(So seriously ill…)
So, I’m currently freezing my butt off, coughing up a lung and my nose is exploding every 5 seconds (Now that’s a visual…) but I recently (and by recently I mean 2 minutes ago) came across a blog article talking about how games have never made you cry or at least, talking about crying because of a game is pointless. I would like to say that this claim is not exactly true. In fact, it’s a totally relevant discussion and crying because of a video game has been present in the history of video games.
The blog discusses the questions raised about video games as a medium, bringing up theories that a ‘game’ could bring many different media under the same umbrella such as skiing or theatre. With the latter, the writer of the blog discusses how it is ridiculous to question if a game has ever made you cry due to narratives that existed prior to video games such as theatre and other presentations of stories which have been making people cry for years.
How is this ridiculous? If you can talk about how skiing fits under that umbrella of media you discussed why did you not talk about how that has been making people cry? Because that is a bit far-fetched (unless you…break your leg or something doing it. That would definitely make you cry.) It’s perfectly reasonable to question if a video game can make you cry in this respect, because obviously not all media in this classification (‘games as play’ as he describes) has the ability to do so.
When moving onto another classification he gives, a ‘games as systems’ approach, he talks about how if you look at the mechanics of video games, such as the main goal, challenges, measures of success etc, it’s not the game that makes you cry, it’s the story.
Fair point. In many cases this is true. Can’t deny that. After citing Nicole Lazzaro’s look at emotions in gaming he discusses how the emotions found did not include crying, unless you count frustration into the mix (and that is certainly true, I’ve shared many a tear over my frustrations playing a Caesar III demo and trying to beat Jinpachi when I first got Tekken 5…)
He then goes on to talk about the lack of looking at story in that study and discussing that that is because it is possible to feel any sort of emotion if story is a factor. Continuing his argument using the ‘games as systems’ approach he argues that ignoring story and just using the mechanics of video games, crying is not possible.
His first contextual example of a game people claim to make them cry is my own personal favourite ‘sad’ moment in video gaming which I myself have claimed to cry because of: Aerith’s death in Final Fantasy VII. People familiar with my work might remember an entire article about why it made me cry so much. With the ‘games as systems’ approach, the writer of the blog discusses that it was a non-interactive cut scene and the actual story that caused the emotion from gamers and not the game itself (when viewed as a system)
‘Non-interactive cut scene’, eh? Fine. Let’s look at a couple of examples of interactive cut-scenes that could be seen to take many a gamer down and make them cry. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. As you head to the climax of the game you learn more about your mentor, The Boss and her history. To complete his mission Snake must defeat The Boss as she apparently a traitor and so you must kill her. So far it seems to be just story, but after the boss battle with The Boss and some more cut scenes, the letterbox effect disappears and Snake is there, gun in hand, standing over The Boss.
Wait a minute…What’s happening? Has the game frozen? Disc error? Nope. You actually have to physically pull the trigger (and by trigger I mean Square), shooting The Boss point-blank, killing her in order to continue on with the game as you head into the final minutes.
This moment has elements of story and actual gameplay mechanics in it. Either approach the original blog poster uses, there is still evidence that it is possible to make the game make you cry. Either it’s because you learn the true story behind The Boss and how she must die or it’s because you have to physically pull the trigger in an interactive cut-scene and kill her.
Another example can come from the Metal Gear Solid series (Thank you Hideo Kojima…) this time with Metal Gear Solid 4. Now this game is a world of emotion, and while the majority of it is story there are interactive elements and gameplay mechanics that can still get to you. Two examples that come to mind is where you’re frantically button bashing in order to get Snake through a corridor weakening microwaves and the final fight with Liquid Ocelot.
Once again, the story elements I admit are there but the mechanics still shine through. You’re desperately getting Snake to survive the bombardment by the microwaves and the soundtracking and visuals help enhance the desperation and sadness of this now old Solid Snake continuing his mission despite the dangers. You’re fighting back someone who has been messing with your mind and watching them revert back to their original self all the while attempting to beat him down and stop him once and for all.
So far my examples have drawn from both approaches cited by the original article. It cannot be claimed that it is irrelavant if a game has made you cry or that it’s not actually the game that makes you cry. There are many examples throughout the history of video games where the choices you make and the gameplay mechanics themselves have a helping hand in catching you off-guard. It’s never fully 100% story that can make you cry, you need to take into account the gameplay in the build-up, execution and consequences and sometimes even the people who play the game’s disposition.
Our original blog states that it is irrelevant to question if a game has made you cry when looking through the ‘games as play’ mechanic. He states that it shouldn’t be surprising or anything to cry over a game as other media in the approach has been doing it for a long time before video games.
No. It’s completely acceptable to question this and if it’s happened. Back in the day we had games like Pong, Pac-Man, Centipede and the like. These are video games, but they’ve never tapped into our sad emotions, have they? As video games have become more of an interactive medium so has their ability to possibly make us cry. It’s interesting that a medium that originally intended just to eat time and keep us from being bored and such has stepped into new boundaries.
The narratives when looked at through the ‘games as play’ approach are totally acceptable as possibly influencing emotion and such. It’s surprising that a game can bring you to tears, it’s not expected like suggested. It’s a video game. It’s new media. Some of you who cried back in the day at Aerith’s death in Final Fantasy VII must be surprised it was possible for a game to hit you like that. Some of us have never experienced that before from a video game. It was never expected that the medium would get to us like that ever. Games are usually expected just to deliver fun and challenges, but not tears or sadness. We don’t expect to be given theatre performances or Oscar winning monologues that could drive us to tears.
I concede that when taking a ‘games as systems’ approach, it is not entirely possible to completely ignore the story and focus on gameplay mechanics when debating on the ability for games to make us cry. However, this is because now with video games the story is a gameplay mechanic. Plots and sub-plots are integrated into the game. It is hard to separate because it is a mechanic. Games now have been able to give you choices that influence future gameplay and the story. Some decisions might ultimately effect the emotion felt by you.
There are games where you can choose to kill a certain person or not. There are games where you choose one thing or another to take. There are games where you talk to one person or another. The story is now a mechanic in so many games that you cannot ignore it when questioning if a game can make you cry. You must look at everything or nothing at all.
So those are my views on the subject. Video games are a medium that can make you cry. It’s not pointless to discuss and it’s not irrelevant to discuss. Fact of the matter is, it happens. A game can truely make you cry and initially it can be surprising to discover this. Story or not, it’s possible.