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Can Games Make You Cry?

August 1st, 2005 by Troy Goodfellow · 7 Comments · Uncategorized

That’s the question asked by consultant Hugh Bowen over at NextGen. In a survey of over 500 gamers, about a third suggested that they found games to be an emotionally compelling medium. He seemed to accept a very wide definition of “emotion” since both “competitveness” and “frustration” appear in the list. This probably explains why 39 per cent of gamers thought that “fighting games” were emotionally powerful.

Though the study is interesting in many ways, it really does very little to help clarify the question of what makes a game emotionally provocative.

While playing Rome over the weekend, I had my own personal Metaurus. My Carthaginian invasion of Italy was stalling and I needed major reinforcements to finish the thing. So I built a huge army in Carthage and decided to sail it to Rome to meet the armies already in the vicinity. I had naval superiority, but a blitzkrieg of Julian and Scipionic fleets ambushed my navy and wiped out the entire reinforcement force.

Did I react emotionally? You’re damned right I did. A huge investment in time and manpower was eliminated through my own foolishness – an underpowered fleet and no escort. These are the moments that make strategy games great; unexpected failure and determination to play through. Never reload. Well, hardly ever.

But frustration and a desire to overcome are native to all games. I get pretty jazzed up playing Literati too, though I’d hardly describe it as an emotional experience. If we want to understand what in a game makes us laugh and cry, or identify with the electronic images in front of us, it doesn’t help to consider the usual frustration of competition or adrenaline pumping of shooters as the emotional equivalent of the death of Aerith in Final Fantasy VII.

The fact that gamers at large ranked the hobby low in the list of emotionally powerful media shows that most of them think that there is a qualitative difference here, too. Movies, music and books all trumped games though none have that competitive element and I’ve never been frustrated by a book.

To answer Mr. Bowen’s question, yes, games make me cry. But only on the inside. And mostly when it’s my fault.


7 Comments so far ↓

  • roboczar

    I’m actually kind of amazed that the RTW AI was able to pull that off on the campaign map. It generally has its ‘OMG’ moments on the battle map.

    I don’t get very far in those games though. I get tired of the AI out-building me and turning the game into a nail biting grind. I can only take so much of that at a time.

    On another related topic, I like to imagine you crying when I roundly trounce your foul little Federalists in this utter parody of the Civil War, as directed by The Operational Art of War. I cry every time I see a well equipped and supplied stack of men evaporate against a force less than half its size and strength. There are some things that battle engine was just not made to do, and this is one of them.

    Bring back the good old days of non-functional surface to air missiles and anti-tank units that only have a use as scouts!

  • Brinstar

    A game has never made me cry. Then again, I have never played Final Fantasy VII. Well, I have, but not long enough to get to the part that is supposedly sad. And since I have seen so many spoilers about this part, I am not really bothered to find out if it would make me cry or not. If someone plays the game for me, and calls me in for the cutscenes and story bits, then that would be cool.

    I think the right kind of game, with a good story, and immersiveness could elicit this type of emotional response, but I think that storytelling in games has a ways to go before that happens…

  • Troy Goodfellow

    You raise a good question about the whole cutscene thing.

    If the story-telling elements that elicit emotion are in a cutscene, does this mean that a movie is making you cry, and not a game?

  • steve

    “I’ve never been frustrated by a book.”

    Ever read Finnegans Wake, or Gravity’s Rainbow?

  • Troy Goodfellow

    I haven’t. I have made it this far without Joyce, or Pynchon. Are they frustrating or just annoying?

    I suppose I could say that Hegel’s Philosopy of Right frustrated me, but I am blaming a lot of that on the fact that I didn’t really care that much about Hegel.

  • Fuzzydevil

    Supposedly, Broken Sword 3 has a “crying” moment. I cried inside while playing it, but that was when I realised I’d have to do another crate puzzle. I’m afraid I didn’t reach the supposedly emotional scene.

    Can games make me cry? I suppose so, yes. I can’t think of any reason why not. Do games make me cry? Not yet. Do games affect me emotionally? Yes. They can make me laugh, they can make me angry, they can make me frustrated. Not necessarily because of plot, but because of *anything* worthy of an emotional response. The game that’s brought me closest to crying would have to be Photopia, I think, if that really counts as a game and not just a book with an occasional typed phrase. If you don’t feel anything after playing that, you have no emotions.

  • Jim9137

    I didn’t cry in the FFVII’s sad part. Because I thought it could be fixed later on. Well. I felt quite a shocked when it turned out it wasn’t.

    Games can, and will raise emotions just like any other form of entertainment. When was the last time you cried on a movie? Read a book? Listened to music? Exactly. It’s not easy, but it’s doable. With games, you could achieve greater effect, or you could achieve something else.

    Games, games. They are involving. But I’d rather ask how involving they can get before it begins to be dangerous. Hell, how involving anything can get before it gets too involving for our sanity’s sake?

    P.S: Regular commentor says whee.