The Bonds we Share with the Virtual World Pt.1

Reality is one of the hardest things to face in our lives. The constant struggle that we face every day which can make even the simplest of task such as waking up a chore is extremely daunting. But, sometimes at the end of the day all you want to do is take a breather, lie down for a second, and connect with those friends that only exist in the virtual world. To spend a few hours with those close friends of ours that we call video game characters.

Yes, anyone who considers himself a gamer will understand what it means when I write: we love (insert character here) from (insert video game here). It has been so well documented that papers have been written about the subject for dissertations. We’re human, and it is just the way we are built.  It’s not hard to empathize with the hero who is destined to save the world, or the rebellious princess who wants to escape the tyranny of some madman. People will always do so, and it’s just the way we’re programmed.

In the following video it is explained the major reasons for the bonds we form with these characters:

These are as such:

  • Agency
  • Humanity (without stepping into the uncanny valley)
  • Attractiveness (physically (this can be cute or appealing in any form), socially, or task attractiveness)
  • Contingency (interactions with the character actually matter)

This makes sense, yes on a deep level we can connect with these characters because they are in essence their own person, and we want to help them achieve their goals. Nay, I say indeed it is our responsibility to help them achieve their goal. If the characters we play as are completely unlikeable then it usually detracts from the experience and as such it is (almost) imperative that we see something in these characters that makes us want to assist them in their journey.

For me in example is this guy: Vyse the Legendary Sky Pirate from Skies of Arcadia (Eternal Arcadia for those in Japan)

He'll always be my hero.
He’ll always be my hero.

Skies of Arcadia  had a main character that was created in the midst of an era where the broody/angst-filled archetype was extremely popular. Vyse was optimistic, cheerful, and never gave up in the face of adversity his motto used to be “impossible is just a word that people use to feel good when they quit”. He wasn’t the chosen one, it wasn’t predestined that Vyse would save the world. This made me fall absolutely in love with this character, he was my hero, and despite not being real, Vyse did a lot for my life. It’s thanks to him that I’m probably a sailor right now.  This character has such a profound impact in my life that I believe he helped shape me into the man I am today. My dreams might not be as big as his, but I intend to accomplish them nonetheless. He has all the characteristics listed in the aforementioned video, but there was more to my connection with him than simply fitting a small, but well defined criteria. I know for certain there are more reasons than that for how we as gamers connect to these characters.

Let me explain what I mean. When I was growing up, I did not have the best home environment that a child/teenager could ask for. I never truly had a good male role-model which I could look up to because my (insert female parental unit here) taste in men was not adequate to say the least. Discovering Vyse was pure coincidence, I had visited a friend who had a demo of the game, and saw how cool this charming, smart, vivacious character was. He was determined to help out his friends and make his dream come true. But, most of all he had freedom. He left his home at the tender age of 16 to set out and explore the world (who doesn’t dream of being able to do this?). So I was hooked. I wanted, nay, needed to help him accomplish his dreams because that way in some shape or form then mine wouldn’t seem so distant. The game itself had a tremendous sense of freedom in the places you could explore, and discoveries to be made with rich lore that was epically written for those treasure hunters willing to find them. This game was the glass half-full embodiment of the age of exploration, and it was glorious.  In essence everything I wanted, this game provided for me.

I wanted freedom from my environment, it gave it to me. I wanted optimism in an environment that seemed to want to kill my aspirations and it came packed with it. While, Vyse did not have any vices despite what his name might imply, at that time in my life I didn’t require someone with them. I was surrounded by enough vices from everyone else. I needed someone who would always be there for his friends without fail. I’m sure there are others out there who’ve needed a friend or who live in situations that are less than optimal without any hope. Somebody who we can relate to, when it appears that nobody else seems to understand our plight. The best part is that we often fill the void of our lives with them, and suddenly life doesn’t seem so bad. It might be difficult at times, but we have someone who is struggling alongside us and winning. The best part is that if something goes wrong we can fix it, and it feels like something has been accomplished because we did that, it was our help that did it. However, while they might not be real to others, they might as well be to us.

We cling to these characters because through them we can envision (and live) a life in which success is not an unachievable goal.

***To be continued in part 2 which gives into more detail about characters whose personalities aren’t as fleshed out***