I am you, you are me

After some time, let’s get finally back to some video game design!

Today I will write about identification. With this term, I mean the psychological condition when  players come up perceiving their game avatar as themselves. 

To create a favourable condition in order to allow identification with game characters is crucial for giving birth to an absorbing game. Many video games failed to become blockbusters because this fatal error. To design a successful game, it is necessary to make players somehow empathize with their avatars.

But, as anyone can easily presume, it’s not that easy creating this kind of situation.

First of all, a good game designer has to ask himself (or herself): what does make a player empathize with a fictional character?

Probably there isn’t a single answer, but many conditions are needed.

As I said some line above, players need to identify with their avatar. The more similar is the avatar to themself, the more likely this process takes place. But, of course it’s impossible to design a suitable game character for any player. For example, if I am a skinny boy, how am I supposed to empathize with a fat woman? Or vice versa. 

Many components can supply to this lacks, first of all admiration and physical/sexual attraction. If I would desire being like (or I experience desire toward) my avatar, I will probably get a step closer in identify myself in it. This reason is sufficient to make game developers design cool and sexy characters. 

A second way to allow this favourable condition is letting players create their own unique and personal game character; this way, of course, everyone is able to make exactly what they want. Of course, there are some limits, but anyone can come to a good compromise. 

Even though apparently technology and improved game graphics allow players to watch more fascinating and realistic characters, actually these risk to stop identification. The more the details, the lesser the chances. If we go back in time, players often empathized with poor detailed characters like Pac-Man, Super Mario and so on. Why? Exactly because they leaked many precise details! Anyone has a head and eat (Pac-Man); anyone is a human being (Super Mario). The fact that Mario wears mustaches is not important, since they are small in the game screen! 

So, today game developers have to face this duality: cool/sexy characters can actually be felt as cool (or, even worse, as cold, soulless). But a game figures are not only made of physical appearance, they also have a nature.

Nature is probably the trickiest facet. Again, avatar featuring precise and well-defined natures risk to be hard to empathize with. As an example to this I can quote Final Fantasy VIII  protagonist, Squall: many players weren’t able to identify with him given his antisocial nature. On the opposite, Final Fantasy VII protagonist, Cloud, was loved by almost any player; Cloud have a less detailed personality. 

A game series which strictly follows this general principle is Pokémon. In these games, the avatar never shows any signs of its nature, except for his love for peace,  justice and respect toward any form of life. These values are so big and global that anyone can recognize and agree with them. Furthermore, pokémon games protagonists represent common boys and girls, making identification even simpler.

It is interesting to mention Sonic, the Hedgehog. Notwithstanding the fact that he is not human, many teen players identified with him; why? Because his nature. Sonic is just like many teenager: somehow rebel, tireless, always on the move, unstoppable. Sonic has a strong, well-defined disposition, but a very common one. This fact shows how even a non-human game character can be attractive! 

A final note I would like to point out is the necessity to determine whether or not the protagonist has to speak. In my opinion, if we want players able to empathize with characters, we should not make avatars talk; since the avatar represents the user, we can not know what a player would make their character say. We should limit their dialogues to minimal choices, such as “yes and no”. The player has to be free of think and speak on their own through their virtual representation. In my opinion, this is vital for the success of many games.

As always, game designers have to take careful decisions and evaluate the right compromise between a strong storytelling and a strong sense of freedom. Creating a captivating fictional character is not easy. The doubts are many and errors hide beyond every corner… Probably only experience, intuition and good sense can lead to the right solution. And luck! Luck always matters!

Ok, that’s all for this time too!

Keep on following me! See you next time!

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