Can a Game make You Cry?

Time to drop your manly facade for a moment (you too ladies). Wired has a short piece up by Clive Thompson on the emotional impact of games and poses the question if they really do have the ability to draw out emotional responses that are in the same league as other forms of media (ie movies, books, etc). The “Death of Aerith” from Final Fantasy VII is mentioned as an example of a game that does just this.

I never played FFVII but I’ve heard time and again from other gamers that this particular scene put them over the edge (the scene itself is available for viewing on the page). My own experience of a powerful moment came in the beach landing at Normandy in Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. Coming up on the medic treating a dying soldier who is asking if he’ll make it had me welling up a bit. It wasn’t so much the scene itself as it was the fact that it made me think about what those guys experieced many years ago. Like any other war most of the troops were essentially kids/teens who must’ve been terrified watching friends get torn to shreds and not knowing if they were next. Unfortunately I haven’t played any games since that had that impact. I imagine it’ll only be a matter of time though as having top writing talent will be almost a requirement as games get more sophiticated.


Diakatana made me cry.

and poses the question if they really do have the ability to draw out emotional responses that are in the same league as other forms of media (ie movies, books, etc).

The problem is that “games” encompasses such a huge spectrum. Games which have a heavy narrative content (Infocom texties, PS:T, Grim Fandango, that sort of thing) certainly have the capacity to move us in the way that any other narrative does – it’s just a question of how well that narrative is implemented. For my personal taste, narrative-heavy games aren’t my favorite, because my experience of them tends to feel more passive than interactive.

As a general rule I also try to abstain from the “are videogames art?” question because it often just amounts to “are videogames good for you?” and I consider this irrelevant – they are one of the activities I engage in purely for enjoyment, out of no desire to “improve” myself. I will let the world decide over time whether its definition of “art” expands to include videogames generally.

Has a game actually made me cry (other than with frustration)? No, I don’t think so. I was quite saddened at a couple of twists in KOTOR and those probably had as much emotional impact as anything I have played. I felt a sense of profound accomplishment at the end of BG2: ToB, having shepherded my little dude from Level 1 to godhood. I played Civ2 once and felt a kind of epiphany as I seemed (however illusorily) to understand the vast network of interlocking systems & priorities & events that underlie a human society. I sometimes laugh at games, or (when playing multiplayer with friends) get into vocal trash-talking etc.

Actual tears, though? I can’t think of any time when that happened.

I’m a little girly man, so when I do, I end up crying at the end/near the end of games - usually, those are very powerful moments plus you just finished something that you spent 40-50 hours playing, so it’s fairly emotional. (I got really sad, similarly, in Call of Duty, sometimes. Something about the epic scale + the music + the tragedy of it all.)

When Aeris died, I welled up a little, but mostly just was pissed off.

EDIT: I can’t think of a specific game that I’ve cried after, but I’m sure there have been some.

My reaction to most cutscene driven games is “are you done yet”? Which is somewhere around the vicinity of sadness, a couple blocks to the right of irritation, and comes to an abrupt stop at resignation.

I’m a pretty reserved person anyhow so it’s probably not the cut-scene producer’s fault they’re not hitting any nerves. As for gameplay outside of cutscenes? It’s rare a game manages to get me attached enough to the characters I really feel a huge amount of empathy for them. I’d say I care a bit more in games like Europa 1400 or Crusader Kings or X-Com where each grunt, noble or family member means something in a larger context and I feel some loss when things don’t go well for them. I feel a bit of pleasure when they do even if it doesn’t impact my fortunes directly. If I could husband the patience to get into The Sims (haven’t tried Sims 2 yet though) I’d probably feel the same way about those little fellas.

But tears in my eyes? I’m sorry. Simply too manly. Or emotionally crippled. Or critical. Or something.

Maybe one day.

The ending of Planescape: Torment made me cry. I’m sure there are others, but I can’t think of them just now; Zork: Nemesis, maybe.

Some games made me cry when I realized I had been able to do such usefull things with the money spend on them, like burn it or so. Other then that, no can’t say they made me cry.

The end of FFX.

I wouldn’t mind feeling that level of emotion and I can be a softy from time to time (teared up watching Grey’s Anatomy last night heh) but have I cried from a game? Not even close. I think we’re still pretty far from such a high degree of human empathy.

edit: I do however get a swell of emotion after completing a very satisfying game and get treated to a happy cutscene. Endings to Occarina of Time and Final Fantasy 8 come to mind.

There were a few moments in Planescape: Torment that really got to me. I can’t say that I’ve ever cried, but I have gotten to the point where I’ve felt that welling up inside from the emotional reaction.

I think if replayed Bard’s Tale and got to the part where you face 99 Barbarians, 99 Barbarians, 99 Barbarians, and 99 Barbarians I would probably get a bit sentimental.

I hated Aeris. That’s why when Sephiroth ran her through my eyes went wide and I smiled like a dog and hissed out an excited, sibilant whisper of “YES!”

I’m pretty sure some games have made me cry, but like James I can’t recall the specifics. Maybe I should go into therapy so I can discover my repressed memories – although that will probably just turn up highly actionable recollections of my parents sticking knives up my ass when I was three.

I’m happy to defer to Mr. Cameron on the issue of narrative in games being a subset of the established form of narrative. Whether games are art is beyond the scope of this question – although the kind of people who will actually postulate the question of whether a medium is art are usually crotchety assholes who wouldn’t be out of place perpetrating malicious abandoned amusement park-related hoaxes in a typical episode of Scooby-Doo.

I think that in order to divorce this issue from the original question, it is necessary to assume a situation in which the player cries as the result of a situation that does not involve narrative elements or other players (people make each other cry all the time; they’re bastards that way) – in other words, circumstances generated by emergent singleplayer gameplay.

Unfortunately, games that open tend to diminish or negate emotional involvement. I don’t cry when somebody sacks my capital in RTW because the city has no particular urban identity, no citizens except as numbers on a spreadsheet, and in all frankness no substantial difference from an unsacked city. When I retake it, I’ll just repair the buildings. It’ll actually be much easier to control than before because citizens are a liability in RTW. Besides, the scope and scale of the game is decidedly imperial. Any human loss is acceptable collateral damage.

This is true of a lot of games that might otherwise provoke tears. Hearts of Iron 2 deals with tragedy on a massive scale, but that’s precisely the problem. When the Germans roll through France, I don’t mourn the French Jews I knew. I say, “Hmph! Six months late.” When the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, I don’t make a grim radio announcement breaking the news to the country. I click through my naval lists and smirk, knowing that my shitload of carriers will outclass the hell out of the IJN. (Disclaimer: The Pearl Harbor example is included because of the type of player behavior that Roosevelt’s radio address would represent, not because it was as bad as the fall of France. I think it’s generally accepted in modern times that aerial bombing of any kind is merely business as usual and certainly doesn’t have any moral implications or human consequences. What Tokyo firestorm? Hey, just ask Dresden! So keep dropping those bombs, I say to those brave and noble jet pilots, just as long as you drop them from expensive airplanes far, far above what they destroy. But I digress.)

The root cause of the lack of emotional involvement in games is that humans typically feel emotion for other human beings, and representing other human beings completely enough to properly evoke this emotional reaction is really beyond the current capabilites of the medium, in terms of programming, design, and possibly technology. The current work-around is to create a human presence in games through narration or other players. Unfortunately, narration tends to limit gameplay and other players are mostly cunts.

Right now the only game that attempts to combine a human scale with sandbox gameplay seems to be The Sims. And the only way The Sims is going to make anybody cry is if you take one of those old galvanized steel milking buckets, and you fill it with unsold Makin’ Magic expansion discs, and you go to the nearest primary school and drop it on some kid’s foot.

Fixed narrative is an ugly, ugly crutch in games. It’s produced some classics but it has huge problems. If a Dogme 95 manifesto is written for gaming in the near future, one of its tenets will be the repudiation of the “canned story” that so many titles fall back on. And someday, hopefully someday soon, some developer nobody’s ever heard of is going to sodomize a leprechaun, steal his treasure, and use it to fund the creation of the human-scale game that changes the industry.

Until then, well, I don’t think many people will be crying over the loss of their early second gold mine.

Edit: Grammar. Favorite band: Insomnium. I like: milk chocolate. I dislike: being poor. Most romantic thing I’ve ever done: not applicable.

I’ll third Planescape: Torment. I can’t remember some of the exact moments, but there were a few times where you just felt the feelings welling up inside.

Anyone who teared up at the death of Aeris was a retard. There was no emotional involvement with that character at all. It was a bit of a shock, but it certainly wasn’t something to make someone cry.

That being said, I felt the ending of the game was pretty powerful. But the death of aeris was just random.

Powerful moments in games can get me, usually towards the end, or if I’m really really involved with a game. That being said… I can’t recall the last one that did it to me. FF3 gets me every time though. Same with FF2. The endings just rock.

edit: I am not japanese, so I say FF3 and FF2 instead of FF6 and FF4, respectively. That being said, people who say FF6 or FF4 are inaccurate unless you specifically played the japanese versions, as they have differences. It would be more appropriate to say FF3E or FF2E.

Charles, I think players were intended to feel as though they had an emotional connection with Aeris because she dressed you up as a girl. This may work on some people, but in retrospect I only feel disappointed that you didn’t go on to fight crime with a yo-yo.

I remember the ending of A Mind Forever Voyaging being pretty powerful.

Planescape, well, yeah. Not the ending so much–that was more of a satisfied grunt that’s still rare enough in games, where narrative strands simply tie together in a perfect manner–but there was a couple of memory-recovery scenes, one in particular involved a memory sphere or whatever containing the story of Nameless being just astonishingly evil at, I think, the ghost chick who hung around the cemetery-guys’ pad. It was a combination of the being-so-hurtful, with the utter lack of the game telling you how to react, because as far as it was concerned, you could well be playing a character even more evil if you really cared to.

Aside from that, nothing much spring to mind. I think FF7’s Aeris bit mostly made me think, “Huh. Motherfucker, I better get all her materia back.” Luckily, you did, so it was all good.

That famous scene from Final Fantasy VII never had much of an impact on me, since when I finally got to it it was during a slow saturday afternoon, with my little brother leaning over my shoulder. Probably the most evocative moment in memory was the opening sequence to Lunar: Silver Star Story - I can still remember they way it clutched my heart with wonder. And I did come damn near tear up during the space-rescue part of FFVIII, come to think of it.

Hahhaha… now that you mention it, those were my exact same thoughts.

Well, if it helps, immediately after entering Harkyn’s castle, cast apar - North +5, East +12, Up +2. Then make with the MIBL’s.

I spent a stupid number of hours doing just that back in 8th grade. No game has ever had a purer opportunity to grind.

I can feel myself misting up right now. :wink:

In Star Trek: Voyager Elite Force, there’s a scene where you have to finish your former (now Borgified) commander. I remember that as the first time a game messed with me, emotionally.

Lately, sorting out emotional baggage in Psychonauts (except for those annoying hat boxes) makes me wear a silly grin every single time.

But it’s never on a level with the emotions that books and movies can trigger.