Emotion's Role in Video Games (by Carl B.)
December 2, 2011, by Carl B. - The chief goal of any great story is to create likeable characters that the audience will connect with. This is true not only for books and movies, but for video games as well – especially in this age of high processing power where developers can tell their story through epic cut-scenes that bridge the gap between gameplay and narrative. Not every game makes use of emotional connection, so it begs the question: what is emotion's role in gaming?
One reason why the Call of Duty series isn't as compelling as it potentially could be is due to characters that aren't really relatable. There was one part in Modern Warfare 3 when a recurring character in the trilogy dies – I actually had to ask myself whether I cared or not, and then I laughed at the ridiculousness of the situation. It was an over-dramatized moment involving a cookie-cutter character.
But it isn't fair to hate on Call of Duty's lack of character development or emotional appeal. In general, shooters don't need to rely on such conventions – unless they take on other forms of gameplay, such as the Uncharted series.
Uncharted is a third person shooter with heavy platforming and story elements. Just about every character in the three games is loveable, especially Sully. The dynamic between Nathan Drake and Sully is hilarious and believable in all three games, making the fake death of Sully in the most recent title, Uncharted 3, all the more gut-wrenching. Around the time the game released, developer Naughty Dog talked in interviews about how they weren't afraid to kill off characters, making that moment all the more dramatic. I was convinced that the series would end with Uncharted 3, because the dynamic between Drake and Sully is one of the biggest strengths of the series.
As I said in my review of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Link and Zelda's relationship has never been better. Zelda, for probably the first time in the series, is an actual character with many levels – before, she was just the typical stock character to fill the role of Princess. There isn't too much dialogue between the two characters, as players never see Link speak, but the non-verbal communication between Link and Zelda is what makes their relationship so moving in Skyward Sword. Even Groose, Link's schoolyard rival, becomes a noble character late in the game.
The game that I immediately think of regarding emotional connection and caring for the characters is Mistwalker's The Last Story. Not only is the ending of the game beautifully crafted – something I won't spoil since the game will be releasing in Europe next year – but the characters interact with one another in believable was through detailed cut-scenes. The entire game is in Japanese, at least right now, so I can't say that I understood what they were saying, but I do understand body language and what type of personality each character has based on the actions they perform. I was so involved with the characters that I correctly guessed the twist at the end of the game, and it was just as rewarding as it was gut-wrenching and dramatic.
What are the games that you feel have the best character development and emotional connection with players? Sound off in the comment section below.