Are Games Emotionally Engaging?

Mass Effect 2One phrase that we have been hearing a lot lately from the videogame industry is the idea of making our current gaming stories more engaging in terms of emotion. Doing something like this seems to be one of the last great barriers in the minds of game makers, considering what the technology of their platforms can do.

Specifically, Bioware is the company speaking about this most of all. In a recent interview with Kotaku, company manager Ray Muzyka shared Bioware’s vision statement. Namely, to “create, deliver and evolve the most emotionally engaging gaming experiences in the world”. The article goes on to talk about character development and progression, and how Bioware aims to create these feelings in all of their franchises.

The problem with this? As good as Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age: Origins were, I don’t know if I ever felt “emotionally engaged” at any point of the stories. Sure, there were characters I was crazy attached to, and moments that took my breath away or dropped my jaw- many of those, in fact. But I wouldn’t say that there was any point that hit me like moments of Final Fantasy VII, IX, X, or Shadow of the Colossus, and those are all from previous generations. To me, it’s odd that developers are still trying to hit this, but to me it comes down to the writing.

So what about you guys? Do you find that games are emotionally engaging enough? What games have you played that have done that for you?

Source- Kotaku

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18 thoughts on “Are Games Emotionally Engaging?”

  1. Um, I can’t say many are. I think the most engaging ones would have to be Fallout 3 and Call of Duty 2: Big Red One, Fallout3, because the fact is is that you kinda grow up with your dad and all, and he tries to make the best of things for you, and it just generally blows when he dies (though he did leave you to be pretty much killed in the Vault). And BRO because when your squad mates die, it just gives you a sort of feeling that makes you feel down (those being when the one opens the door and gets shot, and when the other gets blown up.)
    Both myself and my friend think so.

  2. I think it depends on your definition of emotional engagement. There were times in Mass Effect 2 where afterward I agonized about my decisions (I really should have stopped Miranda from capping her friend). Getting shut down by Ashley on Horizon hurt a little, but she didn’t really matter because i was trying to save a galaxy of sentient beings from xenocide. So maybe the characterization isn’t as strong as they would like it to be to actually be emotionally compelling?

  3. That’s a really good point, Eddy. And one of the main differences between those games is that in FF and Shadow of the Colossus, you are playing a premade character, but in Bioware games, you make your own.

    Now, this doesn’t apply to your party members, but I have never felt an emotional connection to a silent protagonist or even one like Shepherd or Fallout 3, where I choose what I say.

    I had a connection to Tidus b/c of his feelings for Yuna, not mine. In movies, you don’t create your own story, you follow along someone else’s and through them, feel emotion and learn things about yourself and about life.

    Have you had an emotional response to Zelda? I haven’t. Hell, even Halo can bring emotion with Chief’s fierce loyalty for Cortana.

    Bioware does a great job world building, but if they want me to feel something, they should try something different with their main character.

  4. the ending of Half Life 2 Episode 2 had me a bit emotional. Mordin Solus’ loyalty mission was sort of emotional, but it was not “the most emotionally engaging gaming experience in the world”

  5. I love the idea of getting a more emotional experience out of video games. Sadly, it mostly only comes in the form of Nostalgia, like going back and playing Max Payne again, just forgetting the story and re-living it a new.

    Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy) got me pretty connected to the characters, as well as The Longest Journey games.

    But I’ll never, ever be as connected as I was to the 1337 skin in CS… Man that guy had it all…

  6. I feel emotionally engaged that one of the original Left 4 Dead survivors (probably Bill) are going to die. If that counts.

  7. I personally find most Bioware games to be extremely engaging. What I always encourage people to do when playing their games is to choose the choices THEY want to choose, not whichever nets them the most paragon and renegade scores. The game feels so much more personal and real that way. The “moral grading system” needs to be done away with because it compels people to make decisions that are not their own. Dragon Age did this very well. On the note of emotional experience, it struck me pretty hard at the end of Dragon Age when my love interest in the game revealed something that was far more emotional than killing the darkspawn. All it comes down to is writing and character development, and Bioware is on the right track.

  8. Well an obvious answer (but relevant none the less) would be Heavy Rain. I really felt connected to the characters. I tried to play it as though I were really doing it so my descisions enhanced the emotional bond with the characters.
    Also, the ending to FFX made me sad. Not bawl my eyes out, but I was certainly quite depressed. Poor Yuna. But X-2 resolves the matter.

  9. Personally, I don’t think there are a whole lot of games that are emotionally engaging but when they are, it’s VERY impressive.

    Recently I’ve been playing MW2 (Duh.) and my first time through the plot was just like a movie. After the Level ‘Loose Ends’ I was so angry that the last level brought soo much pleasure to me. And earlier in the game, fighting against the Russians on U.S. soil, that elicited some emotions.

    Also, I think that the GRAW series has its moments too. I mean there were several points in the game that I just wanted to go on forever becuase it was so intense.

  10. Anthony, I think you’re on to something with the idea of characters you can identify with, as opposed to projecting emotions onto. Like, in Mass Effect 2, it was Moridin I cared about if anybody, but not Commander Shephard, because I’m the one interjecting his feelings.

  11. I’d have to say no, no they are not. Some games are extremely intense and exciting, like mass effect, but they don’t really get me emotionall invested.

  12. The thing is, a game has never moved me to cry or something. I mean…I can’t really explain it 100%, and I have become attached to a character in a game beyond them just being a really useful character or something, but…well I really don’t think it was as tangible as the Video Game Industry says games can affect the audience.


    As for examples, I’ve played a lot of games that stood out for their connection with the audience. I agree with Nic, with his choices of Fallout and CoD2: Big Red One.
    In BR1, you really get to know the characters in your squad and they seem real and believable. And when the soldiers get killed, you’re like “Damn, I loved that guy!” and you get a feeling for how it’s like to lose a friend in war. Now it’s obviously not as real as real-life, but it’s as real as a story can get to it. That’s why I loved BR1’s story mode.
    In the other Call of Duty’s, the characters didn’t come close to feeling as realistic or easy to become attached to. The most you got in MW2 was Soap’s and Cpt. Price’s passionate butt love, and the other characters felt dull. Even in CoD4, there was just Gaz and Cpt. Price that the player could connect with, and maybe splash in some SSgt. Griggs in there to keep it racially equal. I mean I like Griggs, but not as much as I loved Brooklyn from CoD2:BR1.

    As for Fallout, I’ve played FO 1, 2, and 3, and they all have superb stories and characters. FO3 did a great job in connecting the player to their Dad, and made him a good man with a noble mission, as opposed to some mystical figure who the player has to live up to. The other characters that joined your party, like Charon, didn’t have much of a connection since they just had their backstory and the mission you did to get them, but I still liked them enough since they were cool. Except for Butch. Because he’s a bitch.

    Anyway, I’m too lazy to write anymore, but if you want to make a character emotionally engaging, first make them a useful character, and then give them an important role in the story, and then kill ’em off. lol

  13. But that sort of makes Bioware’s games successful in that attempt to bring about emotion, doesn’t it? Because if the character you were following didn’t like Mordin, then you might think he was a dick. So i guess Bioware let’s you choose who to care about through your character, not your character themselves, which is why they have a strong character cast.

  14. I think I have come to the conclusion that premade characters are more likely to generate emotion than “silent heroes” or characters you make the decisions for.


    If Price had died in MW 2, that would have made people more upset than when Roach died.

    Those kinds of characters only have a personality that I give them and that doesn’t do it for me.

  15. I agree with you on the silent character bit. I couldn’t really care less, truth be told, if Gordan Freeman died. He really has no personality so he’s basically an android.

  16. It’s funny that you bring up MW 2 Anthony. Frankly I can’t even remember which one is Price and which one is Roach. I just play the games for the crazy action and great multiplayer. I often feel more connected to the characters that I make decisions for because I have more invested in them.

    @ glebe – Yes, Gordon Freeman is certainly more of a camera angle than a character.

  17. OK, if we’re talking Mass Effect 2 here, I’m going to say that Garrus is the one character that I feel any sympathy towards. Now, if I had told you my story about my Femshep playthrough, you might think I’m a little..fruity, but the one scene with Garrus does a lot to establish his personality and motivations, and you’re missing out on some great character building by not watching it. (my advice is to find it on YouTube. It was totally unintentionally on my part, and kind of uncomfortable)

    Anyways, besides the face saving I’m trying to do, Garrus has one line that really got me: “I just want something to go right”. From the very first time you meet Garrus in Mass Effect one, he’s constantly fighting an uphill battle and things never turn out the way he expects. Heck, he even gets his face blown off for trying to help the downtrodden innocents of Omega Station. (If you say spoilers I will hit you)

    Essentially, Garrus is up the proverbial creek without the paddle, but he always keeps going. He’s a cool character just because he’s so tenacious, and he still manages to have some funny lines even though his life is such a mess.

    Man, that was a lot of Garrus for one comment. Anyways, to make me invest in a character, they need to have a design that doesn’t agitate me when I look at them, they need to have good dialogue, and the need to be useful. If you’re none of the above, gtfo my games. You can’t force a player to care about someone who doesn’t contribute in a meaningful way. (Cossack said something similar.)

  18. I think that for the most part that’s true but Bioware is one of the few companies that really does get you involved. In the original KOTOR, I got extremely attatched to Bastilla, to the point I got sad when SPOILERS she gets turned to the dark side. Redeeming her was one of my favorite moments of all time. In Dragon Age, when I first got to the decision of who was going to become ruler (sorta spoilers) and I initially picked Anora and was actually close to tears when Alistair stormed out of the room after I convinced Anora not to kill him. I actually stared at the screen, going back and forth in my mind before reloading my last save, playing through pretty much the entire last dungeon just so that I could go back and keep Alistair from leaving. Also in Dragon Age when (again spoilers) Morrigan is going to leave you at the end, I was really sad knowing that she was going to abandon me. Of any other company, Bioware really does deliver on their promise to get you emotionally engaged and that is why they are, without reservation, my favorite game developer.

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