Online Text Games: The Art of Emoting - Part One

Making Word Choices

By Lisa Ohanian

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 text based rpg game. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just type ‘smile’ next time you’re playing your favorite online 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 within the text games 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 an online text game!

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

The emote function in text games 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 in the text games, 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 an online 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 within text adventure games. 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 within the online text game, 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 emote within text games; 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 in text online games. 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 in online text games 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 for the text games 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 in an online text game 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 within these text adventure games, whereas the second implies a more curious and casual personality behind the action in the text adventure games. 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 in the text games? 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 in the text games.

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!

Try your hand at emoting in some of the best online text RPGs out there.

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

Article Source:


What an interesting article! Thank you for writing it and I can't wait to read the next installments. Now I want to go play around with the emote more.


For all that's worth, I think that using simple emotes sometimes instead of a strong, colourful emote can serve to make one's character stand out more.

In most aspects, by the way, I do agree that expressive emotes do bring more personality to your character. I think to intersperse your emotes with short, simple ones would draw more first time/hesitant roleplayers to interact with you.

Forgot the name for an existing emote, or want to emote something you do not know the name of? Use emote instead and write it out. It takes longer, sure, but nobody will hold that against a beginner! Do mind there is a tipping point however, if you take forever to write out some really epic emote, people might get annoyed with you.

Another great tip is that if you've developed some signature emotes for yourself, is to make them into an alias. Voila, your very own emote within the game, and it belongs to just you.

I learned English at school, I am not perfect -at all- , it's really hard to make a good emote. I mostly use combinations like "nods and smiles" or "nods and frowns" because I can't manage to write a good emote :(

I thought this was an interesting article and worth reading

need to broaden my vocabularly!

Practice w/ some rituals.

simple ones are a plus, if you can pull off the longer ones thats even better!


I need to work at this more.  Wish there were a way to make custom emotes that had different viewpoints.

The art of longer emotes, when its usually one on one, or small group RP events, is an entirely story. Especially in IRE muds, I've had everything from conversations that last an hour with no emotes, and the message still gets conveyed as the other player(s) know me well enough to get how Carlin acts, thinks, and feels, that his words are enough. Then there are situations where I constantly need to convey his stature, facial expression, and tone to more clearly get across the message. Sometimes, even when you're with someone who OOC knows you well enough, and IC as well, its fun to play up big things, and go beyond observable characteristics, and start talking about feels in your emotes. This is always an iffy point for some people, as some players don't like to be told information that can't be seen, heard, felt, tasted, or smelled during an interaction. Others think its a nice nudge towards a different reaction on their part if I do something like

'Carlin cracks his neck with a sickening pop, setting himself upright in the chair as he seems to stare not at you, but through you, as if you no longer reside in the room. His eyes start to tear up, yet he gives no other signs of sadness or crying. At this point, he's detached, you can see it in the way he approaches the conversation. Monotonous, bland, his usual fire and passion gone.'


while others prefer something like


'Carlin cracks his neck with a sickening pop, setting himself in the chair as he stares emptily towards you. His eyes start to tear up and he speaks, his tone monotonous.'


It really all depends on who YOU are, what you're doing and who you're with

and helpful. For me since I tend to forget things somethimes

Very interesting article. Definitely looking forward to the next installment. This has been very helpful. I used to do alot more custom emoting and aliasing them, but  have grown lazy. It'll be fun to get back into it.

Some good suggestions!

This made a lot of sense. I look forward to the continuation of this topic.

i'll make an in-game alias for my custom emotes, but often forget what the alias was and make several of the same thing.

These are great beginning guidelines, sure, but there's so many faux pas that people make with customised emotions that sometimes it seem impossible to find the best way to deal with them. The people, I mean, not the emotions themselves.

This is great - I need to learn to use tmotes.

I've been relying on the simplest of emotes all this time. Gotta branch out a bit.

Now that's what I call a cool story, bro.

Yay emoting is fun

just grin a lot

I've got "writer" in the family, but this article still made me think a bit. I can only hope I haven't or don't build redundant pieces of work! I'm always noticing redundancy in others work but I can see how I might accidently do it myself if I'm not careful. :)