Whenever I see my boyfriend and his cat together, I know two things: one, they're ridiculously adorable and make every moment into a good old-fashioned Kodak moment, and two, I will never have the same bond with her that he does.
They love each other so much it's a part of them. He's had her since he was 8, and she's known him her whole life. They grew up together. So it's no wonder to me, though it's still fraught with jealousy, that they're so in tune. He can summon her with a click of his fingers. I have to go chasing her. She'll cuddle up next to him without a complaint. I have to put her on my lap, and then she runs away. Him just being nearby elicits the loudest purr she can muster. I feel grateful if she doesn't bite me when I'm patting her.
Yet I love her. Her little headbutts and licks that mean "I love you", the fact that, when I'm not chasing her, she will curl up next to me, and purr. Every time I've been sick since we started dating, she's come to keep me company. It sounds strange that I'm extolling the cat's virtues instead of my boyfriend's, but, really, the basis is the same.
I see, through her, something that I enjoy; that tapestry of our time together, me and this cat. When I put my face near hers, I can't help but remember the last time she gave me a little affectionate headbutt, and the warmth that flooded through me. Whenever she licks my hand or nose while I'm asleep, I immediately think of the last time she 'groomed' me. And I remember important moments, like the first time she purred on my lap after we moved to our new apartment, and I'd been worried sick because she didn't eat or go to the bathroom for days.
We have a history, her and I. It's not as long as her and my boyfriend. Pictures of her as no bigger than a teacup cause my heart to melt, but it's the everyday actions of this little fuzzy thing that keep our relationship going. Even though she wakes me up in the middle of the night by vomiting in my shoes, or sleeping where I'm supposed to be, or wanting food, or to play, or to go outside, my annoyance is only momentary. It only takes a little bit of a pat to remember our history, the warmth of her fur under my fingers and the subtle vibration of her purr, and I'm in love all over again.
It's the same with people, I've found. Provided we're still on speaking terms, we tend to remember the good more so than the bad. When I hug my friend, I'm not thinking of the times she's lied to me or made me angry. I'm thinking of the other times we've hugged, and the times she's made me feel better. The moments when she was in my life to cry on or to laugh with are the threads in our bond. The physical connection makes it all the more memorable. The stories we tell are the lifeblood of that bond.
Shared memories, in-jokes, travel stories and tales of woe: all of these are bonds that knit tighter than blood. I'd argue you haven't really met someone until they've seen you cry. How they react will show more of their character than the first six months of meetings. How they comfort you will say endless amounts on their emotional maturity. And if - by some crazy random happenstance - they know how you're feeling better than you do, that can't help but stand out.
We weave our tapestries with so many people, and we fall in love all the time. Video game characters are no exception. When they interact with the player, they spin these threads, and create a shared history that only they and the player can understand. The fact that they're computer programs is moot - in this world, from your point of view, everyone but you is an NPC. And immersion - oh, immersion! - if the character can guess how you're feeling, the bond is doubled. They may as well be human, because they've elicited a response. Just like my boyfriend and his cat, where a pat can make her purr, game characters create a response in us that, if strong enough, is memorable, and becomes a part of who we are.
The security of a hug, the warmth of my cat, the comfort of a concerned friend or the first time you kiss - these are all stories, bounded by emotion and tactile response. Games are just a little harder to touch.