Monthly Archives: December 2010

There’s No Crying in Video Games! But Wait. Why Not?

My husband is a great guy, but sometimes misses the mark. Often on a date night, he will download a Top 10 list of some sort. He gets me to guess the list, we debate, and yap about the subject at hand over a bottle of wine. While usually a fun start to the evening, this past weekend he “wisely” chose Top 10 Depressing Disney Moments Of All Time.

An hour and a half bottle of wine later, I am crying my eyes out and any hope of a romantic rendez -vous were dashed.

Only #4... it get's worse. Much worse.

“For every smile, a tear” is a quote attributed to Walt Disney. He knew that the tears you shed during the movie made the comedy funnier, the songs more enchanting, the happy ending that much sweeter.

Sadness and crying in other entertainment is very well established, yet, I really couldn’t find too much on really sad gaming moments. One top 10 listed the Red Ring of Death as a sad gaming moment. Compare this to Disney: Bambi’s mom dying was only #4. Marlon, Nemo’s dad in Finding Nemo, comes home to find his wife and 99% of his children dead; this moment didn’t even make the top 10.

 Say what you want about Disney, they tell a damn fine story and in this important aspect, gaming  can’t come close. Disney can make us weep, gaming at best can make us sometime sniffle.

Why can’t gaming compare to Disney when it comes to these scenes? 50 movies versus an entire library of games. I believe it’s for two reasons. Disney movies commit to being emotionally touching, whereas gaming seems to ease up at critical times. Disney also focuses on the relationships that are the deepest to our emotional condition, gaming has missed the mark.

Commitment to Sorrow

Disney commits 100% to making scenes remarkably touching and sad. Take #5 on the above list: Dumbo visits his Mom in the Cage.

Disney fully and completely commits to this scene. Dumbo’s mother is gone, so it doesn’t add to the plot. But Disney knew better. Their parting was quick, violent, confusing. Over before it happened. Horrible, but you didn’t have time to digest what was going on. So Disney made another scene, one that was slower, that made you see the love that was taken from the two, and juxtaposed it against other happy families. Yes, Dumbo losing his Mom was bad, but saying goodbye is much, much more bittersweet.

Regicide? check. Fratricide? check. Emotional abuse of a minor? Check. It's the Disney Villian Trifecta!

Each viewer at different ages can and will see different aspects of this scene. Children can understand that losing a Mommy would be painful and can fear abandonment of someone they love so much. An older child might mourn the loss of their childhood, remembering pictures of themselves as babies, knowing that they can’t go back to the way things were. Teenagers, deep down, maybe they miss their mothers. Parents can think the unimaginable: what if they had to say goodbye? But as all parents come to realise, parenting is a series of goodbyes. There is one last nursing, one last kiss on a skinned knee, one last tuck into bed. You never know when these last moments will happen, but that’s what it’s all about. Loving them and letting them go. Disney makes us cry on many different levels.

Gaming, on the other hand, does not fully commit to creating sadness. In Fable 2 we lose our dog at the very end, but we actually don’t have to go on without him. We fight the boss, make a decision, and yep: we can bring him back. But we never say goodbye. In fact, we never play the game without him. We never have to run through an open field, alone for the first time. Less emotional impact.

In Mass Effect 2, if you dilly-dally, only Dr. Chakwas survives the prothean stronghold. There is a conversation between her and you as Commander Shepard. She says that it was horrible watching the crew get turned into people soup. Shepard: “We had to prepare for the mission.” Chakwas: “Oh, I wasn’t blaming you.”

Would Disney have brought the horse back? Hell no!

Thank goodness she didn’t blame me… I was starting to feel bad for a second.

Again, Bioware could have committed to the scene emotionally. We know that Chakwas is a damn hard woman, and to have her break just a little would have given this emotional gravitas. Being a soldier prepares you for many things, but not for watching your friends get homogenized while you stand helpless. This feeling of helplessness could have been explored, but it wasn’t.

Teen Angst: Gaming Misses the Relationship Mark

It’s almost a gaming trope now.

Q: What’s the saddest moment in gaming? 

A: Sephiroth kills Aeris.

Player characters have been killed off, but presumably this one is the saddest because of the relationship Aeris had with Cloud. It was a new love type of relationship that was lost early before if could blossom. It was shocking, and yes, a bit sad.

But the point was is was a new/adolescent relationship. An (almost) first love. But here’s the thing about this kind of first/puppy love. It is always replaced, it never ever lasts. One of two things happen. Either you move on, and 10 years down the road you think about that other person, smile at how stupid and young you were and chuckle to yourself. Or it becomes a mature love.

They touch hands - while reading!

Mature love comes from really understanding someone, knowing that this other person is not merely a “girl with a heart of gold that was too good for this world”, but a person with whom you can share a lifetime of adventure, as well as dull days of taking the garbage out. Real love is snotty noses and realising that the other person has flaws, and loving them anyway.  This type of love, and the loss of this love, was at the heart of Up. After a lifetime together, Carl Fredricksen is bereaved of his wife and best friend. How do you complete life’s adventure without your partner in crime?

Disney does explore teen love in The Little Mermaid. The fact that Ariel is a teen is oft-repeated, and her infatuation with Eric is originally shown to be rather adolescent. She talks to the statue of Eric “Why Eric, run away with you? This is all so … so sudden.” Women don’t say that. Girls do. And so, the heart of The Little Mermaid is not the relationship between Eric and Ariel, the heart of the relationship is between Ariel and her father.

It’s a little dusty…

Ariel’s love really isn’t for Eric, so much as it is for the world above. Her first song, Part of Your World is about going on land, nothing about wanting to meet a guy. Ariel wants to go on land, to be her own person, her father wants her safe. This is at the heart of teenagerhood and growing up. Ariel’s wilfulness forces her father’s hand. He doesn’t just smash the statue of Eric, he smashes all of her treasures from the world above and thus, smashes her dream. The father/daughter relationship is now broken. Yet, they love each other. We see Triton’s panic when he realizes Ariel is gone, he is despondent. A king is brought low through his own actions.

Thus, the most important kiss in the movie is not between Ariel and Eric, it’s when Ariel throws her arms around her father’s neck and whispers “I love you, Daddy.” BAM! not a dry eye in the house.

So… Why No Tears?

Okay, some games may make you a bit misty, they definitely can make you care for the characters. But are they on par with the Disney moments in that top 10 list?

The funny thing is, there have been Disney games. Kingdom Hearts tried emotional loss but didn’t hit the mark either. So what is going wrong?

I can only assume that developers don’t put this much emotional depth into a game because they don’t want gamers to cry. Why is that? Are we not comfortable enough in our own skin that a few tears will crush our self-image as tough guys? Are we making and playing games as escapism and we don’t want that kind of depth? Bad business decision? I hope not, because I think that is selling ourselves short.

Has a game made you cry? Honestly, like Bambi’s mother dies kind of cry?

How Cheating Against my Three Year Old is Actually Good Parenting

Our three-and-a-half year old daughter was feeling left out. Her baby brother was needy and that meant I couldn’t play “running around games” with her as often as I used to. We needed something that we could do together while the wee guy was occupied in a highchair or held.  I bought Monopoly Jr. thinking that it would bring us closer together. Instead I started cheating at a board game, for her own good. 

I like to store the game pieces in the empty spot where my soul used to be.

Board games (and their video game equivalents) are great for wee kids. She has learned some basic math, and mastered a few minor fine motor skills like rolling a dice and moving a piece around a board. But more importantly she is learning the social skills that are hard to come by at this age. I take a turn, then you take a turn: everyone shares the dice and the game. Cooperation: it’s nice when Mommy helps you by moving your piece for you when you can’t reach, not an affront to your personhood. And, perhaps the hardest thing of all to learn: how to be a good winner and a good loser.

She was doing great at the “it’s okay when things don’t go my way in the game” skill set. We played Monopoly Jr. often and whenever she had to pay to use an attraction, she did it with a smile. “I LOVE the ARCADE! Here’s $2 Mommy! I love you!” She would hand over her little Monopoly money and would yap about how much fun she was having.

Yep, my kid reeks of awesome. Not only can she figure out how to add up $4 without using her precious last $4 bill (she likes to have at least one of every kind) she is a gracious little winner. I gleamed.

Here’s the thing. the kid must have horseshoes up her rear, cause she never lost. Not once in over a half dozen games. It’s easy to be full of sunshine and rainbows when you win. I started to get concerned. Part of this venture was to teach her how to lose. You can’t do that if you keep winning. The longer it took to get to that first loss meant that it would be more of a big deal. Losing should be part of winning, shouldn’t it?

It started small. First, I would actually play logically. It makes sense to get all properties of one colour if you can, and so on. Playing illogically will only teach the kid to think illogically. So I play properly. This earned me a raised eyebrow from my husband. She is three and a half! Ease up!

But then it progressed to using tactics that she really couldn’t pick up on. I would take the Ferris Wheel over the Loop the Loop, knowing that there was a chance card saying “Go To The Ferris Wheel.”  My husband would often “cheat” to move the game along quicker. At about the 20 minute mark in any given game, money from his stash surreptitiously made its way back to the bank. “Oh look, Daddy has no money! Let’s count it up and see who wins!” all the while ignoring my death-stares. She has more money, now is not the time! I considered a special signal between us to let him know that I had more money and that now would be an opportune time to fall on his sword and allow me sweet victory. But evidently I married a man with morals.

 Finally I started “forgetting” to give her allowance of $2 when she passed Go. I won, but victory was short lived. Now that she lost, the stench of loserdom clung to her, causing her to lose about half the time. But, this kid is a winner, and she mustn’t go to bed with the bitter taste of defeat. She demanded to play again. Suddenly Monopoly Jr. became a mini obsession with her.

“Honey, win or lose isn’t really the point. Whenever you play you tell the other person “Good Game, I had fun.” Did you have fun? Cause I love playing games with you even if I lose. I love playing with you.” She came around and yes, playing a game is fun, win or lose.

All this makes me sound like a competitive jackass. Honestly, I don’t care if I win or lose, as long as I am having a good time. I watch football and it drives my husband up the wall. “They have two minutes left and need three scores. It’s hopeless.Give up now.” or “There is only 20 seconds left, why do they even bother running out the clock? I would just hit the showers early!” When I play Magic The Gathering: Online I actually enjoy losing, if I am losing to something really cool. “First one out is the first one to the bar” is what I like to say. I am an excellent loser.

 But, let’s be honest here. You play to win, or you wouldn’t keep score.

Competitiveness is a good thing. She will need that as she grows up. That drive to win is the same self control that you need to stick to anything long enough in order to become great at it. Yes, winning isn’t everything. Unless it is. I like the fact that losing upset my daughter, she has a spine, a fire and she won’t shrug it off until she figures out how to master this skill called “Monopoly Jr.”

My father-in-law is a rec league umpire. He loves the league he umps for at the moment. They are older. “Old enough to take the game seriously, but to not take themselves seriously” he said.  What a fine line to walk. This is going to take years for both me and my daughter to learn.

In the meantime, I think she may be getting Clue Jr. for Christmas. Maybe this time I won’t sully my soul.