I wrote something related to this, but I don't like to plug my shit here so I'll just post what I said:
"...Once each player absorbs and conceptualises what the face is the first time, it no longer becomes necesssary to know what the face is like. There are plenty of examples from the early NES era: 'You thought you were shooting bullets at a fire bat? I thought I was throwing eggs at a giant Pizza!'. It doesn't matter. What matters is it's place in the system. Not what it is, but what it's function is. Does it hurt me? Does it power me up? How far away from it do I have to be to interact with it? Quote's nose is irrelevant. Quote's jumping or shooting or getting hurt is not.
I am, however, not saying that our narrative focused game design is being dishonest. Consider my first diagram again. Which one is more interesting? Perhaps that's the wrong question. While McCloud might be right, and the more abstract Zelda on the right is more impressionable or open to interpretation, perhaps it goes too far? McCloud, after all, stopped his abstraction of the human face: he didn't remove the eyes and mouth, or simply draw a black dot presenting the basic idea of unity, which could
be interpreted as a human face. He stopped because too much abstraction will eventually alienate the reader: it will detach the face from any recognisable human aspects, thereby removing any projection of oneself into the character. Abstract Zelda, on the right, is squares because it's a handy visual metaphor for what the mind does, not because that's what our mind actually translates our visual experience into.
Abstract Zelda has abstracted too far. It has removed any recognisable human aspect from the game, and thus has ruined the attempt on the part of the developer to provide a recognisable human experience. The ludonarrative on the left is 'I am a boy adventurer; I lunge at a monster with my sword but I miss'. The ludonarrative on the right is 'I am a green square; I can make a brown square come out of me. I think I am trying to hit the pale orange squares'. it could be abstracted further and further I think, and eventually even the language I'm using to describe it would become too particular to contain said concepts. The human element is important in that it provides context, and also helps the player learn the relational concepts of the system. A lot of games have treasure chests in them, because the player understands what to do with a treasure chest: you don't avoid it, or shoot at it, you go right up to it and open it! The narrative is therefore important."
I guess what I mean is that the context is important but not how you might think. Dead Space is (arguably) about scaring you, the player. Isaac Clarke's character design is important in that he needs to look like he is in the right place, and he needs to be recognisably human in order for the player to project himself onto Isaac from moment to moment. However, I think Isaac's engineering degree, his past lovers, and that Battlestar Gallactica boxset he got for Christmas aren't so important when I'm actually playing the game because they teach me nothing about the system and provide no trenchant context for my interaction.
One thing that annoys me about Half-Life 2 is that the other characters don't treat Gordon Freeman like a normal person. Like, he disappears for years and no one asks where he's been, he takes down thousands of soldiers like it's nothing, and he never speaks, yet everyone talks to him like he's a regular guy. This is more than just a plot inconsistency, which I could tolerate (I am a fan of Assassin's Creed for heavens sake!), because it also disconnects me from the game world, by constantly reminding me I am exempt from it's rules.
Oh man this post is too long fuckfuckfuck