Online Text Games: The Art of Emoting – Part One

Making Word Choices

Most online text games have a list of common ‘Emotions’ that your character can perform by typing a simple keyword that has already been programmed into the game. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just type ‘smile’ next time you’re playing your favorite text game. Your character will automatically smile. Simple enough, right?

Unfortunately, it may be a little too simple at times. While Emotions can make roleplay flow more smoothly, they can also condition a player to use these pre-programmed actions as a proverbial roleplaying crutch. Relying on Emotions alone can limit your actions severely, and gives your character a staleness that completely defeats the point of roleplaying in a text game!

1 If you’re not already familiar with it, allow me to introduce you to your new best friend: the emote.

The emote function in a text game is very simple to use. Just type ’emote’ and then whatever else, and the entire room will see exactly what you typed with the word ’emote’ replaced by your character’s name. For example, if you type “emote wrings her hands nervously,” the entire room will see “YourName wrings her hands nervously.” Understandably, emoting can contribute more to making your character distinctive than any other feature in a text game; this is why mastery of the emote is so important.

This article is the first in a series I am currently writing entitled ‘The Art of Emoting’. Whether you are new to the emote or a veteran, I hope to provide some insights and advice in this series on how to get the most out of this powerful and versatile roleplaying tool. This first installment will provide two major guidelines for how to make effective word choices in your emotes.


Words are the heart and soul of text games, and so the specific words you choose to portray your actions are hugely important. Take two versions of the same emote:

Bob opens his mouth and closes it again, looking confused.

Bob opens his mouth as if to speak, then clamps it shut with a bewildered frown.

These two emotes both communicate the same action, but the second one is a much more entertaining read. For one thing, it makes a much stronger verb choice: “clamps” in place of “closes”. A “bewildered frown” is also more evocative than “looking confused”. In both cases, the words from the second example put a much stronger image in the reader’s head. This is the key to a good text game emote; avoiding bland words in favor of more striking ones.

In addition to selecting more descriptive words, you should also be careful not to use too many “throwaway” words. If there are any words in your emote that aren’t actively furthering it, you should probably pause and make sure those words are necessary, or whether they’re just watering your emote down.

Perhaps the biggest culprit of the watered-down emote is the adverb. While some adverbs can really enhance your emotes, many people overuse them to a detrimental extent, or to try and salvage a weak verb. A good rule of thumb is not to use more than one adverb per sentence, and not to use adverbs that are redundant. For example:

Jane quickly bolts to the doorway, glancing warily around herself as she grasps uncertainly for her weapon.

This emote, while not terrible, could be much stronger. The word “quickly”, for example, is redundant; nobody bolts slowly. “Glancing warily” and “grasps uncertainly” also unnecessarily clutter the emote; getting rid of one of these two adverbs gives the sentence a much better flow without distracting from the actions themselves. This leaves us with:

Jane bolts to the doorway, glancing warily around herself as she grasps for her weapon.

This new emote is much more succinct and easier to read, and gives the exact same impression as the previous one. Which leads me to…


Unlike real life, the only thing you have to help fashion your character’s image is words; this means that every single word choice you make should reflect your character in some fashion. While both of the following emotes express the same action and attitude, they also convey very different characters:

Bob stoically raises his sword in preparation for the attack, his expression dark and unfaltering as he does so.

Bob hefts his sword into position and studies his opponent with a somber curiosity as he awaits the incoming blow.

The first emote paints a picture of a more serious and seasoned warrior, whereas the second implies a more curious and casual personality behind the action. After all, ‘stoically raising a sword’ and ‘hefting a sword into position’ create mental images of characters with very different mannerisms; likewise, the focus on the first character’s expression makes him come across as more business-like while the incorporation of the second character’s opponent makes him seem more approachable.

If this seems confusing at first, just ask yourself: what makes MY character performing this action different from any other character performing it? What kind of attitude do I want to portray, and what kind of feelings am I hoping to invoke in the other player as a result? This should get you started on the right track.

Hopefully most of you enjoyed this first article – I do have the next few installments planned out, but please let me know in the comments if there’s any other area of emoting you would like to see covered in the future!

By Lisa Ohanian

Become properly addicted by trying out some great text based RPGs.

Lisa Ohanian is a text game enthusiast and currently plays games from

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