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Endless Ambition

Emotion in games and storytelling

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Entertainment has always been about stimulating an experience within the veiwer/reader/player, that evokes an emotion. Film has been able to provide superior experiences to their veiwers thus far within the entertainment medium, being able to tap into a wider range of emotions and senses. Videogames are a relatively new medium and only until now have developers been able to provide some experiences that are on track to evoke emotions within the player besides the traditional fear, laughter or excitement. But, how will videogames be able to evoke the emotions for loss within a player, when a character dies. How can we make the player care for the characters within the game rather than by making them just "cool" or entertaining. What methods of storytelling in general can be implemented to evoke these emotions. A perfect example of what I'm talking about is in Halo 3 when characters like Miranda Keys, Sgt. Johnson, the Prophet of Truth or even Cortana, die or are in pain, as in Cortana's case. Personally, I felt no emotion for them during times when emotion was meant to be present. O sure we'll miss the antincs of the Sgt., but that's about it. Videogames have the ability to engage the veiwer and bring them more closely into the story, but few devlopers have taken advatage of this opportunity. I have been developing a story that intends to stimulate emotion, and I have found that emotion can stem from having deeper more three dimensional characters. Showing weaknesses and strengths as well as things that people respond to like courage and nobility. The veiwer/player is able to see the strain that the characters are under and evoke emotions from the veiwer/player that way. Anyway, how do you think that developers should evoke emotion in games or in stories in general? PS- I would love some people to discuss the story that I've been developing...get some ideas. [Edited by - Endless Ambition on July 3, 2008 12:46:45 PM]

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Endless post
how do you think that developers should evoke emotion in games or in stories in general?

There are at least 2 books and one website/newsletter on the subject. Check out the writings of Lee Sheldon, Laurie Hutzler, and David Freeman.

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I would say that the most important factor in inducing emotion in players is immersion. You can use a mix of standard writing and cinematic techniques to present content designed to make the player feel one thing or another, but it will only work if the player hasn't already decided the game is cheesy, stupid, internally inconsistent, or otherwise not to be taken seriously.

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Have you ever played Shadow of the Colossus? Your horse, man...

Or, I recently played COD4, and for an FPS that sure evoked a lot of emotion in me. For the most part I was just really into it, spouting off every cool war-movie cliche line I could muster. The last mission in particular (not the bonus aircraft level) had me lock-jawed and white-knuckled. Not so much for the action (there were better levels, my favorite being the first one), but really because at that point I was engrossed in the story line. My roomates came to investigate because I was screaming stuff at the top of my lungs. "THIS IS IT BABY! LETS GO BOYS! CAP! NOOO! QUICK, SLIDE ME THE GRIP SO I CAN WASTE THIS M*****F*****!"

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Original post by MSW
What sorts of emotions and bonds with game characters do you want players to have?


When I talk about connecting emotionally to a character I mean feeling enough for a charatcer to care what happens to them throughout the story. Care about their relationships and care enough emotionally to want to see them live through the next scene or level. Go on the same emotional journey that the character does.

Particularily in games, this is a challenge as cinematics are really only the time to impplement such emotion. How can developers implement gameplay techniques to bring emotion across, and I don't mean white-knuckle excitemet.

In addition, here's a qustion that has been touted before, but how do we get videogames to make people cry.

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Original post by Endless Ambition
When I talk about connecting emotionally to a character I mean feeling enough for a charatcer to care what happens to them throughout the story.

Most of the rest of us except msn or whatever probably knew that (I've stifled my impulse to say "well, duh" because you ambitiously expressed it perfectly).
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how do we get videogames to make people cry.

I already gave you author names to check out. Sheldon. Hutzler. Freeman.

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Original post by Tom Sloper
Most of the rest of us except msn or whatever probably knew that (I've stifled my impulse to say "well, duh" because you ambitiously expressed it perfectly).


Yeah, I deserve that. I knew what the OP ment, unfortunetly the wording of my question wasn't as specific as it should have been. For that I apologize.

I was trying to fish this from the OP:
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how do we get videogames to make people cry.


First realise that you can't MAKE the player feel anything. Anymore than you can make them play your game. Its all voluntary, you can only give them enough ports of intrest to spark thier willingness to get involved. Then continue to feed them enough inorder to build further intrest.

Second realise that crying ISN'T an emotion. Its a response to an emotional state, not the state itself. Further there are many specific emotional states that crying is a normal response to...Many of which have nothing to do with grief from the loss of life.


The film Field of Dreams came out about 20 years ago. It's a "tear jerker" especialy noteworthy for its effect on males. It does this by drawing upon a sons relationship with his long dead father, and his often unconscious longing to have established a stronger bond. The tears come from the wish fullfillment of this longing. This works largely because the father character is a mostly unseen archetype, allowing viewers to subtley imagine thier own father figure in his place.

Also note there are no scenes of characters expressing grief cradleing the lifeless body of a loved one...Death is handled in a more metaphorical way, and the film's emotional resonance is stronger because of it.


Most threads of this type are only really concerned with "the holy grail of crying". This usualy only relates to the death of a game character. Which reflects a lack of emotional insight, specificly that tears can come from other emotional states (the wish fullfillment in Field of Dreams for example). Or worse that we are so creativly bankrupt, that we can only address issues through the overuse of cliches.

On that point; evokeing tears from the death of a game character has been done before (ask the old timers about Floyd from Planetfall). But evokeing tears of joy, well that is a worthwhile crusade for developers honestly interested in exploreing a wider range of emotions.

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Thanks for the hint on Laurie Hutzler, Tom.

Freeman and Sheldon were already top of my list on the subject, (I found both quite inspirational, although Sheldon's best advice seems more directed towards invnetive story structure than emotion, to me,) so seeing her named alongside them seems promising.

Do you know if its worth tracking down her commercial books, or is most of her advice covered on the website and the free e-book?


To the OP: I definately second Tom's recommendations on Lee Sheldon and particularly David Freeman. Freeman's "Creating Emotion in Games" took me a month to get through because each time I picked it up within 10 minutes it inspired me to run off again to write down ideas.

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Original post by Endless Ambition
Particularily in games, this is a challenge as cinematics are really only the time to impplement such emotion. How can developers implement gameplay techniques to bring emotion across, and I don't mean white-knuckle excitemet.


The phrase white-knukle excitement brings to mind action games like God of War or even Halo. Might not be what you ment, but as noted above, you didn't really feel anything for the plights of the Halo characters, despite developers trying to evoke some sort of emotional response from you. That might be a challenge developing such reactions from certain styles of games.

With action games we mostly exercise the analytical (left) sides of our brain. Its all about spatial placement, judgeing distances between objects, the mechanics of performing twitchy gameplay moves. And with such intense sections between the cinematic story development parts, the high of playing can overpower us. Our brains may mostly just find intrest in the plot developments of the cinematic, not the emotional drives/motivations...Also it may take some time to reignite the emotional side of the brain after all that analytical excitement.

Not to say it can't be done, just that there could be a number of factors working against evokeing wider emotional responces in such intense action games. Obviously action films are simularly effected, as thier emotional resonace can seem especialy lacking (there are a few exceptions).

But there definetely is the capability in slower story driven games. Adventure games in particular and to some degree RPGs as well. Puzzles in adventure games can often rely on nonlinear associations -a right brain strength, also home to emotional perception abilities. So in contrast to action games, adventure game players may be better tuned into following the emotional rollercoaster game characters go on. Certainly in the classic Lucasarts adventure games humor plays a role, which can make the characters rather endearing to a dominateing rightbrain while playing.

Course this is just a personnel theory thus far. But I think chooseing the correct(read: more in tune) style of gameplay that is more open to longterm rightbrain activity could be a good start.

I also don't mean to suggest that action gamers are unfeeling troglodytes. Just that there might be some interesting brain activity going on during action gameing sessions that might make evokeing wider emotional responces more challangeing.


edited for clearity.

[Edited by - MSW on July 4, 2008 5:36:31 AM]

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In a fun little survey about writing I did recently, this was one of the questions and my response:

I Write Books That Make People Feel: Empathetic: pitying lonely characters, cheering on nervous ones, reflecting with characters on the wry humor of life, and feeling joy along with happy characters.

I also thought it was interesting how much people disagreed about what they wanted their stories to make people feel.

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Original post by caffiene
Thanks for the hint on Laurie Hutzler, Tom.
Do you know if its worth tracking down her commercial books, or is most of her advice covered on the website and the free e-book?

"Worth" is subjective. I cannot know what is "worth it" for you.
But I recommend you track down her other works.

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Someone mentioned that the high of adrenaline laced gameplay helps stop up the otherwise emotional queues that are placed in the game.

Now I'll refer to Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. There is one particularly moving scene I found in that game. About halfway through the game there is a part where a nuclear bomb is ticking to go off. As an American soldier named Paul Jackson, you quickly board a helicopter to get the heck out of that city... And then one of your fellow soldiers, a pilot in a second helicopter is shot down. You and your squadmates land and go in after her, sixty seconds or so until that bomb goes off. You race in and grab the woman while under heavy fire, and get back to the helicopter. It lifts off, but its too late your helicopter is caught in the explosion and the level ends. You ask yourself if your character is dead... The action is over though. Adrenaline fades.

The next level is what I consider to be genius. The American soldier wakes up in the middle of the city, surrounded by the corpses of your teammates... Everyone else is dead, rescuing the downed pilot was futile and probably cost the lives of everyone else. You assume control and crawl out of the wreckage that was once a helicopter. Your have no weapon on you, you move slow, obviously greatly injured. Stumbling out of the helicopter, you make your way in a random direction. Until at last you trip and fall to the ground, all goes black. Sergeant Paul Jackson KIA.

That expertly crafted level where you get to experience the very last moments of a soldier who gave his life to try and save another. It wasn't played out on a battlefield where bullets are flying and rockets are going off. But in the decimated ruins of a city maimed and injured, one last attempt at escape before expiring.

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Original post by Funkymunky
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Original post by sunandshadow
I Write Books That Make People Feel: Empathetic


ha, that's a rather technical answer. I like it


It's also the answer of a character-focused writer; a plot or atmosphere focused writer would probably be more interested on directly making the audience feel a particular emotion.

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Original post by jwbowyer
Someone mentioned that the high of adrenaline laced gameplay helps stop up the otherwise emotional queues that are placed in the game.

Now I'll refer to Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. There is one particularly moving scene I found in that game. About halfway through the game there is a part where a nuclear bomb is ticking to go off. As an American soldier named Paul Jackson, you quickly board a helicopter to get the heck out of that city... And then one of your fellow soldiers, a pilot in a second helicopter is shot down. You and your squadmates land and go in after her, sixty seconds or so until that bomb goes off. You race in and grab the woman while under heavy fire, and get back to the helicopter. It lifts off, but its too late your helicopter is caught in the explosion and the level ends. You ask yourself if your character is dead... The action is over though. Adrenaline fades.

The next level is what I consider to be genius. The American soldier wakes up in the middle of the city, surrounded by the corpses of your teammates... Everyone else is dead, rescuing the downed pilot was futile and probably cost the lives of everyone else. You assume control and crawl out of the wreckage that was once a helicopter. Your have no weapon on you, you move slow, obviously greatly injured. Stumbling out of the helicopter, you make your way in a random direction. Until at last you trip and fall to the ground, all goes black. Sergeant Paul Jackson KIA.

That expertly crafted level where you get to experience the very last moments of a soldier who gave his life to try and save another. It wasn't played out on a battlefield where bullets are flying and rockets are going off. But in the decimated ruins of a city maimed and injured, one last attempt at escape before expiring.


Not adrenaline. Rather left brain verses right brain.

In a highly intense action game. Where you are tasking the player with lots of spatial logical left brain processing. Where is the enemy in relation to me, do I have enough time to pop up and shoot, is my cover compromised, can I make it to the next bunker? Suddenly directing them to switch to right brain processing can cause a disconnect.

They might reject the whole senario you wrote above, or just be apathetic to it. The last logical impulse they might dwell on is why am I being tasked with saveing these soldiers with so little time left? I made all the correct logical choices to get here, and now he goes and does something so obviously against what I think he should do...And thus they just cough the rest of the level up to the developers trying to preach or say some moral message. Or even throw the control in frustraition of being deliberately placed in a scenario that could not be beaten.

Not everyone reacts the same. Not everyone has the same level of emotional development. But inorder to best generate an emotional response, you need to excite the right brain. Not just in cutscenes at the end of levels, but through the levels as well as this is where players invest most of thier brain power and skills. You can do this by provideing emotional hooks, things to perk right brain intrest so we can have emotional ties to the scenario, and constantly reenforce them.

Its a biological emotional instict for a male to protect a female. In the military this has become a fairly large concern. Does the gameplay tie into any of this, and reinforce it often? Even during extended periods of move/shoot/move/shoot left brain centered activity? Is there any emotional bond between the characters to cause the player to logicaly conclude its important to risk saveing her at his own expense? Is there even a chance he could save her and himself? If the answer is yes to all of these then the chances of players haveing an emotional response increase.




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