Emotions and Games: E-sports, MMOs, and Life is Strange

For some people, video games are a short-form way of passing time and a simple means of entertainment. But for others, video games mean a lot more.

One of the most common emotional connections to video games comes in the form of nostalgia. It happens to all of us. We forget about our old consoles as we convert to next-gen systems. Then, out of the blue, we randomly plug in our old systems and start up an old favorite, and just hearing the title music or the system startup sound brings us right back to the past.

But nostalgia is just the beginning of the emotions games can inspire. 

Online Gaming: E-Sports and MMOs

E-sports bring forth a competitive spirit, one which was there back when we played Mario Party or Street Fighter 2 with our friends. But now, professional gamers are becoming more and more like athletes, with the opportunities to become a full-time e-sport competitor steadily growing.

When you first play an e-sport game, it’s mainly just playing to get experience and learn. But there comes a point when you start to play ranked, where the competitive spirit of regular players begins to grow. Your games now count toward something, and you find yourself pitted against players of different skill levels who are playing way harder than anyone you’ve come across in a normal game.

Competing in e-sports has many similarities with traditional sports. A win feels so rewarding, especially when a game is super close – but at the same time, a loss can be devastating, too. A match of League or CS:GO can last between 30 to 60 minutes, which can encompass a marathon of emotions. Finally, both players and fans enjoy the same amount of hype and excitement in cheering on and trash talking the opposition. With numerous e-sport events outnumbering the viewership of traditional sports, it has already become a national phenomenon.

Another form of online gaming that brings forth a ton of emotion is the MMO. Aside from being grind fests, MMOs offer a better form of community in game than e-sports do. Online markets are developed in servers. Guilds are formed with friends. Raid groups are created to kill bosses. Role-playing occurs in these fantasy worlds. Playing an MMO feels like you’re living in another world with other people.

I’ve made a ton of online friends with my guildmates and random people in chat. It brought my IRL friends together while we were physically away from each other. The satisfaction felt when your guild clears a new raid boss and everyone is yelling in guild chat and on Ventrilo is an experience that can only happen in MMOs. It was very surreal and exciting to me that PvE existed outside of split screen or online co-op modes, especially with much larger groups.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions...

Decision-based games such as Life is Strange, Mass Effect, and the Telltale series bring about the most immersion I’ve ever experienced while playing a game.

What increases the emotional connection in decision-based games (versus regular single-player games) is that, in regular games, all players experience the same exact storyline. Although players can have differing reactions to various parts, it’s all the same plot in the end. With decision-based games, players have a choice to decide what they want to do and what they want to say. It all may lead to just a few different endings, but players can change what happens throughout the game depending on how they feel about certain parts.

*Spoilers for Life is Strange Ahead*

ife is Strange is one of the few games that has significantly impacted my life. Before playing this game, I was solely playing e-sports titles, so being alone in a single player game brought me back to my younger, console gamer days. As I started, the first 30 minutes of gameplay was mostly spent checking out every single intractable item when suddenly, in the middle of dialogue, the scene froze, started flashing bright colors, and jittered around. The game brought me to my first major decision – not only as main character Max Caulfield, but also as myself. Even though I didn’t know much about the characters, I stood there frozen for a minute or so. This was the first time I had power over the plot of a game. After I decided to report Nathan, since it was what I would have done in real life, too, a butterfly appeared at the top of my screen with the phrase: “This action will have consequences”. That freaked me out even more. The decision process was over, I had found out that you could reverse time and change the outcome, but I decided to playthrough without reversing time, except on minor parts.

From that point on, the whole game made me experience emotional turmoil. From saving Kate’s life, to finding out the truth about Mr. Jefferson and the Dark Room, decisions had to be made and a majority of them were based off of my emotions, not logic. Then finally, at the end, I was faced with a final major decision: save Chloe or Arcadia Bay. At that point, I actually shed a few tears because of the emotional bond I had felt between Max and Chloe. I played through the entire game making choices with the goal of saving Chloe’s life, and then at the end I was given one last dire choice: save her life again or let everyone else die.

Having access to Max’s internal thought process, along with Life is Strange’s strong character building and believable interactions, offers a strong opportunity to bond with the characters. At first, I was kind of put off by the “American teen” style of dialogue, but as I progressed I found that it was a perfect thematic choice for the characters and setting. Depending on how you play, you have a chance to interact with a wide variety of Arcadia Bay residents. You are able to befriend the snobby Victoria and some of her Vortex Club friends. You are able to either kiss Warren or Chloe. You are able to either save Kate or let her die. Although these may be virtual characters, the dialogue is very realistic, especially to younger audiences. The game is kind of difficult to explain to people, so you simply just have to play to feel the abstract idea of emotions and its interconnectivity with the game. I’ve gotten several friends to play this title, and they’ve all told me that Life is Strange has affected them in some sort of way.

Another major element to the narrative of Life is Strange is the application of chaos theory and the butterfly effect. With the third episode of the game appropriately titled “Chaos Theory”, and the recurring butterfly symbol present throughout the game, DONTNOD Entertainment clearly wanted these at the forefront of player’s minds. When it comes to Life is Strange, Max has the ability to rewind time to change outcomes of her decisions, while it is impossible to do so in the real world. Having studied chaos theory in film and fiction, the game brought me to think more about decision-making. I don’t have any special power to change my decisions, nor do I know what impact a decision I make can have, so it’s a strong reminder to think carefully about any major decision I make. This fascination with the butterfly effect has even inspired me to get a blue butterfly tattoo on my wrist to symbolize the emotional impact that chaos theory and this game have made on my life.

I am not putting down non-choice driven games, at all. Games such as Bioshock Infinite and Portal 2 have definitely had me feeling connected with the main characters, but it wasn’t nearly as close as my connection with the characters from Life is Strange or The Walking Dead.

What kind of games do you feel the most emotionally connected to and why? 

For more on Life is Strange, read our feature about making all the "bad" choices