Emotions and RPGs

Real Feelings, Fictional Stories

Video Games and Storytelling                                         

The goal of storytelling is to make you feel something for someone that doesn’t exist. Everyone gets attached to certain characters in books or movies: what if you had more time to get to know those characters on a more personal level? Video games, role-playing games specifically, such as Final Fantasy or Kingdom Hearts, allow you to experience that kind of personal connection to characters and stories. Video games evoke just as much emotion as traditional media, if not more.

I’m sick of people bitching about video games being almost like some invalid form of main hobby for someone to have. The fact is some people like doing doings, while other people like doing other things. Not many people complain about playing video games in general still, but there are many whose opinion it is that playing video games is somehow worse than playing sports, or reading books. Sports are exercise for your body; video games and books are exercise for your mind. It’s been discovered in studies that people who play video games as kids develop more gray matter in the decision-making area of their brains, than people who never play video games (Eschool News).

However, video games as a whole are becoming more widespread in today’s world, and I believe it won’t be long until they are just as accepted and played as sports. Already there are sports bars around big cities known as BarCrafts that are devoted to watching E-sports, Starcraft II in particular (Malarh). However, one type of game has not completely permeated into the common gamer’s library: role-playing games.

Role-Playing Games – What Are They?                         

Role-playing games, or RPGs, are still thought of by many as a nerdy type of game. Many people who do play video games, still cringe to think of playing an RPG, although that number is falling, because they have long been associated with franchises such as Dungeons & Dragons. Many people view RPGs as games for nerdy people wishing to escape reality, and forget how boring their own lives are. This is simply not the case; many people, myself included, play RPGs for the fact that they have some of the best storytelling, and most easily relatable characters out of any kind of media.

You can get the same kind of pleasure and emotion from playing a video games as you can reading a book, or watching a movie. Some people say things like “Oh, well a book is more emotional because you get more attached to the characters.” How? Why does reading about characters make you more attached to them, than if you yourself were playing as that character in a video game, going through the same ordeals that they have to go through? Maybe not enough people have played RPGs to realize that storytelling in video game can be incredible, and just as in depth as a book. It’s true that first-person shooter or games like that aren’t emotional, but if you play a game known to have a good story, you will feel just as much emotion as reading a book.

This is because RPGs allow you to experience the story for yourself, because you are playing as the characters themselves. It isn’t like a movie or book, where you are just watching everything play out the way it’s supposed to.

You are a part of the story. You are the protagonist who is the driving force that moves the story forward. By putting you into the character like this, you are bound to become more attached to him, and any of the characters around him. Therefore, it’s easily understandable that you can feel real emotions for these fictional characters.

The first time I ever cried from a fictional story was at the ending of Kingdom Hearts. I spent the entire game getting to know Sora and Kairi, the two main characters, who everyone that plays knows would be perfect for each other. At the ending of the game, the two get separated across worlds, and the game ends with you knowing that Sora and Kairi made the decision that Sora should go with King Mickey to stop the evil Heartless, and in doing so they sacrificed their own happiness, and they might never be together ever again. I spent the whole game waiting for those two characters to fall in love and be together, and instead, they are wrenched apart by their circumstances.

Emotions – What About RPGs Causes Attachment?   

Bowen Research conducted a survey which reinforces my claim that role-playing video games can evoke many emotional responses. In this survey, published in Game Informer Magazine, surveyed around 500 gamers, and asked them questions related to emotions and video games. 78% of gamers said that role-playing games are an emotionally powerful genre of game. This number is 26% higher than the next highest contender, first-person shooters. One comment that stuck out from the survey was this: “Players get involved with the characters due to the depth of the story (that “rival novels”), cut scenes, “sweeping” musical scores – and of course the dozens and dozens of hours of play.” The most important part of an RPG is the story, unlike other genres like first-person shooter, because that is the defining part of an RPG: an engaging and powerful story (Bowen Research).

What makes the stories powerful is how detailed they can be. The most successful RPGs are always filled with hours upon hours of potential gameplay, as the comment above mentions. The large amount of time dedicated to the game allows the player to experience character development firsthand, and gives them a hefty amount of time to become emotionally invested in the characters, along with the stories behind them. A movie can’t do this; a movie has a little over two hours at most to get you invested and interested in their story. A book can give you hours upon hours to read, but it still is not as powerful as a game, because you are not part of the story; you are a reader, not a character.

Cut scenes are small movies that are shown to you in order to complement the gameplay itself. Cut scenes have long been a cornerstone of RPGs. Cut scenes allow you to see what is happening in greater detail, and often are portrayed in breathtaking visuals. Right now you might be thinking that cut scenes make RPGs more like movies, and they do; but the difference is that you care more about what is happening in the cut scene, because you have devoted time and effort to advancing the characters and plot lines yourself, rather than having them just happen without any interaction by you.

RPGs are also well known for having incredible scores of music. Final Fantasy was one of the first RPGs to come around to video games, and has used the same composer for every numbered Final Fantasy title (barring Final Fantasy XIII) since the franchise started in 1987: Nobuo Uematsu (“Discography”). Nobuo is famous for his scores in the Final Fantasy games, and there is a reason why he is continually asked to compose for them. Memorable music helps to pull players into the atmosphere of the game, and become more involved with what is going on.

Why Do People Play RPGs?                                              

One blog post by Joshua Macy explains how I see RPGs perfectly:

My contention is that this forces you to experience the fictive world in much the same way that you actually experience our own. You make decisions based on your understanding of the world, and then you wait to see what are the consequences. The world is fictive, but the decision, and the anticipation during that period of uncertainty are real. So too are the emotions generated by success or failure. (Macy, Joshua).

He goes on to explain that this is the reason player can become heavily invested into the game, and even “unhealthily so.” RPGs attempt to make you play a game, but act as you would were you actually in the character’s position.

He also states that in his opinion, people like to play RPGs because they want to experience something through the eyes of another. “There can be an element of wish-fulfillment in this (Role-Playing certainly seems to attract more than an average share of the bright but disaffected”) (Macy, Joshua). This is why many people still view RPGs as something that “nerds” do: RPGs allow you to experience a life through the eyes of someone who may be stronger than your, or smarter, or more popular, or any number of things. Some people do play RPGs for this element, but I agree with Macy when he says the primary reason people play RPGs is to experience something through the eyes of someone else.

This explains why the most successful RPGs use main characters who are not normal humans. Many characters are non-human, or magical, or have other features that set them apart from you; maybe they have an incredibly tactical way of thinking, or is an amazing fighter. It makes an intriguing experience to see how you would experience things as another race altogether, or how you might make decisions if you had some kind of magic that could help you with anything you faced.

I conducted my own survey in a Gamestop. Out of 17 people aged 13-29, 10 considered themselves “hardcore” gamers, the other 7 considered themselves “casual”. Of the hardcore group, 8 considered video games more emotionally evoking than both books and movies, and 8 said that the most emotional genre of game was RPG. Of the casual group, 3 considered video games as more emotionally evoking than both books and movies, and 4 said that the most emotional genre was RPG (Gamestop Interview).

I also during my survey asked subjects what makes a game emotionally evoking; a few of the comments were

— I like when a story feels like it could be real, if things like magic and futuristic technology existed in real life. Steampunk is my favorite genre.

— RPGs are really emotional because you feel like you know the characters, and the story. It gets so in depth with everything that you feel like everything happening isn’t a fantasy story. They do it so well that it’s like it’s actually happening somewhere, and it’s like you’re the character, so when something tragic happens, like a character’s best friend getting separated somewhere dangerous or something, it almost feels like it was your best friend getting separated from you.

This survey backs up the survey that Bowen Research did, in finding out that RPGs are the most emotional games. My survey also supports my theory that RPGs are at least as emotional as traditional forms of media, if not more so. My survey suggests that, at least among “hardcore” gamers, RPGs are actually more emotional than traditional media.

The Future of Emotions in Games                                 

I think if more people played RPGs, they might experience the same feelings I have felt from RPGs. Square Enix RPGs especially are known to have wonderful stories, often accompanied with a love story to match Romeo and Juliet, which in my opinion doesn’t even match the love story of Final Fantasy X. Playing through that game, the player gets to hear all of Tidus and Yuna’s (the love interests) inner thoughts, and while playing as them, you get to realize that Tidus starts falling in love with Yuna as he helps her make her Summoner’s Pilgrimage. Yuna also falls in love with Tidus, but doesn’t want to, because in the end she will need to sacrifice herself to stop Sin, the main villain, in order to bring The Calm, a time of peace for their world of Spira. They eventually decide to love each other, because Tidus convinces her that he won’t let her die, and that there must be another way to defeat Sin. At the end, they defeat Sin for good, and Yuna doesn’t need to sacrifice herself, but Tidus is taken away from her, as it is revealed that he was merely a dream created to help her defeat Sin. If more book-readers tried playing RPGs, I think they would be pleasantly surprised at the stories they would become a part of.

I read an interesting article on MSNBC.com where a game developer talked about emotions in video games. He said that he believes that video games in the future will be more and more involved with emotions. He thinks that video game developers will begin finding newer and more innovative ways to incorporate emotions into the video games that go into the market, and that emotional video games are in fact the future of video games as a whole. “Finding ways to broaden range of emotions you can experience and express in games is the future of games as far as I’m concerned,” (Loftus, Tom, and Msnbc.com). His company has already begun creating rough versions of video games that actually react to your emotions, instead of the norm in which your emotions are meant to react to the game itself. He gives one example of a fighting game they are working on, where a player is only able to use their most powerful skills when they are in a “Zen-like state of inner calm.” If this becomes a widespread idea that makes it into future game consoles, it will be just another way to bring the players right into the stories of games alongside the characters.

All of the research I’ve found has pointed to the conclusion that role-playing games, and video games as a whole evoke just as much emotions as books or movies. To the gaming community, video games seem to have even more of an impact on the players’ emotions than other forms of media. I believe that in the future video games will become increasingly used by the general population. This increase in use will lead to an improvement in how video games are made and played, and will eventually lead to video games becoming the most emotional experiences a person can have outside of real life.


Bowen Research. “Can Videogames Make You Cry?” Editorial. Game Informer

Magazine. Bowen Research » Studies. Web. 16 Apr. 2012.

“Discography.” Www.nobuouematsu.com. Web. 23 Apr. 2012.

“Gamekyo : Blog : Le Top 20 Des Jeux Les plus Amouvants Selon Famitsu.” Gamekyo.com.

Gamestop customers. Personal interview. 14 Apr. 2012.

Loftus, Tom, and Msnbc.com. “Bringing Emotions to Video Games.” Www.Msnbc.com.

Msnbc Digital Network, 11 Oct. 2005. Web. 16 Apr. 2012.

Macy, Joshua. “On RPGs.” Webamused. 10 July 2003. Web. 13 Apr. 2012.

Malarh, and Blizzard. “BarCraft™ – Blizzard Gaming in Your Town.” Battle.net. Blizzard, 16 Sept. 2011. Web. 03 May 2012.

“Researchers Debate Gaming’s Effects on the Brain | ESchool News.” ESchool News |. Web.

02 May 2012.

“Votre Blog Gratuit, Votre Vlog Gratuit, C’est Ici !” Mangasyl. Web. 05 May 2012. <http://mangasyl.allmyblog.com/index.php?cat=1&gt;.


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