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.