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?

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  • niteowl  On December 18, 2010 at 2:00 am

    Love your writing and your take on things Jcat, especially on these last two blogs.
    I don’t have that many different games under my belt but I can’t say any I do have made me sad. Closest I may have come was feeling bad about murdering a dude begging on his knees for his life in Oblivion just to impress a guild.
    Although one time, when a young adept challenged me to a duel, maybe, just for a second before I blasted her back to her merfolk colony…I felt a little..I don’t know..Sadness?..Regret?….
    Naw!!!!!!! I loved it!!!!!

  • Falelorn  On December 26, 2010 at 6:08 pm

    “Q: What’s the saddest moment in gaming?
    A: Sephiroth kills Aeris.”

    Actually in my book this is one of the lamest moments in gaming because it was far from emotional. The guy from Gears of War 2 when he found his wife was a more emotional moment and it was not even a blimp on the emotion radar.

    Maybe I am too hard-boiled or something but I have yet to see a truly emotional gaming moment play out like we see in the odd TV show and movies. But then again, I truly play the evil villain with a certain amount of tingling inside.

    Another good blog Cat, keep em up

  • Rebecca Jones  On December 31, 2010 at 9:17 am

    Interesting reflections. I thought Reach did the tragedy thing pretty well…although it IS kind of hard to stop and dwell on an emotional moment in any action game. Emotions seem to have to be regulated to accents. It gets me thinking…in reaction to hearing that Elderscrolls will be coming out with Skyrim (insert hallelujah cchorus here) Nov. 11, I bought Morrowind to play through again. Something I noticed…one of the most surreal things about it is that the player has to create his/her own emotional investment in the character, and yet I always do…weird.

  • Thecommodore64  On December 31, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    It is an absolute crime that you have not played Red Dead Redemption Jcat. That is all I have to say on the matter because I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you but while many people dismissed that game as a dense cowboy game it really has one of the best plots this generation.
    Other notable sad endings? Final Fantasy 10, Mafia, Limbo, and while not a mainstream game there is a little flash game called one chance that has resonated with me lately. Link:

    • 2Belts  On January 1, 2011 at 4:33 pm

      Yeah from the moment I read this post I was thinking Red Dead Redemption all the way. The way it ends is simply brilliant. I would also agree that Reach did a fantastic job of conveying the unfolding tragedy. Really I think it’s my favourite Halo by far. I would also add the Prince of Persia reboot to that list. It gets the forshadowing and ending pitch perfect.

      YAP it’s interesting that you use a screen shot from Shadow of the Colossus saying Disney never would have brought the horse back. True but Disney also never would have had a malevolent force trick the hero into releasing it followed by it and the hero being sucked into a black hole in front of the hero’s love interest who he was trying to save all along. All in all much more powerful than Disney would ever allow (main reason why I’m terrified of Disney owning Marvel but that’s for another time).

  • glamgeekgirl  On January 27, 2011 at 7:02 am

    Good question in another great post! Hmmm…. I felt sad in several games, but no real crying (except for awwww-moments, not sad ones). I rarely cry during movies or books either, but more than when I was a teen and early twen.

    My guess is that as games are still mostly marketed to guys, that the developers fear they won’t like the sad parts. In my opinion, a misconception as grave as the “girls don’t like violence” in games…

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