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Video games evoke emotions that even music and cinema fail to reach

A recent doctoral dissertation shows players appreciate evoked emotional experiences, even when some are far from positive
Kuvituskuva videopelien pelaajasta
Illustration: Matti Ahlgren / Aalto University

Traditionally, video games have not been thought to evoke strong and deep emotions. However, a recent doctoral dissertation by Julia Ayumi Bopp from Aalto University, showed that video games evoke a wide range of emotions in players - even ones that have not been commonly associated with other media, such as music and films.

The reason for this lies in the interactive nature of video games. Because the player can influence the storyline and the actions of the character they control, they experience strong emotions such as remorse, and sense of responsibility. The interactive nature of games has an impact on emotional experiences, especially if the player needs to make difficult decisions, or their decision power is taken away from them.

Moreover, players enjoy the emotional experiences evoked by games and they appreciate them even though they are sometimes far from positive.

Playing also makes the player reflect on themselves, their lives and socio-cultural problems, for example. ‘In that sense, the emotions evoked by games seem to be similar to the emotions evoked by more traditional media, at least to a certain point,’ says Julia Ayumi Bopp.

Excitement and worry

Bopp’s research also found that players become attached to characters in many different ways, and the characters evoke a wide range of emotions, for example, a strong character can arouse enthusiasm, while a vulnerable one can evoke worry. Bopp was awarded an honorable mention for her research on emotional attachment at the prestigious CHI Play 2019 Conference.

Traditionally, many researchers and non-professionals have thought that games evoke only rather superficial emotions. The findings of this dissertation however support the everyday experience of many video game players: video games evoke all kinds of emotions and in that sense they are comparable to other forms of art. Bopp has noticed that players also eagerly discuss their feelings about gaming on online discussion boards, for example. Moreover, when she was conducting her research, many participants explicitly told her that they enjoyed sharing their emotional experiences regarding video games.

The results will certainly be of interest to game developers as well, although Bopp doesn’t want to directly advise them. ‘However, I believe the results give direction and food for thought. For example, if a game developer wants a certain character to evoke concern in the player, it is worth making the character vulnerable but still useful from the player's point of view.’

Bopp's dissertation is based on five research articles, the material of which she compiled using questionnaires and interviews. She will defend her dissertation at Aalto University School of Science on December 4, 2020.

Link to the doctoral dissertation

Further information

Julia Ayumi Bopp
Doctoral Candidate, Aalto University
[email protected]

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