Creating Empathy

In order to create an emotional gaming experience akin to that a viewer might experience whilst watching a film, it is necessary to encourage the player to feel empathy both towards the character they are playing, and the non-player characters that they are interacting with.
For player characters, this means that the player can become so in touch with the character they are stepping into the shoes of that they feel like they are in fact going through the experiences themselves. Creating empathy towards a character will increase emotional depth and player immersion in a video game.

Empathy towards Player Characters

In order to feel empathy towards the player character, the player must be able to see themselves in the character’s shoes. One way in which developers can encourage this is to help the player learn the skill sets of the character. For example, providing a tutorial of some sort, or having the character learn these skills as the player is introduced to them works well. This can include skills such as weapons training, hand to hand combat, sneaking, using particular tools, or spells.
In order to encourage the player to adopt the role of the main character, it is necessary to reward them in some way for doing a good job in that role, as we are rewarded in life for taking on desirable roles. Furthermore, making them the best at that role, is a good way to encourage the player to become immersed in the role. If the player begins as a civilian, or with less skill than totally possible, making it known what level the character can raise to is a good motivator for becoming emotionally involved in the game and shows the realism of progress. The most important factor is that the character “has emotional responses we recognize and can identify with”. (Freeman, 2003)

Empathy towards Non-Player Characters

Another contributing factor to the emotional depth of a game is the believability of the non-player characters the character encounters. This depends on the genre that the game belongs to, but in most cases NPCs require a motivation in order for the player to feel empathy towards them. This technique of giving dimensionality to non-player characters is called “NPC Rooting Interest Techniques” and is a key “Emotioneering” practice.

“When, as game designers, we give an NPC Rooting Interest, the player will, as if using Tolkien’s “Stones of Seeing”, look at the world through that character’s eyes and experience that NPCs emotions”. (Freeman, 2003)

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