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Article - 'A Guide to Emotional Attachment' by Mateui

An item about Game Design posted on Jan 14, 2004

Blurb

Learn how emotional attachments are created between character and player, and some methods on how to induce these emotional bonds.

Body

A Guide to Emotional Attachment:
By: Mateui

Why did he have to die?

You’ve likely played a lot of games, and each game had a fair amount of characters. But after playing all these games, did you find yourself to be more partial to certain characters compared to others? Did you like the main character of one game, but dislike the main character of another? Did you feel sad, angry, surprised, when something of importance happened to one of these characters?

If you have, you’ve experienced emotional attachment.

What is it?

Emotional attachment if exactly what it says. An emotion is an evoked feeling, and an attachment is a bond – most likely to the character in question.

The more emotionally attached you are to a character, the more you are prone to laugh, cry, or be saddened by what she/he goes through.

Emotional attachment is something every game designer should strive to provide, because it adds a whole different depth to the game.

Think of it this way. You play a game, but you don’t really feel or ‘connect’ with the main character. At the ending, that character dies. Do you actually care that much? No, not unless you’ve become attached to them.

Now, this article will try to teach some methods of how an emotional attachment can be made, and techniques to make characters more likeable, plausible, etc.

Creating a Connection:

To create a bond of emotion with the main character, a connection must be made between the player and the character in question. How is this connection made?

Well, you must understand that every player is different. Their upbringing and background have shaped what they are today, and how they respond to certain stimuli.

Many times, the emotional attachment is created by the player sympathizing with the character. The player may have certain similarities with the character and can relate to how the character reacts in certain situations.

Another emotional bond is created in the opposite way. The player is different than the character, but when the character gets into hardship, the player feels sorry for them, and imagines what they would do in that character’s shoes. (In reality, this is the essence of role-playing).

Some Methods:

Portray your character accurately.
When players sympathize with a character that is similar to them, they expect that character to react in a similar manner that they would. If you break this too many times, the emotional attachment will be severed, and they will not care for this player too much anymore.

Think of it this way. You create a character that is very well-mannered, kind, and sincere. Then, for no reason, that character turns cold, and displays a lot of hatred. The player will become confused at this, if it happens for no explainable reason, and you will be failing in terms of proper character development and portrayal.

Reveal pieces of the character’s past.
Revealing what happened to a character in the past is not only good to explain why the character behaves the way they do, but it only helps the player to sympathize with them.

In some games, this has be achieved superbly, that even players begin to sympathize with the villain. At the conclusion, if the villain dies, the player may even feel sad and sorry for what has happened. If that’s an effect that you’re looking for, reveal information on what happened to the villain, and what made them villainous.

You never know, perhaps that which happened to the villain happened to the player in real life.

Imperfection is key.
Nobody is perfect in real life, and neither should most characters in RPGs. No one likes a character that never does anything wrong, knows everything, and always succeeds. In fact, it gets boring real fast, and the player soon finds the character who is perfect to be obnoxious and snobby.

By having the character make mistakes sometimes, the player finds the character more human and can relate with them. People bond with people that they can relate with, and if your character makes the same mistakes the player would, the emotional attachment would be strengthened.


Conclusion:

There’s nothing much to it. The hard part is making the characters seen believable. In the future, I will write an article about that, and many common characteristics of people to help you to create some plausible characters in your game.

And that’s it!

- Mat