Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Video Games - The Emotioning

I was watching this documentary on the Discovery channel on Saturday called "I, Videogame". It was pretty interesting. The first part ( which aired last week ) was about the beginnings of video games ( from this bizarre tennis game these university geeks were playing on a kind of oscilloscope thingy, to 'space war' which was powered by one of those 'only the five richest kings in Europe will own one of these' computers, to 'Pong' ), the rise ( and surprisingly sharp ) fall of the home console, and the emergence of Space-Invaders ( which were originally supposed to be human ! ) and everyones favourite gluttonous yellow head, Pac-Man.

They also looked at the cold-war influence on games then, which was kinda interesting - but sounded a bit flawed.

The second episode kinda rushed through the rest of the history. It started off with Donkey Kong, the first game with an actual protagonist and story - and how they approached creating a recognisable hero with the limited power of coin-ops at the time. They talked about the shift that Nintendo created in the home console market ( with Atari self-destructing so amazingly - most retailers thought that home consoles had gone the way of the hula-hoop, and they were NEVER coming back ... man - were THOSE guys wrong ! ). Then they sorta jumped from the NES to Playstation, Playstation 2 and Grand Theft Auto 3.

The time shift was appallingly rapid ! Maybe they didn't have anything interesting to say. They were mostly looking at the rise of stories in games, how now games rival film and tv for immersive, and EMOTIONAL depth.

Some pundits made the claim that the power of a game to make you CRY was the benchmark for their emergence into the 'film' level of story-telling sophistication. Then they didn't really tell you any games that would ( or could ) make you cry.


The closest they seemed to come was "Final Fantasy 7" and Sepiroth's murder of Aeris as being one of those moments. Fair enough. I mean - it didn't make me cry, but it was pretty sad.

It got me thinking - what games have had the strongest emotional impact on me ? And not just in making you SAD. There's more emotions than just freaking sadness ! Anyway -

The top five emotional games for Seraph ! -

5. "Metal Gear : Solid"

For an action game - it has some moments where you genuinely feel for the bad-guys you end up killing. Not all of them, naturally. You feel pretty good about putting the smack-down on Liquid Snake, and Vulcan Raven's death is just pretty damn weird ( "Before I die Snake - I will give you ... a HINT !" Say what ? ). But Gray Fox / Cyber-Ninja's sacrifice is not without merit. The most impact comes with the deaths of Psycho Mantis and Sniper Wolf. Just before Psycho Mantis buys it, he helps you out by opening up a secret door with his TK power, his final words are something like "... Doing something ... good.... That ... felt ... nice...". Okay, okay - not Shakespeare - but the sentiment is pretty strong. Sniper Wolf, bleeding to death in the snow, relating in a hoarse whisper her war-torn youth growing up as a Kurd, and her moving request to die with her rifle - the only real love she has ever known - is pretty emotional stuff.

4. "Resident Evil 4"

Right - the emotion here is clearly not sadness. It's more a "DEAR GOD IN HEAVEN ! THERE ARE DOZENS OF THEM ! SOME HAVE CHAINSAWS ! I WANT TO LIVE !!!!!" thrill fest! Lots of shocks and surprises - and the addition of having to press controller buttons during many of the cut-scenes in order to STAY ALIVE makes the adrenalin pump just a little more. Without let up either - which is the impressive thing ! It's always "Somethings going to happen ... SOMEthings GOING to happen ... IT'S HAPPENING ! IT'S BAD ! ARRRGGHHHH !!! ... whew ! I lived ! ... Somethings going to happen ... SOMEthings GOING to happen ..." from beginning to end. Freaking masterful.

3. "Silent Hill" ( ANY of them )

I have yet to play a video game as deeply unsettling as the Silent Hill series. I will not play those games alone - I get TOO scared. They also have complex and complicated story lines which are as disturbing ( if not more so ) that the action and nightmarish setting.

2. "Shadow of the Colossus"

The moral ambiguity of this game is very strong - and doesn't sit comfortably with a lot of gamers. The story is simple. You start with your character taking a young woman who look like she's in a coma ( Heck - she might even be dead, you really don't know ) into a big forgotten temple. An unearthly voice tells you that she can be saved - though at a price. You must hunt down and kill the Colossi - HUGE creatures of living stone, and she will be saved.

So - you begin to hunt them down and kill them.

The colossi don't seem to be evil or anything. They're just hanging out in the wilderness, chilling. Some are hostile at your intrusion into their territory ( and who could blame them ? ), some are more curious of you, some just ignore you and go about their colossi business.

There's something terribly sad about the way these massive leviathans collapse into a lifeless hulk of rock. And it's not long before you start asking yourself "Is killing these things the RIGHT thing to do ?". What's the value of one life against the lives of many ? Even if they ARE different to you ?

It's a heck of a question. Mind you - it's one that can provide some levity too

1. And coming in tops - it's


Man - this game. THIS game. It's something else. Done by the same studio that did "Shadow of the Colossus". The way it makes you want to protect the weakened and fragile Yorda ( to quote Hix "I've never felt to attached to an unliving collection of pixels like this !" ) from the Shadowy monsters sent by the Queen to get her back. The way it builds to it's sweeping climax - and the sorrowful AND joyous ending. Easily the most emotional experience I've had in video-gaming.

So - there you have it. What emotional experience have you had in the world of video gaming ? I'd be interested to know.


Conrad said...

Hey, Seraph. What's with the lists thing at the moment? Not that I'm complaining or anything, just seems to be a sudden theme.
Anyway, emotional moments in games...well, leaving aside the feeling of triumph from comquering the known universe in all the RTS I play, I would have to say Halflife 2. This is a real rollercoaster of a game, with everything from the "omygod only my gravity gun left, holding one circular saw blade, and I can hear LOTS of zombie-things up ahead", to the "COME ON, HAVE A GO IF YOU THINK YOU ARE HARD ENOUGH!!" when the dropships come in and you have full armaments. But what really got me was Dog, the robot. This guy is immensely tough, but also playful and great fun. You play catch with him to test out your gravity gun. Catch with 40 gallon drums! The second to last time you see him, when he opens the big gate for you to get through and then turns and faces the legions of soldiers and vehicles, I genuinely teared up from the self-sacrifice he was showing. For ages I thought he was dead, a very "last episode Blake's 7" moment. Actually, it almost felt like the bit where the cyclops holds the door open in Krull.


Seraph said...

Hey C-man ! So you noticed the list motif eh ? Yeah - I'm not sure where that came from. I think from exercises I was doing in class... I've found it gives me a bit of structure in this kind of writing !

Half-Life 2 - nice one man ! I had forgotten about Dog. He was a great piece of comic relief - that training sequence with the Grav-gun was pretty inspired ! There's some pretty SPOOOOOKY bits in that game. The whole second chapter was fairly intense ( especially when those monsters start running up the goddamn WALLS for Pete's sake ! ).

That reminds me of a game which would be in the top ten - System Shock 2. Did you ever play that ? Creepy with a capital 'kra' !

Conrad said...

Yeah, agree about System Shock 2. I think there is something alot more personally involving about a 1st person game you develop your character through. I'm thinking Jedi Knight and the like. BTW, did you hear about BioShock? By the guys who did System Shock 2, but with a "genetic experiments gone wrong!" premise. Looks mighty terrifying and quite icky. Gotta have it.