Understanding Human Emotions - The Role of a Computer game

“I’ll be here…
I’ll be ‘waiting’… Here…
For what?
I’ll be waiting… For you… So.
If you come here…
You’ll find me.
I promise.”

- Final Fantasy VIII, The Introduction.

Humans are very emotional creatures. From even a young age, we try to find means in which we can experience positive emotions, either from getting a new toy or from being given some sweets for being good. As we get older, ways of expressing emotion and ways of changing it become broader and more crucial. TV programmes are made to make us laugh, make us cry; make us get involved with characters and problems that aren’t our own. Music can change and influence emotion through both music and lyrics. Even the written word is still around.

Of course, in days gone past, games weren’t nearly as complex. I can’t think of Donkey Kong ever provoking any emotion in me before than sheer joy at jumping over barrels. To me, it was a monkey throwing barrels and I was jumping over them in an attempt to save the princess. I didn’t think about anything more complex than that. As the technology grew better, and as games designers begun to realise that there are only so many driving games, or shooting games, or barrel jumping games one can code before people grew bored, the idea of more complex storylines came forward.

With complex storylines, there came also the need to convey emotion across to keep the gamer interested. As well as games designers, writers were required to bring about a script and a plot that would hold the gamer, and keep them emotionally attached to the game. There is even dealings with emotions such as death and love that younger gamers might not have a strong concept of.

So, are games a good medium for emotion? Do they help the younger gamers understand what the deal behind death and love are?

(Pre-warning. There will be spoilers to the following games mentioned within the article: - Final Fantasy IV, VII, VIII, IX and X, Metal Gear Solid, Metal Gear Solid 2, Grandia, Grandia 2 and Wild Arms.)


I confess to not knowing the sheer joy of what Final Fantasy I is like. I’ve bought it, but Final Fantasy IV distracted me. It is here that I am going to start the main body of what I’m trying to go across.

The Final Fantasy series is probably one of the best at conveying across emotion between the characters. With the exception of V, (which I found hard to get into, but that’s a different story for a different day), the characters of each Final Fantasy from IV through to X have in some way had an effect on me emotionally and given me something to ponder even after I’ve turned off the console.

Final Fantasy IV deals with death, though often in a manner that left me puzzled. Many of the characters you acquire during the party “fall.” However, only one of them is actually permanently fallen. While I should’ve felt a connection to these characters and their deaths, I just seemed to shrug and play on. I even thought “I bet they end up being un-petrified somehow.”

Moving on a bit to Final Fantasy VII, we have Aeris. I still remember the day I played that part of the game. It was the first time I recall being part of a video game death. I was 15 at the time, and I was shocked. Normally, when you lose a close friend or a loved one, you go into a sense of mourning. While I had only known Aeris for a small period of time, I did feel shock at seeing her die in that manner. However, like an attachment to a movie character who dies, I didn’t spend days moping around cursing the creators. It was a story, and I wanted to see what the other characters would do in revenge.

I will admit that I, like others, wanted to know if there was a way of bringing her back to life. This is the only death in a computer game that I have wished for such.

Final Fantasy VII and IV. My first and my currently last played Final Fantasy game. My views on the deaths within them have changed. One, I was shocked and wanted the character back, the other I just shrugged and said “oh well, another one bites the dust.” Is it because I am older, or is it because I become numb to the feeling of computer character related deaths?


Another popular gaming series that came forward on the Playstation was Metal Gear Solid. I had been a fan of the original Metal Gear, which had one of the coolest plot twists I had ever experienced right at the end. This game didn’t fail to disappoint. Rather than tell the story through the player’s actions alone, there were a lot of movie sequences and COM conversations that forwarded the plot and gave the gamer something to listen to.

While this was great at first, repeated playing of the game led me to skip the scenes, no longer caring that they were well acted and well written. I knew what had happened, I wanted to move onto the action!

Metal Gear Solid 2 followed in the same sort of vein. The storyline was as deep as the first in the series, but I found myself sat there thinking to myself “this is all very good, but can I play yet?” I remember when Emma was dying, and Hal, Snake and Raiden were gathered around mourning her, I was thinking “hurry up and get on with it so I can play on.” Not the right feeling to be experiencing at that moment in the game.

Sometimes games like these aim high for the emotion that they are trying to reach, but the fact that they’re a game and not a film could escape the coders. I loved both games in the Metal Gear Solid series, but at the times when I should’ve felt sad or angry, I could only look at the characters with a certain detachment.


The only game in recent memory that choked me up genuine was Final Fantasy IX with its ending. Even knowing it was coming, even thinking to myself as the last scenes played out “I know exactly what’s going to happen here”, I still found myself with tears in my eyes. The ending was cliché in a way, but at the same time it was brilliant drawn, brilliantly executed, and left the gamer with a sense of completeness knowing that everything had ended, as it should’ve done. That was the purest sense of happiness I had felt in completing a game.


Think of RPGs, and there are classic examples of couples who drive the story forward with the tale of their love. The Final Fantasy series is full of them.

In Final Fantasy IV is a storyline between Cecil and Rosa. A story of love and redemption. Cecil, a man who has been told to embrace the dark knight powers by his King, is loved by a simple White Mage who seeks to protect him in any way she can. Through her, Cecil is able to find the power he needs to become a Paladin and their love in the end helps them conquer through, along with their friendship to the other companions.

In Final Fantasy VII, there is the dual tales of Cloud and Tifa, and Cloud and Aeris. We were never shown which one Cloud would’ve fallen for eventually, but there was enough intrigue built up to keep us interested and following the story between the three of them.

Final Fantasy VIII was very much a story of love. From Squall and Rinoa, Laguna and Raine, to other hinted couples in Selphie and Irvine, Zell and that girl with the ponytail, and even Cid and Edea, the tale uses love as a way of keeping the characters together. It was a nice change of pace.

The list goes on. Garnet and Zidane, Steiner and Beatrix, Tidus and Yuna, Justin and Feena (Grandia), Ryudo, Elena and Millennia (Grandia 2.) My personal favourite is the story between Jack and Lady Harken in Wild Arms. Harken sacrificed herself to the Quarter Knights to become one of them in order that the love of her life, Jack, could escape from them when their castle fell. Jack, in return, had to free her from her demon imprisonment by slaying her, or so he thought. However, one of the Guardians held the power to return her to the land of the living, with one provision. She would have no memory of ever being a demon. Thus no memory of Jack. He gave up his chance of loving her in order that she may live. There is also a neat touch where Jack returns the ribbon that Harken had used to bind his wound right at the start of the game. I loved that game, and that particular love story was very moving.


Do games help us to better understand human emotion? To a younger gamer playing through a game that has these kind of things in them, it may help them understand love and death a little better. For the older gamers who have been there and done it before in real life, the attachment may not be so strong. But there is always a brilliant game out there that can find the right combination of gameplay and story development through text to keep your attention, and your emotions, hooked.

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