Emotions in games

Emotion is a state of physiological arousal. In essence, we could say that emotions are what evolution has discovered to motivate and guide us because it helps us choose behavior adapted to survive or reproduce in an often hostile environment. Emotion influences our perception and cognition and guides our behavior. It can improve cognition, but it can also weaken reasoning. This knowledge is used in games thanks to:

  • Use emotions to guide and delight players.
  • Avoiding feelings of injustice.
  • Avoiding frustration with usability.

Players who lose a match will often experience negative emotions which need to be ensured that they are not attributed to the game’s systems and, more importantly, to unfair treatment. Losing may already be a difficult pill to swallow, but feeling humiliated or believing the game is unfair or unbalanced is even more damaging.

The book The Gamer’s Brain: How Neuroscience and UX Can Impact Video Game Design gives an interesting example of using knowledge about emotions in games:

  • In Clash of Clans (Supercell), the leaderboards are categorized by the league. There can only be one absolute best player in the world at any given time, which leaves everyone disappointed, but in Clash of Clans, you can always become the best player in your league, which brings positive emotions to most players.
  • Another example is Overwatch (Blizzard), which singles out one player after each match in “play”. Even if you aren’t particularly good at it, chances are you did one nice action during the match and it would be spotted that way, even if your team lost. In this game, you also see statistics on your own achievements and progress against your previous scores (instead of comparing your scores with those of other players).


Hodent, C. (2018). The gamer’s brain: How neuroscience and Ux can impact video game design. CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group.

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