to understand, plan and perform motor patterns on the input device. Here I provide a framework to better understand human-fighting game interaction, but relevant for all interactions with avatars, as well as experimental evidence of this approach validity by using the most successful fighting games: Tekken, Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and Soulcalibur.


Command systems Fighting games Common coding Embodied cognition Spatial compatibility 



This study was not funded by anyone and as such represents independent work with no conflict of interests. I would to thank my students Massimiliano De Luise, Silvia Menotti and Francesco Finotto for helping in stimuli preparation and data collection, Giovanni Colangelo and Alessandro Torresan for assistance in language editing and Cristian Mungherli for calculus assistance.


  1. 1.
    Brass M, Bekkering H, Wohlschläger A, Prinz W (2000) Compatibility between observed and executed finger movements: comparing symbolic, spatial, and imitative cues. Brain Cogn 44(2):124–143CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Brown E, Cairns P (2004) A grounded investigation of game immersion. In: CHI’04 extended abstracts on human factors in computing systems, pp 1297–1300Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Buccino G, Binkofski F, Fink GR, Fadiga L, Fogassi L, Gallese V, ... Freund HJ (2001) Action observation activates premotor and parietal areas in a somatotopic manner: an fMRI study. Eur J Neurosci 13(2):400–404Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Catmur C, Heyes C (2011) Time course analyses confirm independence of imitative and spatial compatibility. J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform 37(2):409CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Chandrasekharan S, Mazalek A, Nitsche M, Chen Y, Ranjan A (2010) Ideomotor design: using common coding theory to derive novel video game interactions. Pragmat Cogn 18(2):313–339CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Cowley B, Charles D, Black M, Hickey R (2008) Toward an understanding of flow in video games. Comput Entertain (CIE) 6(2):20Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Craik FI, Tulving E (1975) Depth of processing and the retention of words in episodic memory. J Exp Psychol Gen 104(3):268CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Csikszentmihalyi M (1997) Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. HarperPerennial, New York, p 39Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Gallese V (2009) Mirror neurons, embodied simulation, and the neural basis of social identification. Psychoanal Dialogues 19(5):519–536CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10. (2017) Heavyweight champ (1976) – release details. Accessed 2 June 2017
  11. 11.
    Green CS, Bavelier D (2006) Effect of action video games on the spatial distribution of visuospatial attention. J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform 32(6):1465CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Guiard Y (1987) Asymmetric division of labor in human skilled bimanual action: the kinematic chain as a model. J Mot Behav 19(4):486–517CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Harper T (2013) The culture of digital fighting games: performance and practice. Routledge, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Iacoboni M (2009) Imitation, empathy, and mirror neurons. Annu Rev Psychol 60:653–670CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Juul J (2010) A casual revolution: reinventing video games and their players. MIT press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Kessler K, Thomson LA (2010) The embodied nature of spatial perspective taking: embodied transformation versus sensorimotor interference. Cognition 114(1):72–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Kilner JM, Marchant JL, Frith CD (2009) Relationship between activity in human primary motor cortex during action observation and the mirror neuron system. PLoS One 4(3):e4925CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Klatzky RL (1998) Allocentric and egocentric spatial representations: definitions, distinctions, and interconnections. In: Spatial cognition. Springer, Berlin, pp 1–17Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Leganchuk A, Zhai S, Buxton W (1998) Manual and cognitive benefits of two-handed input: an experimental study. ACM T Comput-Hum Int 5(4):326–359Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Mattiassi A (2017) Command systems and player-avatar interaction in successful fighting games in light of neuroscientific theories and models. On CEUR in Proceedings of GHItalyGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Mattiassi AD, Mele S, Ticini LF, Urgesi C (2014) Conscious and unconscious representations of observed actions in the human motor system. J Cogn Neurosci 26(9):2028–2041CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Miall RC, Wolpert DM (1996) Forward models for physiological motor control. Neural Netw 9(8):1265–1279CrossRefzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Nickerson RS (1965) Short-term memory for complex meaningful visual configurations: a demonstration of capacity. Can J Psychol 19(2):155CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Ogden CK, Richards IA (1923) The meaning of meaning: a study of the influence of thought and of the science of symbolism. Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Pirovano M, Surer E, Mainetti R, Lanzi PL, Borghese NA (2016) Exergaming and rehabilitation: a methodology for the design of effective and safe therapeutic exergames. Lect Notes Comput Sc 14:55–65Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Prinz W (1990) A common coding approach to perception and action. In: Relationships between perception and action. Springer, Berlin, pp 167–201Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Rizzolatti G, Craighero L (2004) The mirror-neuron system. Annu Rev Neurosci 27:169–192CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Sun Y, Wang H (2014) Insight into others’ minds: spatio-temporal representations by intrinsic frame of reference. Front Hum Neurosci 8:58CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Thirioux B, Jorland G, Bret M, Tramus MH, Berthoz A (2009) Walking on a line: a motor paradigm using rotation and reflection symmetry to study mental body transformations. Brain Cogn 70(2):191–200CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Tversky B, Hard BM (2009) Embodied and disembodied cognition: spatial perspective-taking. Cognition 110(1):124–129CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Umiltà C, Nicoletti R (1990) Spatial stimulus-response compatibility. In: Advances in psychology 65. North-Holland, pp 89–116Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Wikipedia (2018) List of best-selling video game franchises. Accessed 6 May 2018
  33. 33.
    Yantis S (1993) Stimulus-driven attentional capture. Curr Dir Psychol Sci 2(5):156–161CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Marco Biagi Department of EconomicsUniversity of Modena and Reggio EmiliaModenaItaly

Personalised recommendations