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Emotion in Video Games?

August 2nd, 2013 by Irwin Fletcher 2 Comments




I would never in a million years guess that something as simple as a video game could reach me emotionally.
It all started so simple, a little pixel with a boiler suit searching for a princess who was always in another castle, a blue hedgehog who ran from level to level fighting a doctor who I wouldn’t trust with a toaster and a little guy who was basically just a face eating all the dots on the board whilst being pursued by ghosts.


Back then there was nothing that could come close to an emotion, possibly just rage as you fell down another hole because of a low roof (see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the NES). I think I felt my first emotional pang when playing the FMV X-Files game, there is a point towards the end where you can make a wrong move and kill Agent Fox Mulder. A cutscene occurs with Scully at his grave spreading sunflower seeds on the coffin whilst this horribly sad music plays, being a massive X-Files fan it upset me.
So it was an already well established character who was giving me these emotional cues. Not really a game design or story but just my love of an already well developed character/relationship via TV.


Next time was FFVII, you all know the bit where Aeris has the life stripped from her by the monster that is Sephiroth?
The moment Aeris falls down and ‘Aeris Theme’ hits its soft piano notes I was in shock, my skin began to crawl and the hairs on my neck were standing up as a lump began to form in my throat.
Aeris was a lovely character who wouldn’t hurt a fly (unless you were in battle then she kicked all sorts of ass) she didn’t deserve to die by the hands of a monstrous man.



I knew things were changing but that was a long time ago and I could probably count on one hand the games that made me emotional. It’s not a bad thing just that the early 2000’s was a time for some pointless games.
In the last few years though gaming has moved from the subculture it once was into mainstream media and with that it has attracted some amazing talent.
Writers who know how to craft a great story, keep you on the edge of your seat and bring a tear to your eyes.
The Mass Effect series was the first set of games in a long time that made me really care about my characters, I wanted everyone to survive, I loved their back stories, I loved my relationship and interpersonal relationships with them, I loved hearing my crew chat about pointless things and I loved the ship itself.
In that series certain things are taken from you, rebuilt and taken again. Some characters live whilst others perish and sometimes it’s your fault.
There are multiple times in that game series that make me anxious, annoyed and even emotionally drained. Try playing the whole thing back to back, you will be a wreck of a human being by the end.



Emotion is important in a game, sometimes there will be no reason for you to progress forward if you don’t care about the characters. When there is no reason for you to care then what reason would there be to finish?


Creators and publishers have realised recently that an important story is even more important that top class graphics, take Journey for instance, the award winning Sony exclusive game. The game is stunning, very emotional but isn’t top of the range ultra graphics.


The story and the character development is where it is at just now and it is more important than ever because in a world where we have a new Call of Duty every year we need something to ground us, make us more human or we will become mindless drones attacking man after man on screen.


TellTale’s The Walking Dead is a brilliant example of how a story can transcend graphics and sometimes shoddy game play.
The story in that game is so engrossing that you will be hard pressed to put it down, you will care so deeply for the characters and you will cringe every time you make a bad decision.


The ending left me so upset I could barely bring myself to finish it, there are no sunshine and roses in this game just a raw story that will eat at your core. It’s interactive story telling at it’s best.



The reason this article is running across your eyes is in fact The Last of Us. It has now been weeks since I played it and it’s still stuck with me.
I have never come across a game that could upset me so much in the first 10 minutes, I have come to call it “the 10 minutes that made gamers shut their pie holes for more than two seconds”, its a working title.
Speak to nearly anyone who played The Last of Us and they will tell you how emotionally draining that game is, it takes a lot out of you, makes you so deeply sad at times you wonder why you are putting yourself through this. In fact you end up in the shoes of Joel and Ellie the main characters, you are made to live their hard decisions, made to watch them and the people around them suffer.
You get a chance to look into the lives that were ruined in this dog eat dog world and it makes you sad.



So where does emotion fit into the video game medium?



Well as graphics continue to strive for realism we need a good story to stop from tumbling over the edge of ridiculousness. Good stories require emotion or they can’t qualify as good stories.
Gaming production is becoming as big as film production and the massive companies could learn from the small indie’s.
Emotion is at the centre of every human being whether it be anger, love, hate or melancholy. We want to be enthralled, want to be told a story and we revel in it.
I play games to relax, to do things I was never meant to or never could. I also play to experience a story that I have some part in. An interactive movie with me at the helm.


All I know is more games need to be story driven and I see a beautiful future for gaming.



What moments in video games gave you a lump in your throat, made you angry or brought a tear to your eye?


Let us know in the comments below, on Facebook or Twitter.


I'm an LA journalist who really lives for his profession. I have also published work as Jane Doe in various mags and newspapers across the globe. I normally write articles that can cause trouble but now I write for FTN because Nerds are never angry, so I feel safe.