What will it take?
It seems that, every single day, gaming journalists and fans are debating the validity of video games as a form of art. Most people who have witnessed a particularly creative, “out-of-the-box” type game will agree wholeheartedly that video games should be regarded as art in the same way that films, television or books are labeled as art forms. I’m not here to get into the discussion of whether video games could be classified as art; I’m already fully on the “pro-art” side. The thing that fascinates me is the profound emotions that can be conveyed through this medium. I don’t necessarily mean “fury of a thousand white-hot burning suns” level rage because you can’t beat a boss or stage or terribly-behaved elementary schooler on a Mountain Dew high during a Call of Duty match. I’m more interested in the genuine, heartfelt sadness or joy that a person can experience from a game.
I’ve heard countless stories of specific scenes or songs in games making people tear up, cry or even full-on sob their eyes out. I can instantly rattle off a list of impactful scenes in my head that I have heard to have caused people to cry, and suitably so, for every scene deals with some tragic loss of some sort within the game. I have been slowly working my way through these games to try and get to these moments and see how they affect me. So far, not one of the token “sad” games has triggered tears from me. –SPOILERS BEGIN- From the death of Aerith in Final Fantasy VII, the entirety of the plot of The Last of Us, the death of Lee in Telltale’s The Walking Dead: Season 1 and so on, none of these games have affected me in the same way that I have heard others were impacted. While I was certainly sad, I wasn’t that sad. –SPOILERS END–
I’m about ninety-nine percent positive that I’m not a heartless, cold, metal robot with no feelings whatsoever, but I know I’m not helping my case. I’m just not a big crier; though to be fair, I have cried from books, songs, movies, funerals, weddings and church before, so I do cry occasionally. And to be clear, my mission here is not to simply find a game that can finally break down my “Great Wall of Cry-na”; I’m just fascinated to imagine what game would finally do me in. I wonder sometimes if the medium is immersive enough for me, if somewhere in the graphics or gameplay, it loses the verisimilitude for me.
So far, the closest a game has come to causing me to tear up was in Ubisoft’s Valiant Hearts: The Great War. For those of you who have not encountered Valiant Hearts, stop reading this right now, go to the console of your choice (except Playstation Vita for some reason) and play through this game. It’s a low-cost, high-reward type experience with Valiant Hearts. You can probably complete it within a couple of sittings, and the influence that the ending will leave on you will break your heart and make you happy within seconds. Valiant Hearts is a World War I focused puzzle/platformer with a heart wrenching, intense story that covers a small French/German family. The art style fits the game perfectly and is some of my favorite art that I have ever seen in a video game. Seriously, Valiant Hearts is in my top five games of all time, and I would suggest that anyone and everyone play it. By the end of the game, I could feel my jaw drop and a lump form in my throat, the telltale sign of a textbook “tear-up” coming over me. It never pushed me over the edge, though if I hadn’t been texting my girlfriend at that instant that I completed the game, I wonder if the immersion would have been enough to get me.
In summation, video games are not viewed today as they were even five or ten years ago. Most games were made for either pure entertainment or maybe education. As gaming has evolved, the methods of storytelling have evolved, as well. There are now “games” that are purely visual novels or “walking simulators” where the gameplay is not the focus of the game, but the storytelling or the actual presentation of the game is front and center instead. As this partial shift in gameplay has been introduced and popularized, game developers have come to telling stories in new and innovative ways. Games aren’t only games anymore. They can also be immersive methods of experiencing an adventure or story. Once I started hearing about gamers being driven to tears over the death of a character or a grievous event occurring in a game, I knew that video games are in a true renaissance in the medium. I know that there is a game out there that will truly resonate with me like so many other games do for gamers everywhere. I know That Dragon, Cancer would probably bend me over a proverbial barrel and make me cry like a baby, but my end goal isn’t just to find a game that will make me cry. It’s to find a game that would resonate with my core, make me feel all sorts of emotions and if it leads me to tears, then so be it. I’m looking for a game that changes my life.