Type JournalArticle
Date 2020-02
Volume 20
Number 1
Tags game studies
Journal Game Studies

“I Harbour Strong Feelings for Tali Despite Her Being a Fictional Character”: Investigating Videogame Players’ Emotional Attachments to Non-Player Characters

Generally, the study finds that players grow attached to NPCs and develop feelings for them which they express in a variety of ways--nothing we, as players of games, don't already know, but perhaps stated with a bit more specificity. I am not making the stereotypical "I didn't need a study to tell me that" complaint--just commenting on how interesting the study might be to the average reader. There's little or nothing surprising, here, but it's still worthwhile to do the research and get some results we can refer to.

One somewhat more interesting observation:

It was found that most likely male players conflated themselves with the male PC of Shepard when describing their emotional attachment to, and love for Tali, while most likely female players discussed their emotional attachment to Garrus through the point of view of their female PC of Shepard.

It would be good to explore this a little more. Is it, as the authors speculate, due to a difference in the way men and women (who are statistically more likely to choose a male or female Shepard, respectively, and so are more likely to be commenting on Tali or Garrus, respectively) approach games? Or could it be merely an artifact of the writing? Or, perhaps an artifact of the voice acting--I felt that Jennifer Hale's voice acting made Shepard feel much more like a distinct individual than Mark Meer's. It would be useful to know whether the difference is due only to some specific feature of the games in question, whatever that feature may be, or if it points to something more general.


This study investigated players’ emotional attachment to two non-player characters, Tali and Garrus, from BioWare’s Mass Effect videogame series. Two forum threads, created soon after the release by BioWare of Mass Effect 2 in January 2010 dedicated to these two characters, were downloaded and analyzed using thematic analysis. The results found that players had developed intense emotional attachments to the characters, but the emotional attachment for the female character of Tali was expressed from the players’ point of view, while the emotional attachment for the male character of Garrus was expressed from the player character of Shepard’s point of view. These emotional attachments influenced how players engaged with the game mechanics of Mass Effect 2 (BioWare, 2010), for example players customized their player character’s armour to match that of Tali or Garrus. As previous research into videogame characters has focused on playable characters, this article advances knowledge by considering the relationship between players and non-player characters in videogames.

Keywords: videogame characters, non-player characters, Mass Effect, emotional attachment, qualitative research, player-centric

Name Role
Christian Jones Author
Jacqueline Burgess Author