Sorry to disappoint, but this isnít a NVGR blog about how some terrible harlot broke my heart again. Nothing of the sort has happened. So letís clarify that title right off the bat: I do not currently feel any desire to cry (Iím actually rather great today, thanks for asking!). Instead, I feel a strong desire to find things that can make me cry.
I want those things to be video games.
For the tough and manly, the Marcus Fenixes among us, such nonsense is simply unacceptable. And, yeah, I get that. You want to fill the giant metal boots of Master Chief just to see dudes to die in quick succession. No problem. Iím just asking for a little more.
It all comes down to eliciting an emotional response, whether it is happiness (which games, by default, should do), sympathy, anger (hopefully not at the game mechanics), etc. I chose to write this blog about crying simply because itís so rare for me, especially at the hands of a video game. So far, only Metal Gear Solid 4 has succeeded for me, and by the gods, that game turned me into a weeping mess. It was not pretty. Iím sure when I play the game for a third time, it will happen all over again. Iíll fight it, but I also wonít kid myself. Itíll get me good.
The reason that this is so important to me is that I believe that video games have perhaps the greatest potential of any entertainment medium to create the strongest emotional responses. We have longer experiences with the characters and interactivityóboth great assets in the generation of emotional responses. So why does it seem so difficult for developers to make their games connect emotionally with players?
Donít Tell Me What to Do
Iím sorry Dom, but I donít give a damn about your wife. It might be insensitive to say, but your sadness means nothing to me. Itís not your fault, though; it is the fault of your makers. See, those who created you and your now lifeless corpse of a wife gave me absolutely no reason to give half a shit about your fight to save her.
And thatís exactly the problem: just because Dom cares about her wife doesnít mean that the player does. Without some sort of compelling reason, weíre not going to shed a tear just because the game tells us to. Weíre smarter than that. You canít tell us to feel somethingóyou have to make us feel it.
Itís even worse when a character on-screen starts crying. Nope, sorry generic RPG girl, but your tears are only making me giggle. Yet itís the same sort of situation: weíre told by the characterís tears that he or she is sad, but what motivation do we have to feel that way? Weíre not just going to cry by associationócrying isnít contagious like yawning (but, hey, yawning is certainly something that scenes like this bring about.)
On a related note: Otaconís many cries in Metal Gear Solid 4 are the opposite of the right way to do emotion. Having a weeping, poorly acted mess of a character is not the way to make us feel emotional about a story, no matter if you think it fits into his personality. Unless your writing has the strength to make us do the same thing, (which Metal Gear Solid 4 does indeed do a couple of times), then weíre just going to laugh. At you, not with you.
Itís a matter of Show, Donít Tell. Itís the oldest rule in the book, yet (especially for a visual medium) itís something that video games tend to really miss the mark on. Of course, I donít think any more than 1% of the games in existence today set out to create any sort of emotional atmosphere in the game whatsoever. But for those that do, at least put some effort into it.
Despite the fact that crying isnít exactly an enjoyable experience, I think itís important that some games set out to inflict this sort of pain upon its players. Only one video game in my life has made me cry; I think nowís the perfect time for games to change that. Not every game needs to have emotional content (if playing ExciteBots makes me teary, somethingís truly wrong in the world), but Iíd like to see a few more of them try.
And, hey, if they fail, Iíll just ridicule them. Fun for everyone! Look at me mocking him!