It’s very hard to make a player feel something deeply for the main character in a computer game. The reason for this is that the main character is our anchor in the game universe. Does that mean that we can’t invoke deeper feelings in a computer game?
Of course not – we just need to create great side characters.
When we play Uncharted, we become Nathan Drake. He is our alter ego in the game – but we don’t inherit his feelings. In the cut scenes he is Nathan Drake, fortune hunter who, whether he admits it or not, is in love with Elena Fisher. When he is in the game universe, he becomes the skin we wear. Any motives or feelings Nathan might have inside the game’s universe feels like postulates, because we become Nathan.
So, we don’t really feel for our main characters because we’re controlling them. But we can feel for our side characters – especially if something we do has a consequence for them.
In the end of the old text adventure Planetfall , the quirky droid Floyd, who is our companion throughout the game, sacrifices his life to retrieve vital information. While he is dying the player character sings “The Ballad of the Starcrossed Miner”. This is a genuinely sad scene, because Floyd dies as a consequence of something we’ve done.
The seminal horror game Silent Hill 2, has a scene in which the player character and his love interest Maria run as fast as they can down a corridor, trying to escape “Pyramid Head”, a horrific monster. We steer the main character and we barely escape into an elevator; but Maria doesn’t make it. She is caught and killed by Pyramid Head – again this is a consequence of something we’ve done.
It’s much the same thing when Alex is abducted in the beginning of Half Life 2, Episode 2 – it feels like it’s our fault, because we didn't take care of her. The reason it works is that we like Alex - and Floyd and Maria. And the reason we like them is that they are very well conceived.
While it’s difficult to have the player get emotionally involved with the main character of a game, it’s certainly possible to feel something for the side characters of a game. And the odd thing is that when these side character’s that we can emotionally connect with display affection for our character, it’s really us that they display affection for. When they blame the main character for something, it’s us that they blame.
So: if you want to invoke feelings in your computer game take a long look at your side characters. Do you like them? If you don't, then your players probably won't either. And if they don't, they won't invest themselves emotionally in your game.