By SpawnMan 14 Comments
I've been thinking about what makes a game good lately. With the number of games I've bought and played over the years, it's hard not to begin to wonder about your preferences and likes. Fun. Ingenuity. Story. Re-playability. Design. These all make up most of a good game. However, there is one aspect not too many games do well. It may not necessarily make it an amazing game, or even one you enjoy, but when a game gets you connected and emotionally involved in it, there is something special to be said. And no, I'm not talking about rage at another player in multiplayer, but a game which sucks you into its world and makes you forget that you can, at any point, cease to be connected to the characters, world and plight, and instead makes you care deeply about the outcome of your actions and insists you feel every corner you turn. Those games are rare indeed.
So I thought I'd present this small collection of games that have touched me and brought me into their world - it's by no means a definite list, or even one you may agree with, but one that might stir some discussion about what games you've felt emotionally attached to and what it takes to be an emotionally engaging game. Be aware, there may be *SPOILERS* ahead, as we will be discussion key emotional points in the game.
There are very few games which capture the extreme sense of dread and despair as Dark Souls. In Dark Souls, your life seems to drain very quickly. You start playing at 6pm, and you may end up finishing somewhere near 3am, if at all. So it is not uncommon for you to begin your gaming session stuck in a hellish sewer, and finish just entering an equally abysmal underground swamp many hours later, all without ever seeing sunlight. It saps your very soul and you begin to wonder when you will ever leave such a place. Even trying to get out, like quick sand, can make you more enveloped in this sense of hopelessness, as you struggle and die, over and over. Even small comforts like seeing another player's ghost by a bonfire or message in the world makes you feel secure, even if only for a fleeting second.
It is for this reason Dark Souls makes my list. Your character has little background and even less dialogue. There are no books to be found to explore a rich narrative such as in Skyrim, and there are no characters you can sap for information as in Mass Effect. Quite simply, Dark Souls should not be appealing to your emotions whatsoever. And yet you feel every second of the game. The struggle to survive a world out to kill you. It pulls you so deeply in, that in your quest to further your exploration of the world, you cannot help but feel every death your character endures.
There is something quite unique about BioShock. I make no secret of the fact it is my all time favourite game. The setting and theme of the world around you alone makes this a game of unbeatable proportions. And this is partially why I felt connected so strongly to the game. You feel the environment around you, crumbling and decaying. It isn't just a game world, Rapture actually takes on a role and life of its own. You care about its fate. You begin to know its secrets and the wonders and horrors that took place within it. You can smell the damp deco wallpaper and the billowing machinery.
However, setting alone isn't why the game appeals to the emotions so strongly. The game literally drives you mad. As you twist your way to the game's conclusion, BioShock pits you against nutbags and lunatics of all colours. After a while, you too fall prey to Rapture's insanity. You experience epic betrayal and journey far from the realms of possibility, all whilst feeling that everything in the game is entirely plausible as you play it. Few other games create a world so rich that you could believe such a thing.
No, not Fable 2 or 3, but the first. The sequels over-played much of the unique charm and emotion that made the first in the series so compelling. Fable was unlike any other game I'd played at the time. You begin your journey as a small child, happy and content in your small corner of the world, where even small issues take form as quests to be solved. Life is simple. And then it is stripped away - your family killed. This was the first time anything of the sort had ever happened in a game to me. I was so emotionally involved in the safety of my family, I reloaded my game in the vain hope that there was some way I could save them or warn them, like it was all a bad dream. But there wasn't. Now games use this premise often and it is not nearly as compelling or realistic.
Throughout the game you come across more characters that you feel for. You might marry or meet a quest character. And more often than not, the Fable world finds a way to strip them from you or toy with your emotions enough to make you both distressed and cautious about investing yourself in any other Fable character. Fable 2 was touted for the "unique" love you had with your dog, but it fell far short and felt synthetic at best. Fable held no such premise and let you invest yourself in characters without your say, and did with them equally so, making it the infinitely better game.
The piano solo at the end of Kingdom Hearts is the first of only two times I've ever openly cried over a computer game (outside of losing all progress towards certain achievements on numerous games haha). If you viewed it on YouTube, you'd wonder why. But after many months playing it (and for a teen with chores and school, that was a very long time) that final screen heralded the end of a long emotional journey with no seeable end. You'd first grown to love your life on an island with your friends, before becoming separated and lost in a dark and often strange world. And although you find new companions and forge new relationships with them, you are still very emotionally invested in finding your lost pals. And to have the game cut that search short without any answer, well it is destroying. News on games back then was not liquid as it is now. There was no instant internet news - you had to cross your fingers and hope a game series would continue in many cases. Luckily Kingdom Hearts continued.
It is the characters alone that makes Kingdom Hearts such a great game to play and get lost in. And you are lost with them for so long that you really do start to depend on their uplifting presence to pull you through. Those few times in the game without them really floor your emotions and the only reason you power through is the hunger to reunite with them. Kingdom Hearts keeps you searching, even to the end.
Gears of War 3:
You've gone through nearly a decade of fighting Locust with your team. *Spoilers* It is obvious that Gears of War 3 was going to kill off a few characters. When Dom died to save the group, it was the second time I openly cried at a video game. Seeing the flames engulf his truck, you knew that for once in a modern video game, there was no coming back. A final note on a long song that you've been playing for many years. The game doesn't stop there. Gears 3 keeps pulling the brutal punches and it is this destruction of your favourite heroes that makes it special to me. The fight has been getting more intense and more desperate for the past few games, and now it has reached a head. It doesn't tie things in a pretty bow. It shows you how a tragic story like Sera's ends.
And so there you have it. Some of the games I've found emotionally taxing over the years. I'd have included Halo too, but only because I have an unnatural compassion about my marines and not wanting them to die. Similarly for Red Dead Redemption, although I did not feel too attached to the plight of John Marsten, *Spoilers* the emotional interplay between him and Bonnie, and of at his death, were quite connecting.
Let me know what you think should be on the list and why. And what makes a game emotionally connecting? And if one is, does that in itself make it a good game, or even one you'd automatically like?