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The Old “Games Never Made Anyone Cry” Situation

We have all seen various blog posts and comments about this (usually tying in to uneducated nonsense spewed by the otherwise-well-educated Roger Ebert) whole dilemma: can video games make you cry?

Of course, the real question is do they need to make anyone cry? Would that be the gauge of cultural relevance and a move to “high art”? Is any of that even necessary?

I don’t actually want to answer any of those questions, because I find them silly. I did, however, find some incredibly thought-provoking points over in this article by Chris over on ihobo (as linked over on Kotaku).

I absolutely adore the idea/theory/proposition that there is nothing about it being a game that drives you to experiencing some type of emotion; it’s all about the narrative, itself. There is narrative in a movie, in a song, even in a painting. By taking the “cause” out of the game, you therefore actually place the game on the same level as everything else. I think that is a really important to step, and one that we will continue to make over time. I have heard the point made time and time again that the game industry is so young when compared to the other media industries that have moved us to tears with their products. It simply needs more time to continue evolving and for all the old people to die out who have no familiarity with the medium and various business models.

I do want to address one point in the article, and take slight exception to it. Here is the exact part:

So even though, for instance, many people report that they cried when they played Final Fantasy VII at the fateful scene (and indeed, several other cRPGs also show up in player studies as having provoked tears) the moment that actually brought the player to tears was a non-interactive cut scene. It wasn’t the game (in the systems view) that made them cry – it was the story – and there never was a question as to whether stories could make you cry.

Believe it or not, I am going to dispute this point with the same example! Well, somewhat. I am not talking about the original Final Fantasy VII, but actually Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII.

There are intense spoilers here (as if you didn’t know how it ended…), so if you have not played through to the very end of the game, keep in mind that I am going to describe not just what happens, but how it happens.

Yes, there was a bit of genuine gameplay during the ending of Crisis Core that made me cry. It was not a cut-scene; I was in full control of Zack during the point where I broke down. In between lots of events going on, and before the full-on CG ending sequence, Zack is being hunted down by the Shinra army. He has very little energy left in him, but he continues to fight back with everything he has (occasionally flashing back to memories from the course of the game along the way). There finally comes one last stand-off where Zack fights off against a (literally) endless stream of soldiers. No, really… it is infinite. You will die. You may be strong enough to hold them off for a pretty long time (especially if you have done some grinding in the side missions), but the point of the sequence is that Zack is shot down. You cannot avoid it. You progress the game by dying.

I am choking up as I write this, because this is the part that made me break down. I was in full control of Zack, but I had absolutely no control over the situation. I knew where it was heading. I knew I was going to die. There was nothing I could do about it. It was not fun. It was not enjoyable in any way. It hurt. It hurt a lot. The point where I had to take my fingers off of the buttons and let them kill me in a situation where I was otherwise in complete control was what did me in. I had to sit there and watch my character be gunned down.

And I cried.

10 Comments

  1. I was actually going to email you about this very article (then I got a little sidetracked). I couldn’t think of any gameplay that had ever brought such sadness to me – I’m glad you have.

    Interesting stuff, Mike.

  2. I felt exactly the same way, Mike. It wasn’t the endless combat sequence that got to me, but the one immediately after, where Zack is literally dragging ass and still fighting the two or three infantryman after your head.

    Being a FF7 fan, I knew this was coming from the moment I started Crisis Core. What I didn’t realize was just how attached I would get to Zack. Having control of that sequence didn’t lessen the impact at all and I was struggling right along with him, trying to prolong the inevitable.

    Another good example came in the Metal Gear Solid 4, which I just finished. Ever since Act 2 (out of five!), you know that Snake must die. There is no alternative, because the FOXDIE in his system has mutated and he will eventually become a walking WMD.

    This is in the back of your mind for pretty much the entire game. You watch him suffer the effects of accelerated aging, the physical beating he takes from every battle, knowing even if you successfully complete the mission, Snake must die, for the safety of the world.

    When it finally comes to the showdown with Liquid Ocelot, Snake is moving through sheer will alone. The longer the fight takes, the more he struggles just to move, always trying to stay one step ahead of his foe. As much agony as Snake is in, as much as you want to walk away from this one, you have no choice but to make him keep fighting.

    (Later, watching Snake put a gun in his mouth hits pretty hard too. Though I do kinda wish the game prompted you to pull the trigger button yourself.)

    Yeah, I got a little misty eyed.

  3. Thanks SonGoharotto for bringing up Metal Gear Solid. Along with the fight in MGS4, there is a point in MGS3 where you must actually pull the trigger to finish the game…which was really upsetting to do. Even more so when you’ve already beaten the game, and know the final ending.

  4. I remember playing Fire Emblem The Sacred Stones, and when the ending sequence came, beautiful music began playing, and the realization that I had just beaten the Dreaded Demon King, the fact that I had just beaten one of the hardest games I have ever played, and knowing that Eirika and her party would live happily forever…

    I cried a lot.

  5. I’m not entirely sure I fully understand the argument of wether a game can make you cry or not.
    The big thing seems to be that they can’t, but the story can. To me that’s kind of a silly argument. It’s like saying a movie can’t make you cry but the script can.

    Like I said, maybe I don’t understand the argument but to me the story is part of the game. Therefore if the story in the game can make me cry then the game has in fact made me cry. A game with no story can’t make me cry, but a game with a good story can, and to me that means the game has made me cry. Transitive property and all that…or whatever.

    Besides story though, the gameplay coupled with the story can also do the job. Like you mentioned with Crisis Core and like others have mentioned with MGS3 (where after fighting against your mentor and learning her motivations and reasoning for her “betrayel”. You physically have to pull the trigger to advance the story. If you don’t press the button then Snake just stands there pointing the gun at her, very emotional).

    I don’t know, it’s just silly to me I guess. Like I said, to me if the story in the game makes me cry or the story coupled with the gameplay, whatever the combination is, it all means that the game made me cry.

  6. @WJ Dowling

    If you take too long the game does it for you, which really ruins it, but most people porbably pull the trigger on their own.

  7. I have two stories, one is silly and the other is series of scenes, but a bit more parallel to what Mike said.

    The first time I cried was during my first of Digimon World one when I was 12. I had just beaten the game, completely, and my MetalGreymon passed away. He was just too old and he reverted to an egg. I cried my little eyes out! I had worked so hard to obtain an ultimate level digimon, and it was incredibly hard. But I got MetalGreymon back after a week or so.

    The other time was Sora and Riku working together during the fight with Xemnas in Kingdom Heart 2. The two friends finally get to help each other, which was just so climactic. But the scene that got me s when you’re getting blasted at and the screen goes white. Xemnas knocks you and Riku down points a laser-sword at your face. He is about to cut you down, until Riku jumps in takes some heavy blows for you.
    I was thinking wow! Riku does care about Sora, and we, as fans of the story, have come this far. Then of course the two bring their swords together and blast Xemnas down.
    After some random stuff, you and Riku get stuck in this other dimension. It’s some beach. For the life of me, I can’t remember what was said, but it was a little on the gay side, and I really mean that. But I started crying like a bitch!

    I need to buy that game again…

  8. I remember the first time it had happened to me was while playing Final Fantasy VII, the second time through. I think on the first time, I didn’t really care that Aeris had died, or whatever. I was pretty young, and she was a pretty useless character to me. I think on the second time, I had paid much more attention to the story, and got a little misty-eyed whenever that music started playing.

    I’m trying to think of other times when it had happened. All I can think of at the moment is when I cried during various anime.

    There are plenty of games I was emotionally invested in, but not necessarily cried.

    I would be interested to hear this in an episode of VG Convos. Maybe something like: Most Emotional Moments in Gaming (whether it’s sad, or scared, or whatever).

  9. Corey/MajinVejitaXV

    January 8, 2009 at 7:58 pm

    I didn’t read this until just now, but excellent points. I was actually watching the ending to Crisis Core last night and agree. Between that entire scene (from Zack leaving Cloud to the ending credits), and the scene with Zack after Angeal’s death, the game had plenty of emotional moments. I found Final Fantasy IX’s ending to be extremely sad also, though happy in a way (don’t want to spoil in case you haven’t played).

    Lots of games, when well written (and these days, acted) can provoke emotional reaction just as well as any other medium. I think that’s the true test for a dub of an anime with me also: Can the scenes that made me tear up in the original Japanese do the same in the English version? If not, something is wrong with the acting.

    -Corey

  10. Yeah, the CC ending is extremely emotional. While I didn’t actually cry, I did get teary and I got chills. I have to agree with Mike that what did it for me was the fact that you’re still controling Zack through this futile struggle. I’ve played through the ending several times, its just that good.

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