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Gaming’s impact on our emotions

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What honestly makes a good game? Is it a satisfying story? Possibly. Is it that it’s a blast to play with friends? Less likely. Especially if you don’t have friends. The one thing that’s always made me finish a game is if I get emotionally attached to the story/characters and want to see how it ends. I just want to say now, there’ll be some spoilers in here.

Media nowadays is usually made to make the audience feel some emotion. It could be laughter, with shows like Peep Show, Friends and Black Books giving millions of fans around the world laughter. It could be anger or sadness, seen in more serious pieces of media like Breaking Bad and in some cases comedy shows like Scrubs and The Office. I’m not here to talk about TV Shows and emotions. That’s for another day, I’m interested to see how Video Games can change our emotional state while we play them.

Obviously, the biggest emotion that games can easily convey is sadness. They’re good at tugging our heart-strings aren’t they? Most notably, the Walking Dead series has allowed us to become emotionally attached to some characters so fast that we genuinely feel like we’re there, with the characters and apart of the plot. Hell, when Lee dies at the end of Series 1 I cried like a little child. I’ve played that game through three times now and every time it left a single tear in my eye.

Another game that’s a good example of, not so much sadness but more genuine shock and a mixture of emotions is Spec Ops the Line. An albeit bland shooter with a story so amazing it’s worth finishing. It turns out the character you were playing as imagined the whole 33rd Squad going crazy and killing everyone. In the end either kills himself/is evacuated. But the sudden realisation of shock and guilt you feel after killing innocent people, destroying the water supplies of civilians and just straight up killing a cool guy in a radio tower is overwhelming. It’s mind-blowing that media, including video games can do this to us.

One emotion we’ve probably all felt in any game is anger. Whether it’s from losing a match of Call of Duty, losing a race on Mario Kart DS or even something as simple as not finishing a level in time because of time limits or other mission specific requirements. Anyone who’s ever played a video game before will have at some point been angry. But that’s the way the game is. If you didn’t feel emotion when playing video games then I doubt you would actually play games at all would you? You want to feel invested. And of course a way to do that is to make you feel emotionally involved with the characters, story or inflict negative emotions onto you when you lose a match or race.

I think the best emotion a game can possibly give us is happiness and satisfaction. It can be something as simple as finishing a game. Watching the end credits roll and feeling like a badass, or seeing two characters re-united. Portal 2, one of the best games I’ve played in a long time thanks to the humour of it all and Stephen Merchant made me feel so happy and accomplished when I finished that game for the first time.

An emotion I’ve ran across in a few games is relief. For example relief a character has survived, or relief I’ve finished the mission in time. Nothing was better than the relief I felt after finishing King Kong and other awful games. Mainly because I’m relieved to know that I never have to play them again. Tense moments in games are obvious examples too. Making you scared or frightened as to what might happen to your character. Like on the Walking Dead when Lee gets his leg stuck in a staircase and you’re fighting off zombies while simultaneously pulling your leg up.

Fear is another one. This is often felt in horror games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Outlast and Disney Pixar: Cars. Sometimes games take the easy route to scare you and just throw in a few jumpscares here and there to scare you and increase your heart rate. Rage did that. So did Dying Light. But I suppose one’s an apocalypse game and the other’s an, err, apocalypse game.

But the big question I’ve been avoiding for the past 700 words is why developers do this. Quite simply put, you wouldn’t play a game if you felt no emotion to it at all. Of course if you’re emotionally dead on the inside like me then feel free to play whatever game you like.