Emotes are special character actions accompanied by a description, and often an animation, that are commonly found in massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPG).
They are usually used purely for fun and role-playing, but sometimes may be required to complete a certain quest or can be used to help communicating with other players (pointing an enemy or saying thanks, for example).
In both Final Fantasy MMORPGs, emotes can be accessed via a menu or by using the command /[emoticonname], for example, /laugh. It is also possible to use "custom" emotes by using the /em "text description" command, but these will only display the emote text, without any animation.
While most emotes can be used by all races, each race have their own specific animation for each of them. Additionally, each job has its own unique emote that can be used via the /jobemote command after a certain quest is completed.
Similarly to Final Fantasy XI, each race and gender has unique animations for most emotes. However, not all emotes are available at all times; for example, the /snowball emote is only available during winter in the north hemisphere. Each Grand Company also have their own unique emote, unlocked by going up in ranks, used via the /gcsalute command.
A few quests require the use of an emote. For example, an early main storyline quest requires the use of several emotes; during Hamlet Defense, players can increase their score by using emotes during specific times (laughing at the beastmen leader, rallying the troops, etc).
To do an Emote on the PS3 version, select the NPC using targeting, then hit Square to bring up the Emote Menu; the in-game help tips say to bring up the main menu, but that doesn't work on the PS3.