Video Games That Make You Cry
Wednesday, October 15, 2008 | Author: Mad Typist
I got all excited when I saw this article over at good old mainstream MSNBC entitled "When has a video game ever made you cry?". I had been foolishly hoping for a discussion of video games and how far along they've come as valid storytelling mediums. I suppose I should have expected the sub-title that hit me when I opened the article: "Indie titles prove that games can evoke the same emotions as films, books".

The article goes on to seemingly assert that only these new indie games have themes exploring deep emotional issues.
...Rohrer’s game isn’t the only one mining some surprisingly deep emotional territory. From the awkward and sometimes comical feelings that arise during sex to the poignant experience of confronting childhood memories to the joyous and heart-wrenching juggling act that is fatherhood, a host of independent titles are busy proving that — despite much evidence to the contrary — video games really can explore and evoke the kind of emotional experiences that movies and books do.

“One critique of contemporary commercial games is that they have less emotional breadth than, say, novels or film,” says Celia Pearce, the festival chair. “Imagine if the majority of films that came out every year were action and horror films, which is exactly the situation we have currently in the mainstream game industry. Now, imagine that games had the breadth we are used to in film. Imagine a ‘love story’ game or a ‘coming of age’ game or a game about mortality, parenting or spiritual enlightenment. These are some of the themes tackled in games featured in IndieCade.”
Now, I'm all for mainstream press discussing exciting new video games that break from tradition and explore new boundaries of possibility (i.e. the cool "Dark Room Sex Game" described in the article). On the other hand, I dislike the article's implication that "regular" console and PC games lack the emotional depth of films and books.

Video games are particularly difficult for non-fans to evaluate, since their level of immersion requires more time investment than other mediums. To me, this feels like yet another article written by a non-gamer trying to discuss something they know nothing about. There are many games, particularly within the RPG (role-playing game) genre, that have story lines and emotional moments that are just as legitimate and moving as those found in movies and books.

Countless gamers will likely site the classic PS2 game Final Fantasy VII as one game that brought tears to their eyes. Recent games for the Xbox360 and PS3 have also made huge leaps in terms of story quality and execution. I recently completed Bioware's latest epic Mass Effect, which has an amazing story, but takes a good 5 hours or so of gameplay before its true scope and heart are revealed. *MILD SPOILER ALERT FOR MASS EFFECT* At one point in the game, your character is literally forced into a Sophie's Choice moment, where you must make a life and death decision that will affect a character you have come to feel affection for. I agonized over the decision, and definitely felt moved by the scene that followed. *END SPOILER* In fact, in most of the recent Bioware games (Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire) you'll find great stories and characters that will move you.

I'd argue that the immersive nature of great video games actually make them more effective than just watching a movie. You aren't just passively watching a character make a decision, you're the one who chooses who lives and dies, which relationships (including romantic ones) you want to pursue, which path you wish your character to go down. Try playing the outstanding Bioshock, meeting the Little Sisters and the ethical dilemma they present, and then tell me you didn't find the plot just as captivating as any movie or book. And guess what - Bioshock was such a great story, they're now working on a movie version, with some pretty big director names attached to it.

Basically, the author of the article is about 5 years too late to this party. There have been many examples of "mainstream" games that are effectively moving works of art. And the indie game market isn't particularly new either - the recently released Braid on XBox Live has been a big success, rightly praised for its lovely story and artwork. Just once I'd like a serious article written about this topic from someone who actually knows what they're talking about.
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On 9:26 PM , Hali said...

I read that same article when looking for sources for my Video Game Psychology essay and had exactly the same thoughts. You don't need to go Indie to get teary-eyed. Thanks for sharing this!