Review: Creating Emotion in Games

Creating Emotion in Games by David Freeman

This was a fantastic book, not just for writing in video games, but for writing in general. There’s great game theory in here and strong techniques for applying the many lessons prose and screen writers have learned to game design and writing. And even for games with limited writing much of the discussion of character traits and building an emotional connection with the player are equally applicable to world building, level design and even gameplay mechanics.

My only real disagreements have nothing to do with the usefulness of the book, but more to do with some of David Freeman’s justifications for adding emotioneering (his phrase) to games. I think assuming that the ‘audience that watches television/movies’ wants more depth to their gameplay experience and will buy games if depth is added is a simplification. Simply adding emotion and depth, even to strong gameplay, is not going to radically influence sales, in my opinion. There are many great games, with great depth — several of BioWare’s titles come to mind– and they don’t sell great even though they are among the most emotionally satisfying of games. BioWare has a legion of strong writers and a strong leaning towards dramatic improvement and I feel the stories produced by them are mature, emotionally compelling stories. But the gameplay doesn’t appeal to as wide an audience, as say the game play in Halo.

That said striving towards creating a stronger attachment between player and the game experience is a worthy goal and this book has loads of information to help towards that. I also recommend it to the general writer, prose or screenplay, for the useful techniques in it, especially in regards to dialog and character development.

Former lead designer at BioWare (Dragon Age: Origins, Neverwinter Nights). Creator of Raiders of the Serpent Sea.

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