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UNDERSTANDING A CULTURE OF CHARACTERS AND GAME LOVE

Yet another lens from which to understand love and affection in games is through the perspective of love of characters. That is to say that love for a character, or feeling and expressing affection toward a game character, fits the constraints of affection in game spaces. This can range from the affections expressed about in-game characters, to the pragmatic expression of affection in games toward characters. Players might love Q*bert or Pac-Man, but they might also spend game currency to buy an avatar a gift, give them a kiss, or more.

This is important to recognize, as much of the work in thinking about love and affection in games focuses on the portrayed affections. It considers how a player might make their player character emote affection or act in a loving way toward a non-player character. What such work does less frequently is ask how designs afford the player the ability to express affection from player (not player character) toward non-player or player characters. This is a tough lens to put in historical terms. Does it start with the first time a player declared that they love Pac-Man, because they love playing Pac-Man? Does it start when the player buys a better controller, to more effectively navigate the player character through their world? Does it start when players move to protect a virtual character, perhaps failing to complete a game to avoid harm to the virtual character? Does it start with fan art, depicting game characters?

The other problem with asking such questions is recognizing the moment of affection. Games are generally considered inanimate. They are created objects. Shintoism supports the notion that all inanimate objects have an energy, much like humans and animals. The four million or more people who practice Shintoism are primarily in Japan. Japan, as a country, is a significant producer of video games. It is reasonable to consider that the notion that games and game characters are worthy of affection has some, at least tangential, link to Shintoism.

Of course, the history of digital games in western culture views love of an inanimate objected and designed things differently. It decidedly views love and affection of people and living creatures as distinct from those of imagined or designed characters. In these cultures, loving The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Twain 1876), is really about loving a book, which in turn is really about loving the writing of its author. This is ultimately is ascribed to liking, if not loving, the author. How then do game characters receive love from such a culture?

Does love and affection in games then arise when Nintendo popularizes the Nintendo Entertainment System and potentially brings the cultural elements of Shintoism to its players? This is, at best, a stretch. Instead, while analyzing love and affection for characters, it might be most effective to think about the cultural shift that moved games toward the kind of love and affection applied to fictional characters. The kind of perspective that shifted on-screen characters from odd abstractions to loveable Italian plumbers like Mario in Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo 1985) and frustrating archetypes like Donkey Kong (Nintendo 1981).

 
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