Throughout the years, many works of art have become famous for evoking strong emotional responses from their audiences. This holds true for literature, film, television and more.
Video games can also create a vast range of emotions, but due to their interactive nature, they can evoke feelings that no other form of entertainment can, including pride and guilt, the latter of which is particularly effective in eliciting waterworks.
If you are a fan of books or movies, you have certainly experienced the trauma of either reading about or watching the death of a character you cherished dearly. It certainly did not feel good.
In videos games, you control the action, and even if you are playing a game with a linear narrative, in which you have no choices, it is your input that drives the story forward.
When a character dies as a consequence of your actions -- even if you had no choice -- it is natural to feel guilt. This remorse multiplies the sadness by a factor of 10. Interactivity give to players a sense of agency and this makes the experience more emotionally effective. You are not just reading or watching a story, you are participating in it.
With this said, here are five games that mastered how to use the interactive nature of video games to create powerful emotions -- and ended up hitting players right in the feels.
Warning: spoilers for the following games ahead:
- Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
- Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
- Life is Strange
- Mass Effect 3
- To the Moon
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons (2013)
Developed by: Starbreeze Studios
No words, only feelings. This is the premise behind the narrative of this game that tells the story of two brothers out to save their terminally ill father. The only way to keep him from succumbing to his mysterious illness is collecting water from the "Tree of Life."
Throughout the game, players explore the beautiful universe of this title, as they listen to the masterful soundtrack composed by Gustaf Grefberg that can, at times, hit you in the feels itself.
And although the characters speak in a fictional language that is incomprehensible to the player, players are able to easily understand their emotions through deduction and context. What's more, the story and each characters' personalities are conveyed through gameplay, thus creating an inventive experience that mixes gameplay and narrative with mastery.
Due to this, players easily connect with the characters and feel empathy for them as they seem to be an extension of the players. Combined with a powerful story, this game can certainly make you drop few tears.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (2004)
Developed by: Konami
The third game of this storied franchise took players to where everything began, controlling an American soldier named "Naked Snake," who is traveling through the forests of the Cold War era Soviet Union, circa 1964.
Starting with a simple mission, Snake receives the objective of rescuing a Soviet scientist who wishes to defect to the United States. And of course, the mission goes awry.
Snake's mentor, a legendary soldier code-named "The Boss," defects to the Soviet Union and encounters Snake in the forest, recapturing the scientist and delivering two stolen American-made mini nuclear warheads to the Soviets, which were used to nuke the laboratory of the scientist.
The Soviet Union declares that the United States were responsible for the incident, but the Soviets gave to the Americans the opportunity to prove their innocence.
Snake received a new mission, return to the Soviet Union and eliminate the traitor, his mentor, The Boss.
Emotions fly high in this game, as Snake clearly opposes his mission to kill his master, but he proceeds with his orders and infiltrates the forest after her.
For how long will he ignore his feelings, in order to do what is right?
This is the emotional conflict of the game and as players learn how deep the relationship between Snake and the Boss is, they will share the same inner plight as the protagonist, considering whether they should use their minds and do what is right, or follow their hearts.
Life is Strange (2013)
Developed by: Dontnod Entertainment
The first choice-driven narrative of this list. In this adventure, players control Max Caulfield, a photography student in an Academy of arts.
Fate plays its role in the story. While saving the life of her best friend, Chloe Prince, who she has not seen in years, she discovers she can rewind time.
This reunited dynamic duo starts to investigate the disappearance of Rachel Amber, a close friend of Chloe.
As players dive into the story, they learn the dark secrets of what they believed to be just a common small town. Most importantly, they need to make choices and as the game progresses, these do not fit into an obvious "right or wrong" category anymore.
This game offers some of the most difficult choices in gaming, ranging from picking the right dialogue options in order to talk a friend out of suicide, to choosing whether you should accept the request of a terminally ill friend to remove her from life support and put her out of her misery.
This game has moments that will linger with its players for a long time, if not for a lifetime.
Mass Effect 3 (2012)
Developed by: BioWare
The Mass Effect franchise is one of the best examples of how much a player can care about fictional characters and the last installment of the trilogy is the perfect embodiment of this assertion.
Through its dialogue branches and morality system, players spend three games developing deep bonds with their favorite characters and sometimes, even diving into romantic relationships with them.
In the game that marked the finale of the fight of Commander Shepard against the threat of the Reapers, an ancient race that aimed to harvest organic forms of life, players continued to develop bonds with the characters, but it all lasted until the very last mission.
I will not go into detail, in order to keep myself from giving away spoilers, but the fate of your beloved squad during the final push against the reapers will depend on the choices made during the game.
I must admit that my squad fell on the battlefield in my playthrough and seeing them dead, because of my actions, after three games of bonding sent me into one of the toughest guilt trips I have ever underwent.
One of the best example of how games can create guilt in a player. Needless to say, I dropped many tears.
To the Moon (2011)
Developed by: Freebird Games
You do not need complex graphics and detailed animations to create an emotional experience. This game is an example of this.
This 2D game became famous on YouTube for making YouTubers cry, as it tells the story of two scientists whose job is to visit people who are in their final days of life and grant them their final wish.
The method, however, is unorthodox. They use a machine to enter the minds of their clients, in order to modify their memories, so they die believing their wish has been granted.
In To The Moon, the two scientists visit a new client. An old man whose dream is to go to the moon. To accomplish this, they travel through the memories of this old man, to know what to modify, in order to make him believe he went to the moon before dying.
Video games are becoming more complex and so are their narratives. It is natural that developers and writers collaborate in order to work toward the true potential this medium has to deliver.
The titles listed herein are only some of the examples of games that can evoke strong reactions in their audiences. As games continue to invest more into narrative, the number of examples will only continue to grow over time.
Games are powerful experiences and the best titles in this industry are by no means behind of the best books and films of all time, especially when it comes down to emotional engagement.