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Why there are 'no shortcuts' to making people care about your game's characters

February 17, 2017 | By Bryant Francis

February 17, 2017 | By Bryant Francis
More: Console/PC, Design, Video

“There’s no shortcut to emotional investment. It always take time spent with that character, there is no way to shortcut it.”

— Hangar 13 game designer Harrison Pink

Your game’s characters are often a good way to get people to care about your gameplay. Who lives, who dies, who tells their story—it’s all a set of helpful tools to help your audience remember each gameplay session and come back for more. 

It’s a topic that Hangar 13 game designer Harrison Pink will be talking about at the upcoming Game Developers Conference, but while we were chatting with him today on our Twitch stream, Pink issued a word of warning to his fellow game designers that seemed worth calling out in advance of his talk. 

As Pink explained while we played Tales from the Borderlands, he worries that there’s a desire among game developers to use shortcuts to build connections between players and characters. And in his opinion, there are no shortcuts. “A lot of games have you fill a familial role, like a father, or a daughter, or a sister as a shortcut. But a digital relationship is exactly the same as a real relationship.” 

“We aren’t just born into the world and love your family,” Pink pointed out. “It takes years of being around your family to love them. There is no way to skip—no way to skip the emotional connection between players and other characters in the game.”

“It’s risky and scary to give them time.”

Pink also elaborated that this doesn’t mean you have to push back against people on your team who want to go more archetypical with characters, and that there are still ways to build emotional attachment to characters even when they need to fulfill an archetypical mechanical role. You can see the rest of Pink’s insight about character creation in the video above and at GDC 2017. 

If this advice was helpful, we’d like to recommend that you subscribe to the Gamasutra Twitch channel for more developer interviews, editor roundtables, and gameplay commentary. 

Gamasutra and GDC are sibling organizations under parent UBM Americas

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