The Bonds we share with the Virtual World Pt.2

***When I wrote the first part of the article, it left me with a nagging feeling. I guess it was because the feelings that wanted to be conveyed in the message were incomplete, due to the fact that most articles on this page are kept to a certain amount of words (1200-1500 without counting the extra bits at the end). So I decided to extend this article and explain in 2 separate ones what each type of character represents. Part one of the article will include the parts of characters who have predetermined personalities, and this one will handle the characters that are seemingly blank spaces.***

Seriously though, if you haven’t read it you should read the first part:

While, the video presented in the first part of this article shed some light on the characters that we love and cherish for being who they are. Fleshed out individuals with goals and dreams, who we want to help accomplish. This left a severely under-appreciated position in the characters of whose personalities were more like blank slates waiting to be fulfilled. Now, you might be wondering if I’m referring to characters from series like Skyrim, Fallout or even Mass Effect where you’re the one in charge of determining a personality. But, you’d be surprise because I’m not. I’m referring actually to characters that have even less personality than a piece of wood, but are nonetheless important to us. These characters might be from MMO’s, adventure series such as Monster Hunter, and even games like Minecraft.

Part of me recognizes that while these characters do at least have one of the traits mentioned in the video, they aren’t enough to justify how close our attachment is to them . This is what led me to try to devise my own reasoning for how we can connect with them. Humans are complex creatures after all, and we don’t really need a specific reason to act the way we do. Sometimes it is just part of being who we are, that allows us to fill in the voids that these characters have in order to complete them. Almost every gamer in the world will have their own unique reason for connecting with a character and as such this is a phenomenon that can’t be studied by regular means. It can’t be observed because it is a subjective topic. However, being logical never stopped anyone from devising their own theories, so let’s continue with this one.

Blanks slate characters are usually from games where the nature is extremely open-ended or lack a very complex storyline. We see this in games like Minecraft (as mentioned above), Monster Hunter, World of Warcraft, and even Animal Crossing.  In essence we (the players) are instructed in the slightest of goals, such as killing a specific foe(s) or even creating your own world. The freedom that these games provide allow us to connect on a much more basic level, which becomes central to the formation of the personality we project on to the characters. By allowing us to explore the inner mechanics of the game itself, instead of distracting us with personalities, and dare I say it their humanity, it leaves us much more space to react without bias.

The other aspect of this is that humans by nature are very much goal oriented creatures. By simply providing us with something as rudimentary as a basic goal it helps us connect with our avatar. The interesting aspect of this idea is that instead of the player being the one that is assisting the avatar, it is the character that is helping us achieve the goal at hand. I mean think about it, this character doesn’t have a personality, he doesn’t have a serious urge to complete the goal or any sense or urgency in completing it. The whole world is not his responsibility because there are many others who can handle those jobs. No, the character becomes our proxy in achieving the goal that has been set for us. In turn that helps us connect with them, and in a way their personality becomes an extension of our being. In itself we are powering these characters, we are their very soul. But, that isn’t the only reason why we care about them.

We love these characters because of what we can do for each other. All relationships should be a form of symbiosis. In this case these characters provide us an outlet for our desire to feel accomplished. Unlike in our real lives, games have a clear goal for which we are constantly reminded to strive towards. We (each other) help the characters complete their (our) goals, and in the way they become an extension of us. We’re never truly clear in what our objectives (in real life) are, yet by design humans are very goal oriented. The facts that despite being built as such, humans are forced to find for themselves, what their goals are can be extremely tasking, life doesn’t always cooperate with your motivations. In video games all of this is prearranged for you, you know who you are, what you’re doing or at least have a clue guiding you to your next objective. The fact that these characters don’t have this problem can make them extremely appealing to us.

The best part about these characters is that the responsibilities that other characters usually have such as being the chosen one are not present. We can recognize that in life there are no such things as the one person specifically deemed to save us all. We can relate to the plight that hard work and dedication can pay off from these characters and they teach us a valuable lesson in humility. It’s like the tag line from Phantasy Star Online said “You are not the only hero”. This tag resonated with me on a very deep level because indeed the only way to be a hero is to work together. As such I formed an even deeper bond with the proxies of other players as well as mine.

To give an example of this, I will explain the main character in the series Monster Hunter:

A guild member who has started out his hunting career. This character has no personality, basic appearance, any real motivations except for hunting. This character lacks a lot of the traits mentioned in the video (at least at first) There is no real agency (unless the player provides it), the humanity isn’t there because hunters don’t display emotions, the contingency is practically non-existent (unless wearing the skin of your enemies count), and the only true appeal would be appearance because those armors are truly amazing. But, still players become extremely attached to their hunters because it appeals to their (own) human goal driven nature. Hunters exist to hunt (as redundant as it sounds), their goals are extremely basic, it is a part of their nature to hunt these large creatures and as such it appeals to our base instincts. As a hunter we know what our objective is, and we seek to accomplish it to the best of our abilities.

The point is, we don’t need overly complicated motives for connecting with our characters. People also don’t feel the need to be called “the chosen one”. The needs of the many are too numerous to list, and we’re simply too complicated to be broken down into basic terms. The reason we bond with our characters is unique to us. Sometimes these characters come to us in a time where we need someone the most. Players might just need someone to struggle alongside with, to help find the answer to each others hardships (problem solving can stimulate the mind), even when we actively try to make their own journey easier than ours. We understand that these characters aren’t real to the world, but they’re real to us.

You are not the only hero
You are not the only hero

I hope you guys enjoyed reading both of these articles, they were both products of a long and hard process in which I decided to rethink how to word them. At first they weren’t that great, but I believe they are now much better and clearer in their goal.

*All images belong to their respective owners***

*This blog is copyrighted to the author**


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***