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The ability of games to evoke emotions

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With everything going on in the world recently, I've been playing and thinking more about games as of late. I have realized that one of the reasons why I love to play games is because of their ability to inspire emotions. Through playing games, sometimes I'm able to experience more intense emotions than anything I feel in my daily, normal life. From razor-sharp tension and heart-pounding fear of being jumped by a stalker in The Last of Us, to breath-taking wonder, awe and unnameable nostalgia in Horizon: Zero Dawn, there's really something magical and powerful about video games.

This got me wondering: Just what is it about video games that make them so effective in evoking emotions? Is it something unique to games, or common to many different types of media (movies, books)? And what makes some games more successful at evoking emotions than others? My first instinct is that the ability to control an avatar is a major factor that contributes to overall vicariousness of the experience and sets games apart from other forms of media, and thus anything that adds to the immersiveness of a game may also help to create more powerful emotions. Similarly, the ability to escape to a different world itself offers a sense of novelty, and thus naturally will leave a deeper impression.

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On the other hand, I know that there are games that are less immersive (in the typical sense), and yet are just as, if not more, effective emotionally, which makes me to think that a powerfully written, compelling narrative, which includes relatable, realistic characters and relationships, is another crucial aspect–In which case, this is not something unique to video games per se, though certainly the way in which video games tell stories is arguably specific to the genre. And then there are other elements that no doubt also play an important role in creating the emotional experience in a game; music and visual art, for instance.

Perhaps it's all of these things, put together. When all these components are individually well crafted and then effectively combined, they produce an effect that is much greater than the sum of the separate parts. And it's this unique potential for combination and synergy that is inherent to video games which leads to unique possibilities for story-telling and emotion.

I'd love to hear the opinions, as well as the experiences of others: Have you had similar experiences playing–or even watching people play–games before? What do you think are possible reasons for those experiences? Why are some games more effective at evoking emotions? Are there specific games which have resonated with you on a deep emotional level, or made you feel emotions you'd never experienced before?

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