Emotional texture: in praise of naturalism in games

One of my favourite things about playing games is a sensation of comfort through ‘immersion’. You hear that term a lot in discussions about games, but every player finds immersion in their own way – some delight in travelling the open worlds of places like Skyrim, others find immersion in the trickiness of Tetris, or maybe you prefer simulation style games about farming, like the wonderfully serene Stardew Valley.

I actually find some form of immersion in all of those, but I do have a special preference: moments that are grounded and naturalistic in their depiction, usually in games that focus on story and characterisation. There is an excellent display of this concept in Final Fantasy 8, a game where you play as the protagonist Squall, a young student.

In one specific scene, Squall is sitting in a vehicle with three others just before a big mission. His posture is coiled up and tight – he stares at the floor as the vehicle trundles along, immersed in himself, you could say. Seifer, another student, sits with his legs spread out and arms comfortably draped across the back of his seat. Zell, the final student there, keeps trying to chat to Squall, his nerves clear, while the teacher, Quistis, is mainly silent, her back straight, a sense of composure about her. Because three of them say very little, you get a sense of the awkward air in the car, and we get an indication of all these characters and their personalities just from behavioural details.

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