Movies, television, music, and books have done a great job of tapping into our emotions. Books tap into this through great writing. Music does this by speaking to us with well-written lyrics and using instruments to tell a story. Movies and television use a mixture of great writing along with different visual styles to make you care about the characters on screen and elicit emotions. Videogames have suffered with this for a long time when in reality they should be the ones to pull it off the easiest. Not only do videogames have the visuals to pull it off but they also have the magic ingredient – you get to be the main character and interact with others. Do I think videogames have made it to this point of emotional investment? Yes, I do, and I’m going to throw out some things that hit me on an emotional level. Ultimately, it’s up to the person going through these experiences to be moved emotionally. Also, you may get some major spoilers
here so if you don’t wish to be spoiled about certain things then you may not want to keep reading. Here goes nothing.
Let’s start by taking a look at the simple side of things, and how a few small things can go a long way. Lost Odyssey is a game that is often overlooked as far as RPGs go this generation. It’s very easy to overlook as it seems and feels like your typical Japanese role-playing game (RPG) , and in a lot of ways it should be. However, there is one thing that Lost Odyssey did extremely well, and those were the dreams. In the game, you play as Kaim – a warrior who has lived for thousands of years and doesn’t remember everything. As you progress through the main story you may not see a lot of things to set Lost Odyssey apart until you get to the dreams. Dreams are some of Kaim’s lost memories that get triggered when certain events happen. The first dream is one of the most moving pieces of work I have come across. It tells the story of a girl that Kaim met on his travels who loved to hear his stories. She was frail and could never go off and have her own travels, so she has to live vicariously through him. This tells the story of the girl on her deathbed as Kaim tells her all the tales he can while she can no longer speak nor open her eyes. The story is extremely moving, and how do they tell it? Through text and music. THAT’S IT! They use the perfect blend of music and carefully written words to tell the story of Hanna on her deathbed, and you can tell firsthand that Kaim cares for this girl and in his final words to her he lies to give her peace You get a better understanding of Kaim, and how it must be to live as someone who can never die. Immortality has a cost, and that cost is seeing everyone you care about eventually die. The fact that Mistwalker accomplished this with just words and melodies is amazing, and it was the first time a game has ever hit me emotionally. Check out the video of Hanna’s Departure.
That wouldn’t be the only time that a game, or in this case series, has got me emotionally invested. As some of you may know, I have a strong affinity for Bioware and they have made some of the best RPGs out there. One of the best series to come out this generation has been Mass Effect, regardless of your love for the ending. Mass Effect took characters to a whole new level. You didn’t get invested in these characters because of their stats or how they could make your party better. You cared about them for their personalities and the relationships you build with them. You find out what is inside the minds of these characters in one-on-one conversations that YOU have with them. That direct interaction is what gets you invested in the lives of these people. You get to know their history, their motivations for things, and how they feel. This creates a rapport that has been tried in a lot of games and worked to a degree, but Mass Effect perfected the formula. This played heavily in the suicide mission at the end of Mass Effect 2 because you had so many characters that you grew to love and you don’t want them to die. They played even more heavily on the emotional side during the events of Mass Effect 3, and they started at the very beginning. The moment where you are flying away from Earth and you see the ship carrying innocent civilians – including the child you rescued – blown up set the tone for that game. This was a great use of both visuals and an incredible score to hit you right in the feels. There haven’t been too many games that have been able to do this, and they nailed it with moments like these. There are so many moments in Mass Effect 3 where a character can live or die that you’ll be invested with every decision. So, not only does the death of characters like Mordin or Thane mean a whole hell of alot more, but you wonder what you could have done to keep them alive. Did you fail them in their final moments or was is just meant to be? You get to see some of these guys go out as heroes and this gives you both closure as well as sadness, because you don’t want to see them go. Bioware even did an excellent job with the scenes that don’t involve the death of a character, and these scenes make these people more than heroes. These people are your friends. Take a look at this scene between Shepard and Kaidan.
I’ve mentioned a lot about RPGs when it comes to an emotional investment, but they are not the only genre that has garnered a reaction. One of the games I never thought would give me that kind of reaction is Halo 4. This was the entry in the series that took the Master Chief to a new level as a character. Before this, you only saw him as this ultimate space marine who will come through and save the day every time. 343 Industries changed this with Halo 4 and they did it with his relationship with Cortana, who isn’t an actual living being. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter and during your journey through Halo 4 you see the deeper relationship between Cortana and the Master Chief as Cortana is slowly losing her sanity and dying. In the Halo universe, A.I.s (artificial intelligence) are made from living tissue and they only last for around 7 years and Cortana has reached 8. Even through this hardship, she perseveres and helps out John (Master Chief) as much as she can. She makes the ultimate sacrifice, and she didn’t do it for the best of mankind she did it for the best of a man. Halo 4 has a great love story behind it, and they did it in a shooter between a man and artificial intelligence which makes it even more worth your time to see it through. Check out the ending for Halo 4.
This leads us here to a game that was highly regarded for its story and the interactions with its characters. That would be Telltale’s The Walking Dead which was about the struggle of surviving in a world ravaged by zombies. Telltale puts you in direct control over Lee which could also put you in charge of whether certain people lived or died. They presented the moral choice of doing the right thing or doing whatever you could do to survive. The biggest journey they take you on is the relationship between Lee and Clementine. Lee was convicted of committing murder before the outbreak and finds himself in the thick of it. He quickly finds himself in a house where a young girl named Clementine lives, and they help each other out of some deadly situations from the beginning. This creates trust between the two, and that trust is the driving force for a lot of decisions throughout the game. You have to maintain that trust and you do that by the things you tell Clementine as well as your actions towards other people in the group. You can form a lot of great relationships in The Walking Dead but none are as strong as the bond between Lee and Clementine. That is what the makes the end heart wrenching, when you’re faced with a decision equally as tough to make as it was to watch unfold. You get to help Clementine grow up even if it’s before her time. This is the moment that makes everything worth it, and it’s storytelling at its very best. You can watch the scene here.
I absolutely think that videogames have reached the point to make us emotionally invested – to make us cry. We are seeing the writers take notice, and have given us emotional scenes. They give us characters that we grow to love and care about. They throw out difficult decisions that can hit us like a brick when it’s a life or death situation. We are ready to invest time and care into these characters, and help them make choices that we may never have to make in real life. This is the ultimate escape from reality and there is no other medium that can replicate this. This is just the beginning for videogames when it comes to this kind of attachment and they blend movies, music, television, and books to get incredible results. I can’t wait to see where we go next!
Are there any games that got you emotional? Did you they make you cry? Are there any games that you have seen previews for that might be able to hit results like these?
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