I do not mean this in the way you might first think. I enjoy playing games and will happily admit to being a bit of a nerd and a gamer. I do not believe playing games is wasting one’s life, or anything along those lines. No, it was playing Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KotOR) that made me feel like a bad person. Because I acted wickedly in the game.
Games can be great for lots of reasons, and they can satisfy us in different ways depending on the genre of game we play. KotOR is a, by now, old RPG (role-playing game) set in the Star Wars universe from 2003. The graphics are far from impressive any more, and the great thing is that is doesn’t even matter, because this game affected me a lot emotionally. Here it comes.
Graphics in games are not all that important!
It often seems to be a misunderstood element in games, the importance of graphics. Of course it depends on the game. A shooter by today’s standards can only get so far without detailed graphics. I am not saying they aren’t important, simply that they are not pivotal. Especially within RPG games. RPG’s are about the character, the story and the journey. In other words the narrative. What other types of media are narrative dependant? Books! Do books depend on graphics and impressive visuals to tell an engaging story that can affect its readers deeply and emotionally? Well of course not!
I am sorry to spell this out in such simply term. It is not an attempt to talk down to anyone. This is just such an important point, and I wish to make it very simple. Our brains make these stories come alive. It doesn’t matter whether the narrative is within a book or played out in a game, as long as the story is good. If the characters are believable, and if the world is relatable, then there is a fair chance the person playing a game will also connect with the characters and become engrossed in the story, at least to some level.
Games can affect us in ways that books may not be able to do. Graphics can play a part in this, as with films, they can stimulate our visual senses and aid our brain in engaging with the story. Then there is the fact that we in a RGP take the role as the stories protagonist, which means we don’t just passively experience the story, no, we are the driving force. The agent propelling the narrative on. Choices can have consequences, and those consequences can affect the player in the same way as the character.
I mentioned the fact that playing KotOR made me feel wicked. Let us return to that. I mean it in the most literal sense, I felt like a bad person. The reasons as such are simple, I felt like a bad person, because I acted like a bad person in the game. KotOR lets the player make choices that either turn you further towards either the light or the dark side. I usually play the good guy in these games, because that is what feel most natural, but before beginning the game I decided to make choices towards the dark side. Why oh why would I make such a decision…
The physical part of making these choices was easy, simply chose the dialogue option that was “evil”. But the psychological effect was unforeseen by my part. These choice led to people in the game (note: I say people because that is what they felt like, actual people) getting hurt, despair because of my decision, and even dying. I was the direct cause of misery, you wouldn’t believe it unless you play the game.
Anyway, I finished the game. Took of my headphones and let out a deep-felt sigh. Then just sat there for several minutes. I felt like a bad person. Felt bad about myself. This feeling stunned me, because I hadn’t expected these kinds of emotion from just playing a game. It wasn’t real life after all. But my brain made it so, my brain, the cursed thing, soaked in all the games information and made it real to me, at least on an emotional level, even though I knew the events were not “real”.
All in all it was quite a unique experience. Reality really can be subjective on an emotional level.
Make sure to come back next week, where I shall look further into some of the reasons as to why we are affected to such a degree by games, with a focus on our ability to feel Empathy. It’ll be a bit more scientific, but very interesting stuff. Don’t miss out!
And thank you for reading.