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:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CmurTP3MF4Y

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***

Sources:

http://www.academia.edu/257815/The_creation_of_character_attachment_in_video_games

http://www.christopherjferguson.com/Virtual%20Feelings.pdf

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Final Fantasy 7 And the hype.

I have never been a hardcore fan of the Final Fantasy series despite playing several entries into the series. I played the first two entries on the Gameboy Advanced, Final Fantasy 3 (or 6 for your hardcore fanatics) on the SNES and 7 on the PS1. Out of all of these, I have to say my favorite one was the third. But, I have to admit that outside of the first two I have never played a Final Fantasy game from start to finish. It seemed that after a while I burned out and lost interest in finishing the quest. I don’t think it’s because the games are bad or I don’t like them, but maybe because I don’t want the journey to end so I choose to never finish it. This is, however, not a fair assessment since there were a few RPG’s out there which I devoured from start to finish only for me to replay the game over and over. Skies of Arcadia comes to mind as it’s probably the game that had the biggest impact in my life, and I actually modeled myself after the most awe inspiring traits of the main character Vyse (I’ll explain this better later on). It might be fairer to say that I didn’t have any characters I could relate to in the Final Fantasy games so I lost interest. Don’t get me wrong, if you could relate to the plight of the characters in Final Fantasy 7 then that’s all right. They appeared at an age where broody, quiet and full of angst was extremely appealing to people, and I could see where the grand scale of the game with FMV’s, bright lights, and impressive special moves had their massive appeal (it just wasn’t what I was looking for).

The Final Fantasy 7 remake was announced recently and I wrote about it on my earlier articles. I wanted to elaborate on it a little bit more in-depth, and see if I could analyze the hype behind the game. There is this idea that floats around the internet which states “whatever Final Fantasy game you played first will be forever your favorite”. Final Fantasy 7 came out in 1997 and I was around 8 years old, so I didn’t get to play the game until I was 13 at which point the game I consider my favorite RPG had already been released and I couldn’t get enough of it. This might explains why I’m not so excited to hear the news of something the fans have wanted them (Square-Enix) to re-release for almost a decade now. But, as every itineration of Final Fantasy releases it seemed like the fans liked the series less each time. I was excited when FFXIII was announced, and I’ll never forget that it released during my first deployment. However, that memory was flawed by the fact that the game was generally awful with minimal game-play. You could have called it Hallway Sim XIII and you would have made an equal impression. The game had 2 more sequels and while they fixed the issues with the original 13 it appeared like the damage was done. The reputation of the series had been tarnished, but this created a vacuum. This space was filled with wishes for the glory days of Final Fantasy 7, 8, and 9. The more Square-Enix pushed fans by telling them that they would not remake the game until they had achieved a massive success of equal worth to 7; the harder the fans shouted. This finally made them cave-in during an age where we are heavily marked by a lack of titles that please the audiences. In turn this made the announcement the biggest hit in E3 this year. Not to mention how well the clip was done, the announcer’s voice could have made any woman (or man’s) panties fly off. It was short and sweet as well, so I congratulate Square-Enix on their performance.

I do have one major fear though. There is always hype surrounding new games or remakes of old ones that manage to disappoint the fans. Does anyone remember the hype around Frozen (the Disney movie)? The hype around Frozen was purely based around a single song (a song which is truly deserving of every accolade it received), but that was all it was. The movie itself was not very cutting-edge, and the subject of a strong female lead that did not need any man had been explored by Brave before Frozen even decided to take that title from it by force. The hype for Final Fantasy 7 is based on a very deep seated nostalgia the likes of which only Nintendo has been known to take advantage of before. Are we still the same people we were that many years ago? Will Cloud and Sephiroth be as relatable now that most of us have moved past our teenage angst-ridden stage of our lives? Will Aeris’ death (this is not a spoiler! If you didn’t know about this you have been literally hiding under a rock for decades) have the same impact now that Game of Thrones has desensitized us to the deaths of our favorite characters and lack of surprise? Will I buy this game for PC a year after it releases? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding maybe? The hype will continue to build in these next two years now that the game has finally been announced though. I fear this will be its own downfall thought, just like many giant clothing stores have felt in their profits that the newer generations aren’t into the same things as the old ones. The new generation of gamers might not connect the same way we once did in the era of punk and grunge. It’s hard to say if this game will be something that the new generation will continue to speak about it as if it were the second coming of Jesus to Christians.

I hope that this game meets the expectations of the fans. If it does then that will allow me to buy some Square-Enix stock in order to capitalize on the gains of the company. Hopefully this is a turn for the better in Square-Enix a company that now recognizes what made them popular and capitalizes on it to no end. Does anyone remember all the different games that capitalized on FFVII? I’m talking about movies, cameos, hidden bosses, prequels, spin-offs, and a variety of other paraphernalia to gain money off of their biggest hit. I think these things made me apprehensive to let myself get caught up in the FFVII fandom. This is why I probably stuck to less-popular, but no less decent-good RPG’s. But, I will not cast a stone at this game just yet. I’m going to hold out and hope that fans come out satisfied. That I am proven wrong in my skepticism, and this game truly surpasses the nostalgia colored glasses that it appears to have placed on the fans.

I said earlier I would elaborate on what I meant by modelling myself after Vyse. You see Vyse was a hero of a pretty generic, but truly enjoyable RPG called Eternal Arcadia in Japan. He was a hero born in an age where Cloud and Sephiroth had become the archetypal RPG hero that everyone wanted to emulate. But, the developers of the game decided to make Vyse different in this regard. He was optimistic, brave, gave hell of a speech, and never surrendered in the face of impossibility (which led him to eventually become The Legendary Sky Pirate). In those days of my life I did not have a lot of certainty. I never lacked material things in my life, but it was a less than ideal environment for a teenager to be raised in. To see someone that was so full of life (despite the irony that he wasn’t real) was probably something I truly needed. He became my hero, the one character that I could see myself emulating for the rest of my life. This was the same reason I couldn’t relate to Cloud, he was broody, angst-filled (yes, I know he overcame these aspects eventually) which was not something I wanted to become. So while the bright and uncertain world in the age of exploration of Arcadia simply appealed to me; Gaia did not have the same impact with its earlier stages being filled with garbage and misery (I had enough misery in my life as it was). I sometimes think that Skies of Arcadia had such an impact on me that it was the reason I became a sailor. This makes me wonder if the other fans of the game saw the same appeal as I did. I hope that anyone who reads these words tries to find a copy of the game and play it. If you do try to get everything you can it’s one of the few RPG’s I have invested over a thousand hours into and completed 100% (something I’ve only done on platformers and GoldenEye 007 before). It’s not going to change anyone’s life at this point, but it’s a nice change of pace if you’re used to the other styles of RPG’s.

I’ll finish with one last statement. There is a saying that certain people follow which states (and I paraphrase this) “It’s not about the destination, but the journey to get there”. Life has a funny way of giving people the results they did not expect, and sometimes the end result has barely any connection to the path taken. I’ve taken this to heart and tried to live my life with the expectation that it might change in the blink of an eye. But, until the day my life ends; I will continue to enjoy the ride for as long as I can. I will continue to game in order to explore the lives which others have created for these characters that helped shape us during our development. But, most importantly , I will continue to utilize my experiences in order to improve my life, and that of others which have not had the fortune (no matter how small) that I’ve had the privilege to enjoy.

This article is copyright of the original writer.