Semi-virtual relationships

I’ve been doing a bit of thinking lately, and one thing my mind has come to dwell on is the comparison between interpersonal relationships and the relationships that people develop with their videogames. Of course there are very very obvious differences between the two, but let’s suppress our urges to discard the thought for just a moment.

Gamers love their games, and they love them for a variety of reasons. I won’t go around making blanket statements about that, claiming one motivation over another, but what I will say is that some gamers find some degree of companionship with select synergistic experiences.

One way this can happen is through the characters in the story. Just like in any good book, the audience is meant to form a type of bond with the personalities they are presented with. Over the course of the narrative, readers and players come to care for some characters and hate others. Either way, they come to understand them – their thoughts, behaviors, etc. – and have at least a slight connection with them. Clearly, this sort of “relationship” is more common in the realm of RPGs and other story-driven works.

Another way gamers can form relationships with videogames is via the feelings they experience while taking in the software’s content. It is possible that the internal response to the game can effectively take the place of the game itself, and the player later relates to those feelings when the cue (the game) is recalled. It is as if the game, the feelings evoked by that game, and the relationship between the player and the game are all one and the same. These feelings persist well beyond the lifespan of the game itself (explaining why I still think Goldeneye is great, even though it sucks by today’s standards).

That brings me to the idea of “firsts.” We always remember our firsts. I fondly remember my first kiss, first sexual experience, first homerun, first in-school suspension, first alcoholic beverage, etc. It stands to reason that there is a special place in every gamer’s memory for their firsts, as well. Do you remember your first game? How about the first of a specific genre, or maybe the first to introduce you to that genre? Do you remember your first journey into the third dimension of the gaming world? How about your first gaming console? I imagine the answer to these questions is usually “yes.”

We all remember our first loves. There is a mental pedestal reserved just for that memory to rest upon. Everything that comes later on is inevitably compared to that milestone, and even as time goes by, the perception of that relationship persists. This is not dissimilar to the high regard in which gamers hold their early interactive experiences. Even games that seem rather generic now may have had a greater significance at the time of their release. Take Halo, for example. The first game in the series was a basic FPS that happened to be one of the first big game experiences for an entire generation of gamers. You could walk into almost any dorm room and find it there, simply because it was the flagship Xbox title, and therefore an icon to rally behind. It’s a hometown hero and it’s a first love.

Another first love is the ever-popular Final Fantasy VII. I went out and bought a trusty suit of e-armor before even mentioning the title because it is so widely and fervently adored. If you have never played FFVII, I recommend you go try it and note your feelings. Nowadays, the game looks, plays, and FEELS like crap. (the music is still good) Anyone who was introduced to the Final Fantasy series, the RPG genre, or the Playstation era by this game, however, is a lifelong fan. The relationship they have formed with this game can NEVER be broken. The added bonus in this case is that it is not only the first PS1 Final Fantasy installment and the first to be presented in 3D, but it also contains a wealth of characters to bond with and managed to elicit the emotional response of its audience in a variety of ways. It was the first game to outright kill a character in the player’s party! If there is any piece of interactive entertainment that illustrates what I am getting at in this column, FFVII is it.

And there will be more. Gamers will inevitably fall in love with certain games, regardless of their quality or popularity – and that’s ok. I just hope that we don’t make ourselves out to be crazed social outcasts with cultish electro-erotic tendencies…


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Author: Eddie Inzauto View all posts by
Eddie has been writing about games on the interwebz for over ten years. You can find him Editor-in-Chiefing around these parts, or talking nonsense on Twitter @eddieinzauto.

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