When Video Games Have an Emotional Impact


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It’s no secret that many people want video games to be viewed as modern art. I along with hundreds of gamers have constantly voiced opinions on why gaming should be seen as an art form. Yet on both sides of the discussion, there are still people who don’t really understand why such a conversation has started in the first place. The main focus should be on one aspect of all creative mediums: emotion. It’s the way video games can cause us to feel something in both our minds and bodies, which is why we can become so fascinated with them.

One way to understand all creative mediums is to know that the primary objective of any of the fine arts is to generate a pure emotional response from the viewer. This goes for anything ranging from movies, paintings, sculptures, and everything similar. When I view the strokes of color on a painting, my mind and body generates a reaction to it. That reaction is an emotional response that builds up inside, and becomes visible to everyone around me.

Video Games
Castlevania III

When we play our video games, regardless of if there is a narrative or not, we have emotional responses to what is happening on screen. We feel the emotions of happiness when we complete a challenge, or rage when we fail at that same challenge. Some of the earliest games in the arcade, or in the home on Atari 2600 and NES, still had us cheering and raging during our childhoods with their hypnotizing gameplay, despite their primitive graphics. Much like how a painting may not have a story behind the subject it depicts, we still feel something based on what we see. Anyone who has ever sat and played a Castlevania game on NES will know the exact feeling I describe. To this day, I sometimes get the urge to fling my controller at the screen after being bombarded by floating medusa heads.

But then there are games that make us feel something from their built in narratives. These are games that tell us stories of heroes and villains, struggles and triumphs, and love and hate. When we play an RPG for example, we can become so interested in what happens in these fictional stories that we sometimes forget to separate fantasy from reality. As players, we take on an important role in the events occurring in a story. In Mass Effect, I see the consequences of my actions from deciding to save someone or not. Because of this, I bear the responsibility and emotional toll based on my action or inaction. I can effectively choose whether someone lives or dies, and still feel the impact of that decision.

Video Games
Final Fantasy VII

A common misconception however is that the emotional response when playing video games is always a good one. This is definitely not the case. I remember all the times I played Final Fantasy VII and seeing the death of Aerith. I saw Sephiroth drop from the ceiling and stab Aerith through the chest. Someone I spent a lot of time with and grew fond of over many hours over the course of the game was taken away from me. I saw the one responsible doing this to me and I wanted them to go away. That is the anger of a character in one of its purest forms in storytelling. Not all emotions that are felt from any creative medium have to necessarily be good, but they are still felt.

Video games can make us feel a wide variety of emotions. This goes far beyond narratives and gameplay mechanics, and instead conjures something more visceral within all of us. When I play video games, I want the experience to draw something out of me. I want to feel something for what I play and see on my screen. It not only reminds me that I am human, but I am also seeing and experiencing the culmination of a great work of art.

Video Games
Mirrors Edge

What do you think about the emotions from playing video games? Have a favorite title that made you feel something deep? Let us know in the comment section below!

About The Author
Jakejames Lugo Senior Editor
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