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Games that shed a tear

posted on August 30th, 2006 by matt

The issue of whether or not a video game can make us cry has been tackled several times in the past, but the issue has still not been given its due. Can video games truly impact a player with a fury of emotion, causing them to cry? Depending on the game, I say yes.

Many people say that games are wholly incapable of causing emotion in people, as seen in Margaret Robertson’s speech at this year’s Edinburgh Interactive Entertainment Festival. She cites games that made her feel a lot of emotion, but states that video games as a whole are not emotional. They’re just ones and zeroes. The players are the source of the emotion, and that you have to tap into their emotion to get a response. She seems to paint a picture that designers are not adept at doing this just yet.

Riddle me this, Margaret. If games aren’t emotional but rather just ones and zeros, are people also not emotional but rather just chemical and neural processes?

It’s interesting to put the issue into such metaphysical terms, but I see what she’s talking about. Games need to impact the player to get an emotional response. She cited a few games that did it to her, but I wanted to give a few of my examples of games that made my throat lumpy with emotion. I do warn you, though, this article is filled with spoilers, so tread lightly.

The first game to ever to do it for me was Konami’s Metal Gear Solid for PSX. During the game, Otacon would continually ask Snake if love could bloom on a battle field. Snake believed it could, that anything’s possible. Soon to realize that war is not pretty, though, Otacon would have to say goodbye to his love after Snake defeated Sniper Wolf in a heated snowfield sniper battle. Sniper Wolf would then go on to detail her life’s story.

It sounds clichéd, but the voice acting, cinematography, and the musical score really sucked you in. You felt her hatred towards humanity, and why she never gave Otacon a chance. The graphic novel for the PSP goes a little further with this relationship.

On her death bed, she asked Snake to finish the job, where Snake proceeds to put a final bullet in her. The camera flew back, faded to white, and BOOM! That gunshot sounded so much louder, only because the events leading up to it made it so much more prominent. Asking Snake to deliver a final blow was Sniper Wolf’s way of saying that she just couldn’t handle this wretched life anymore. It was such an emotional thing to endure, and it was the first time a game filled me with so much emotion. You felt sorry for her at the end.

The next game was Sony’s sublime ICO. During the adventure, you desperately tried to escape a castle with an unknown woman named Yorda. You literally had to hold her hand through much of the game, making sure she survived. Through this gameplay mechanic, you really got attached to Yorda. Helping her jump across chasms and seeing her almost fall made you feel as if she really was there, that she was a person.

At the end of the game, you would see the castle start to crumble, with Yorda shoving you off in a small boat. She didn’t come, though. You had to say goodbye to the only other person helping you out in your adventure. The credits rolled and the castle was no more.

But, the game didn’t end. You would soon land on a nearby beach, where you could see another boat made it out of the castle. You ran down the long beach to see what it was. You were hoping, but the length of the beach made you think about it too much. Is it her? Did she make it? The camera even panned back enough where you really couldn’t see the boat too well. But, as your head started to spin, you saw that Yorda was in the boat. Their adventure was over, they made it.

Odd how little I cared about the girl but how much I cared about the horse.

That’s the happy end of the emotion spectrum. You were so happy to see that Yorda made it out alive. You sympathized with her situation through the entire game, and to see her free at the end of the game really made you happy.

The next game to really stop me in my tracks was Shadow of the Colossus. Right before the last Colossus battle, disaster struck. You’re faithful steed, Agro, fell hundreds of feet off a cliff, into a river. Argo was as much the main character as Wanderer was. He seemed attached to Wanderer, too. But to see him fall to his death almost made me stop the game. There would be no point to it at all now. The game gave you a freaking “pet” button, for crying out loud.

Its how attached to certain characters you get that really bring out emotion. The longer you play a game, the more attached you get. That’s why RPG’s are so good at bringing out your emotion.

Take Final Fantasy X for example. In the game, it’s Yuna’s duty to defeat Sin. In the begining, Tidus doesn’t know this means killing herself. They soon get too involved with each other, and start to love one another. Tidus finds out and plans to end the cyclical pattern of death that Yuna must endure. But this actually means that he must die at the end.

After the final battle, Tidus had to say goodbye to Yuna. They’re relationship had just ended. After getting to know each other, to see the game end like this was one hell of a blow. You felt sorry for Yuna. Her whole life was somewhat lived in seclusion, just training to die. She sees another side of life from Tidus, but then loses him. Yuna definitely goes through a lot, and you feel her pain when you endure nearly 60 hours with the game.

That last example was a little bit more emotional because it was a contemporary issue at heart: love. The more contemporary an issue it is, the easier it is for the player to understand and become attached. Final Fantasy games all involve issues like this, like Vivi’s quest to understand who he is in IX, and Squall’s problem with getting close to people in VIII.

It’s hard to get someone to cry from a video game, as seen by the very low number of examples I have. This just solidifies the fact that games are not as strong as books and movies in this respect, but there are a few examples that show they can be.

3 Comments

  1. Max said on August 31, 2006:

    First off, Margaret Robertson’s point about games themselves are not emotional is totally moot.  NOTHING that isn’t living is emotional by itself.  Books are paper, movies are light, art is paint and canvas.  ALL work by evoking the emotions of the reader, viewer, observer.  Nothing new here.  Now whether game designers in particular have become adept at evoking emotion using games, that’s a different story.  Here I can accept the argument that they have some ways to go compared to an artist or a writer.  Although I’d like to point out that emotions do not necessarily have to be high emotions such as a sense of loss or feeling of inevitability, etc.  There are simpler emotions, like, for example fear and anger.  Simpler – but often just as strong, if not stronger.  A number of games have been rather good at evoking these lower level emotions in players.  Gabriel Knight the Beast Within scared the living crap out of me on more than one occassion.  And Giants: Citizen Kabuto made me laugh out loud.  These are emotions too, let’s not forget that.   We’ll get to the more complex stuff eventually, and there are a few game companies out there who have their eye squarely on this ball.  Rockstar Games being one of them – check out the preview of "Bully" in the latest copy of Game Informer.

  2. jay said on August 31, 2006:

    Pat and I have actually discussed emotion in games quite a bit. I think
    we decided that games are good at causing fear because fear is an
    easier emotion to get out of people. As you said, it’s a lower emotion.
    Most stupid animals can feel fear, but sorrow, guilt, etc. are much
    more limited in the animal kingdom. So that games are good at making us
    frightened is sort of a backhanded compliment to games. Even the
    shittiest slasher flick can make us momentarily scared.

    Oh, and I completely agree about her point being moot.

  3. TrueTallus said on October 9, 2006:

    Crap.  It said spoilers, but I couldn’t look away.  Poor agro. :(

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