In today's technological conditions, especially working from home during the COVID-19, people have already accepted and agreed with the way of communication that ‘physical absence’. The virtual situation that is also the same as ‘the body does not exist’ no longer gives people a false feeling, but it is a situation with sufficient interaction ability and even meeting certain social needs. The ‘socialization’ of games has become a clear trend, while the interaction in the game context (virtual character gacha, appearance display, ranking announcement, etc.) enhances the player's substitution into the virtual world and self-identification in the game, so as to let players believe in the game world and generate a sense of dependence and partnership. And it achieves emotional identification.
Three Types of Emotional Identification
Self- Identification Based on Pursuit of Difference
Let's take a look back to the scene of starting a new game for the first time. When you enter the game situation and accept the rules, you will be given a specific value and told a clear evaluation system, so that differences and layers between you and other players inevitably arise. Taking the card-based RPG mobile game Harry Potter: Magic Awakened as an example. Under the battle mechanism, the sense of achievement brought by victory, the sense of conquest brought by duel, and even the sense of loss after failure will provide players with strong emotions and inner energy. However, ranking and tier will also give players a more obvious level difference, which in turn strengthens the player's dependence and identification with this game situation.
Happy Potter: Magic Awakened Solo battle
An in-game match usually takes no more than 3 minutes, and frequent participation will strengthen the participants' identification with themselves as players, and then pursue their own self-identity in this ‘small society’. After generating self-identification, the pursuit of differentiation has become the only choice for players. They want to draw legendary level cards, get better weapons, card upgrading, costumes, etc. This pursuit of symbolic differences and instrumental purposes, in turn, creates players' emotional identification with the game situation.
Role Identification Based on Virtual Objects
Designers of simulation games will design virtual characters from multiple aspects. These beloved characters often have rich backstories and a beautiful appearance. Players will have a lot of common experiences with virtual characters from their own perspectives or learn from an outsider's perspective the ‘unknown’ secrets of virtual characters that only the role played by the player knows. Strategies such as times of playing certain level restrictions and CV in the game enhance the realism of virtual characters. The complete chain of interactive rituals strengthens the player's identification with the game situation and virtual characters.
Games with elements of simulation, strategy, role-playing, and social interaction will create a high degree of mutual subjectivity between players and virtual characters through interaction with NPCs or the main storyline, and strengthen players' identification with game situations and virtual characters. In Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the NPC residents are designed as people with emotions, and when the player has not logged into the game for a long time, the game world is also running smoothly. After the player logs in again, the NPC residents will also ask questions like old friends, in reality, thus further creating a sense of participation for the player that ‘in the process of playing the game, I feel that I am integrated with the person or thing in the game’.
Group identification based on social approval
Whether it is the pursuit of unconventionality, identity labels, or emotions on virtual characters, what it implies is the player's pursuit of a sense of identity and solidarity in real life. Why do some players start a new game and invest their energy and resources in it? The reason is that the game can be used as a social means to facilitate the participants to integrate into different groups. When a game becomes a hit, people who don't know or have never played it are likely to become ‘social orphans’. There are also many players who get emotional support through the gaming experience to achieve good form in real-life work.
Emotional Identification of Three Types Interacting
Players first start playing a game and participate in game situations actively or passively due to personal preferences or social needs, and these three types of identifications either work independently or together. Players are driven by the sense of identification, and they complete virtual consumption in the game. In addition， they complete the reproduction of emotional identification through continuous participation in the game. The player's continuous participation in the game situation is precisely the process of realizing the production and reproduction of the three types of identifications, and the three types of emotional identifications are mutually causal in different specific situations.
In MMORPGs, players enter and participate in-game activities as virtual characters, and the characters are the incarnation of the players themselves. When players interact in these games, players exist as virtual identities, and they have self-identification with the characters themselves. At the same time, they also have role-identification with other characters that promote the development of the plot. The beautiful graphics and rich plot design in MMORPGs have led to players taking screenshots of the scenery and taking selfies of their characters in the game. Some players even make game content into video clips, they post their in-game stories on social media platforms. Such short videos not only reflect the player's image in the game but also display the player's game skill level, game experience, and even economic investment. Players establish more sense of superiority from a large number of likes and comments, thus completing the reproduction of emotional identity.
Games not only attract players by stories and plots, but emotional factors are more engaging than those. In games, players can feel the emotions of happiness, anger, and sadness. It is because of these emotional stimuli that players can continue to explore more. When emotional identification and the reproduction of emotional identity are achieved, games can capture the hearts of players.