Having A Good Cry

By John Walker on August 3rd, 2009 at 12:00 pm.

I’m teased for a number of things. Whether it’s Kieron’s most backhanded, “The Funny One”, or Kieron’s calling me a bad healer, or Kieron… Wait, I’m teased by Kieron for a number of things. But perhaps the most common is to suggest that a game is likely to make me cry.

It’s my own fault. I’ve written quite openly about it in the past. I brought it upon myself. But thinking back, I can only think of two occasions when a game has brought me to tears. I may be forgetting something, but as is so often the case with the things for which one is mocked, it’s a pretty rare occurrence. I would much prefer it happened a lot more often.

I still deserve the mocking. I cry all the damn time at the most ridiculous things. Mostly TV shows. I recently saw Up at the cinema in the States and as well as snivelling all the way through, at one point let out the most extraordinary blub (the moment with the book, midway, people who’ve seen it), the person with me trying hard not to laugh out loud at me and instead calmly passing a tissue. Then after the film she laughed and laughed and laughed. I say this lest anyone who knows me thinks this is my attempt to claim to be anything other than a giant embarrassing crybaby. Games are simply a small part of this.

The two games that I can recall are Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon, and Dreamfall: The Longest Journey.

Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon

I’ve written about this game and crying before, so I can only summarise the moment here. It was a moment of extraordinary self-sacrifice in a thoroughly decent point-and-click adventure. Er, spoilers to come? George and Nico’s friend Bruno sacrifices his own life so the two characters can escape a collapsing temple. A noble act like that is impressive, but not the sort of thing that tends to jerk my tears. Instead it was the moment between George and Nico immediately after, as George’s face crumples as the reality sinks in, and Nico pushes aside her need to tease and just holds him. It was such an incredibly human moment, so honest, and while I didn’t really care about Bruno (despite his having been a regular in the series of games), it turns out I did care about George, and even more, about seeing the reality of how close they were, long before the game’s ending kiss.

Dreamfall: The Longest Journey

I’ve written enormous amounts about The Longest Journey, most recently (and I think finally successfully saying what I’ve been trying to say about it for a decade) in our Gaming Made Me series. But I’ve written far less about its sequel, Dreamfall. However, a lot of it was discussed in the enormo-interview I did with creator Ragnar Tørnquist. (I think the discussion about the role of the death of faith in the game makes for the best interview I’ve conducted.) Here I put quite a hefty warning of spoil if you’ve not played the game.

The moment of weeping was more about the death of Faith than the death of faith, but of course one was analogous for the other. Well, in fact, I cried twice during the game, both times over Faith’s death from different angles. The first time is in the Russian laboratory, where you find the room in which Faith was imprisoned. This is a child, an eight year old child at the time of her death, incarcerated and experimented upon. You already know the horror of her existence, having refused death to the point where she’s undoing reality. And now you see the awfulness of her life. It’s cleverly done. The first time you go into her room you don’t know what it is. Zoe, the main character, gives neutral descriptions of the crayon drawings on the walls, the small bed, the dollhouse. Confused, but neutral remarks. You then watch the security footage, realise what happened in there, and can go back in after. This time Zoe’s descriptions are heart-tearing. This 20 year old is empathising with the dreadful plight of the small girl, and the horror of her life. And at the same time, this is the story of faith falling apart. Zoe’s faith is being torn.

The second time comes at the very end. In The Winter, the reality Faith has built around herself in this non-existence, Zoe wanders in her TLJ-requisite underwear (I think the fragility this gives her justifies the decision), discovering the haunting full-scale version of Faith’s dollshouse, insanely tearing open at the front (as a dollhouse does) to reveal the cross-section of the rooms inside. Inside is this eight year old girl, sat on the floor, crying. She’s a terrified child, clinging on to a mockery of life. And Zoe’s role, Zoe’s reason for being dragged into this story, is to convince her to die. Here’s Ragnar’s words about that moment.

“Faith is clinging on to faith, because she’s clinging on to herself, and the concept of having faith that she’s still existing, while she’s obviously not existing. She’s dead, and she’s trapped inside the machines. That is destroying the world, but it’s also destroying this little girl. In order to save faith, you have to kill Faith. You have to destroy the past. Faith vanishes, and where she goes we never said. If that’s her spirit, then she goes to a better place. If that’s it, if you believe that’s the end, then it’s really kind of bleak. But it’s bleak in a way that has to be. You have to accept that transformation, and if that transformation is the end of everything, then that’s what you have to accept.”

I reiterate both these examples because I want to once again bang the drum I spend so much of my life banging. Games can be this good. They can have moments this remarkable. It takes a lot of passion, and most of all, a lot of honesty. I think perhaps honesty is the commodity most missing from game stories, and when it appears it can be the most remarkably evocative and moving experience. Cecil’s moment in Broken Sword was complete simplicity – two people who love each other putting aside their cat-and-mouse play acting for a moment of pure honesty, where they shared their love for each other when it was most needed. Tørnquist’s moment in Dreamfall was the culmination of two beautiful games ending in not only the necessary and non-exploitative death of a child, but the deaths of characters’ personal faiths. I have no issues at all with declaring that these moments brought me to tears. I’d be slightly concerned had they not.

I’m not asking for all games to make me cry. It would just get awkward and exhausting. But I am saying, game stories can do a great deal, and our expectations of them should be permanently very high.

Which raises the question: what specific moments of games have made you cry? Fess up, you’ll only get mocked forever.

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257 Comments »

  1. Lilliput King says:

    Hmmmm.

    I can’t think of any, which somehow dissapoints me, as if games have affected me so very little that I am left with no powerful memeories after years and years.

    I remember being fairly emotional at the end of World of Goo, on account of it being unbelievably lovely.

    Same for the end of Baldur’s Gate, most times I’ve played it through, but I imagine thats more down to the fact that a 120-odd hour journey has finally come to an end, and the adventure is over.

  2. Taillefer says:

    I cried once during Dreamfall. At that same point. Finding Faith’s room with the drawings, and the moment of realisation hits you. I can watch most things undisturbed, but I’m hopeless when it come to kids.

    I felt like I should have felt something during ‘that moment’ in Outcast. Maybe I was too young. But I didn’t feel very attached to the moment. If I played again now, but with no memory, who knows.

  3. Howard says:

    Just been racking my brains over this and I am sad to report that while PC gaming has brought me a massive amount of enjoyment over the years, especially in the realms of multi-player games, it has never successfully played the emotional card for me. Any and all truly emotive experiences I have had with games all played out on consoles, specifically those made for the PS2 in fact.

    How odd…

    Hmm… I’m actually a little shocked by that. Has there really been no PC title that has moved me in the way, say, Ico moved me? I’m gonna have to run through every game I have ever played now just to double check but so far i am coming up with zilch…

  4. richmcc says:

    I geniunely can’t remember a game that’s taken me that close to blubbing, but I’ve had plenty where I’ve had to set the mouse/controller down and think for a good five minutes.

    Most recent will have been Braid – not at the generally ambiguous ending I took on face value, but after having gone back to it, armed with the more in-depth reading of the finale and the allusions it makes to something much less trivial than one man’s fleeting relationship. I felt it was a particularly powerful and (perhaps overly) subtle description of the power of obsession, and realising your dreams.

    Being deliberately vague to accommodate those who didn’t catch the references the first time, or are yet to reach it. Google theories on the ending and the plot’s key theme if, like me, you didn’t put it together throughout the game. I found it a particularly humbling moment when it all slotted into place; made more so by the fact I’d almost written the story off as too self-involved.

  5. LewieP says:

    A friend of mine cried during FF7. You know the bit.

    I laughed at him then gave him a dig in the arm.

    I don’t remember any times I’ve cried at games, but there have been a ton of times games have had a significant emotional impact on me.

  6. Jim Rossignol says:

    I cannot cry. I am too manly. I simply flex my chin and gaze off at the horizon.

  7. Octaeder says:

    Just reading about the Russian lab in Dreamfall again brought goosebumps (although, admittedly, not tears)

    What a beautiful game.

  8. unwize says:

    Movies, yes, but no game has yet managed to hit me on that level. I’ve certainly been moved to sadness by games, but I’ve never been able to truly empathise with game characters on the same level as a good film performance.

    I suspect that for me it would require not only a particular alignment of relevant themes and excellent voice acting, but also a few more iterations in graphical fidelity, including more realistic facial expressions.

  9. chrisc says:

    It’s not a PC game, but Elite Beat Agents on the DS made me blub on the “You’re the Inspiration” level, which is incredibly cheesy, blatantly (emotionally) manipulative and yet ridiculously lovely. The other “Ouendan” games have similar sequences, but only this one has actually made me weep.

    I am not ashamed, but I probably ought to be.

  10. LewieP says:

    If we’re talking movies, the only one I can think of that makes me cry is LA Story.

  11. Bobsy says:

    Postman Pat on the Spectrum. One time the clock ran out and it was a big game over. I cried my tiny eyes out. I’d have been about four.

    Otherwise, no. Though I did mist up a bit when Cleitos the Great, warrior-king, dynamic dynast, helmet enthusiast, died. He died in his bed, an old, old man. Despite conquering most of Asia, Greece and eastern Europe within his lifetime he never achieved a glorious death in battle. How tragic.

  12. Fede says:

    Passage’s ending.

  13. Freudian Trip says:

    The only 2 films I’ve ever cried/had a lump in my throat at are The Lion King when I was a wee nipper and This Is England. Maybe I need a game about a young child revoking Nationalism/Facism to give me the tear-jerkiness I need.

  14. qrter says:

    I’ve never really cried at a game, although recently playing The Path I did get unexpectedly emotional at playing the Little-Red-Riding-Hoodiest of the girls, as her movements directly reminded me of my 4-year-old niece.

  15. AndrewC says:

    Unwize: it doesn’t need graphical fidelity, or even voice acting. It needs only context. Take Hal’s personality in 2001, done with just a blank emotionless voice and constantly cutting to a red dot.

    Or take the famous early cinema experiment (Russian. Can never remember the name) where a shot of an impassive face is intercut with different things. Put next to the image of a baby and audiences said the face showed a kind, paternalistic emotion. Put next to an image of war and the audience said the faced showed the emotion of horror.

    The face stayed exactly the same. Thus the same trick could be pulled with simply a jpeg and some text describing what that face is ‘reacting’ to.

    So the point is that it is not that games ‘can’t’ do emotion yet, but that they don’t.

  16. Mike says:

    I’m basically the same as you, John. I tend to cry a lot. Even if you think, “Jesus Christ, this is schmaltzy.” it’s normally followed by, “But… also… so beautiful…

    And then sobbing.

    So yeah. Too many games to list.

  17. giovanni says:

    Wing Commander II. BioForge’s ending. And that particular Silent Hill 2 ending brought tears to my eyes.

  18. Ian says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever cried at a game, but I found the part in Beyond Good and Evil when Jade returns home to find all the kids gone very, very sad.

    The last time I cried at something along these lines was at Turner and Hooch when I was 5.

    I’ve probably almost shed a tear at a great number of things, the most surprising of which would be a Futurama episode (“Jurassic Bark”, I just love the pooches) and an ep of The Simpsons (“And Maggie Makes Three”.)

  19. Dubbill says:

    Baldur’s Gate’s epilogue’s description of my life with Viconia had me teary eyed.

    Also: apostrophe triple-whammy!

  20. Hypocee says:

    None, sad to say. Darwinia came damn close, at the moais and the Temple, and that cruel cruel end-credits montage of the battlefields and their ghosts that I had put there. World of Goo’s ending with the same montage trick and the Goos I couldn’t save, thanks for reminding me Lilliput King. Team Ico’s come pretty close twice, though through the whole game rather than at specific moments.

  21. rei says:

    Games, movies, books, music, pretty pictures… I’ll cry at anything. It’s rather inconvenient.

    A bit surprisingly, the game that got me the worst was Crescendo, which is one of them visual novels of questionable moral character that you can’t admit to having interest in in polite society. I’d just gotten out of a fairly difficult long-term relationship, though, and I suspect my total breakdown wasn’t all the game’s doing.

  22. Lewis says:

    As I mentioned the other week, Galatea’s probably come the closest, getting me a little watery-eyed.

    Er. I think that’s it. Dear Esther sent tingles up my spine and actually left me properly speechless, but not teary. Same with a section in GTAIV that resonated for a particularly personal reason. But yeah — just Galatea.

  23. nikos says:

    Actually Dreamfall didn’t make me tearful. Photopia, on the other hand…. I can’t describe the game without spoilers or without trivialising what it did, but it moved me to tears.

  24. Morningoil says:

    Well, this is pretty spectaculame, but the moment that immediately springs to mind is the end of Unreal 2. Not a great game, to put it generously, but the ending … just … got me.

    Team Ico! Having watched the trailer for The Last Guardian, I suspect that if I do come to play it ever, and if the bird thing does end up dying as everyone seems to suggest it must, then West London will have a new river running through it.

  25. TOOTR says:

    I have been known to well up (something in my eye of course) during many kinds of movies and, oddly enough, more often at happy sweeping finales where all was lost but somehow someone has managed to save the day than the traditional dying parent gives last words of never spoken before pride etc etc.
    This is more likely to occur in a darkened movie cinema with large screens and bombastic surround sound systems pummeling my emotions until they leak out of my eyes.
    Although music and books can make my eyes well up (someone cooking onions of course) too.

    YET – I do not remember ever crying at (with?) a game before. Not even with frustration at it’s unfair AI or a corrupted save file. Its bound to happen eventually and I look forward to it. A good cry is a cathartic process that cleans out the system I say or maybe as FOTC would sing- ‘an inflammation in my tear gland’

    I did feel deep sadness when I lost a squadmember in Mass Effect. This wa only a couple of nights ago but it’s still on my mind. Surely a sniffle or too can’t be far behind those feelings?

  26. sfury says:

    I don’t remember crying over a game either. Now that doesn’t make me a cold-hearted monster because to this day my most favorite games are the ones that moved me most emotionally – Grim Fandango, Planescape Torment, Braid, and I cherish those more than other games that are arguably more technically perfect as gameplay, production values etc.

    But I’ve never got to crying over any of these, it’s just something rarely happens to me even in the most saddening circumstances.

    The only one game that has really come close though is Grim Fandango. I still remember watching the ending credits heart-broken, 10 years ago.

    HOW COULD IT END?

    I’ll never get over that. I’ve replayed it 3 or 4 times. I’ve never replayed anything else more than a second time and it’s a damn adventure goddammit, nothing changes, everything is exactly the same. And I already feel it’s time to visit it again.

  27. mrrobsa says:

    Yeah, I cried at the FF7 bit. I didn’t even like her but I’d never played a game where that could happen so I think it was shock as much as anything, that and the lovely score.
    MGS4 gave me a lump in my throat towards the end too.
    Some people will probably never be moved by a game as they don’t/won’t invest in the story or characters.

  28. Munin says:

    It was predictable, but: Mafia ending.

  29. Cooper says:

    I almost cried at that bit in Fahrenheit when the ex girlfriend comes over. I didn’t actually know there was a potential sex scene at the end of that until I played again (which is just awkward). I think one of the other options leads to a stand-up row.

    In any case, they drank, chatted and played some mediocre guitar. In the end, choosing between kissing her and saying goodbye, I said goodbye. The hurt in the actor’s voice and the eyes of the model gave away the love and need that was still there, but the pain of knowing it wasn’t going to work which had made the preceeding scene so awkward but touching.

    By far the best acting I’ve seen in any game came from Fahrenheit – in that it was genuinely moving and managed, on occasion, to illicit real empathy for these uncanny valley characters.

    In any case, that game had some moments of incredible inspiration and acting like no other game. It also had annoying QTEs and went batshit crazy half way through. Shame.

  30. mrrobsa says:

    EDIT: Last sentence not to be construed as an attack on anyone here who ain’t blubbed. Sorry for double post.

  31. Dan Lawrence says:

    I love the section with the song that plays out just after the section in the russian laboratory. It seemed to me perfectly in tune with the numbness, failure and helplessness that Zoe was feeling at the time. You are given no goals, no objectives, no puzzles left to solve you are just left with nothing to do but make your way back to Zoe’s room alone and friendless through the quiet streets of her hometown. All the while a perfectly judged haunting song plays with a female vocal lasting, in my case, exactly as long as it took to reach Zoe’s room. One of my favourite gaming moments.

    Eyes were definitely moistened.

  32. sfury says:

    Oh and Photopia gets an honorable mention – still didn’t manage to break my walls, but saddened me a lot. But funny – made me at the same time very happy that I had read/been involved into something so beautiful. :)

  33. Vasagi says:

    Bah too busy doing push ups and ignoring cover systems to cry, although one time my eye did water after a back-drft of smoldering cigar ash hit me in the eye.

    off now to do 5000 sit ups, and to steal candy from babies

  34. Rinox says:

    Never cried over a game, but came close a few times. The last time I remember was the end of HL2: Episode 2. That haunting “Don’t leave me” of Alyx while the screen faded to black really shook me up.

  35. Gassalasca says:

    I’m sad to say that I’ve never cried playing a game.
    There have been many manly lip-wobbling moments though, a couple both in TLJ/Dreamfall and Syberia. The others I’ve mostly forgotten.

    But generally speaking, I am surprised at realising what makes my eyes go watery. Tha fact that poignant music is usually involved doesn’t surprise me. What does is the fact that too often there’s a patriotic side to the moment.
    For example, watching footage of Churchill’s funeral with Battle Hymn of the Republic playing in the background. Or Kenneth Branagh delivering the St. Crispin’s Day speech in Henry V.
    And I’m not even English.

  36. bansama says:

    I can’t think of any game that has made my eyes water, which is the nearest I ever come to crying (I haven’t cried since I was a child; not even when a close relative passed away) .

    There have been plenty of movies that have moved me, but not a single game. The ending HL2: EP2 almost moved me, it was certainly a downer, but it just wasn’t enough to tip me over the edge.

  37. Lars Westergren says:

    @sfury You beat me to it… I was also going to mention Grim Fandango, and Planescape Torment. The latter didn’t make me want to cry, but it is the only game where I’ve had to go for an hour of walk & think before I could answer a single question posed to me in a dialogue.

  38. shinygerbil says:

    @chrisc: High-Five! I totally shed a tear at that bit. The worst bit was my girlfriend staring at me as if I were mad.

    As for other gaming moments that have made me cry….. It’s not really a gaming moment per se, but http://animalcrossingtragedy.ytmnd.com/ still gives me goosebumps. :’(

  39. Lewis says:

    Nikos: Photopia, yes, that’s another that came close. That slow realisation of what’s going on, then that second where it all falls awfully into place… really magically tragic stuff.

  40. Lewis says:

    And yeah, that scene in Fahrenheit too. That bit before it becomes impossibly shit.

  41. Gnoupi says:

    @sfury : the last “Viva la revolucion”, with a broken voice, from Salvador…

  42. Lanster27 says:

    Final Fantasy 8 when I was small. The ending credit where everyone is reunited, even Laguna finds bittersweet conclusion to his journey, made the whole game (50hrs +) seems not wasted. Childhood are good times.

  43. Hermit says:

    Most examples already mentioned I’ll second. Loom’s ending upset me when I played through the game as a kid. There were also both Klonoa games (PS1/PS2 respectively) which had such sad endings. Yeah, I’m a wuss. Fable 2 had its moments as well.

    Also, not actual tears, but I did feel sad when I found Alma’s tree and tyre swing at the end of FEAR2. You’ve been seeing it in all her visions as this wonderful place with green rolling fields, and it turns out to be just another prison. Course, any emotions the game managed to provoke from me were utterly destroyed when it decided to jump the shark (in slow motion) right at the end.

  44. Psychopomp says:

    The “bad” ending of Silent Hill 2

    The bit in FFX, when it’s revealed what happens to summoners after fighting Sin.

    The end of Ico

    Near the end of Shadow of the Collosus

    At this rate, I’m sure Team Ico’s next game, The Last Guardian, will reduce me to tears at some point, and is probably when I’ll get a PS3 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WqvIITrYdyo&feature=related) They’re just so good at making you bond with those pixels.

    On a different note, Shenmue has retroactively moved me to tears, because 3′s never, ever, going to be made at this point.

  45. Lanster27 says:

    And oh of course, how can I forget, the part in Planescape Torment where you look into the vision sphere left by Deionarra, how you see your evil self manipulating her, and how you react to it. Most powerful part of the game, and told by mere words is simply a great achievement in games.

  46. Hypocee says:

    Oh yes, lots of bits in Grim Fandango including that wonderful ending. How could I have forgotten? This wasn’t intended to be a +1, I came back to say that for some reason I found the ghost bride sequence in Curse of Monkey Island quite moving.

    On the negative side, I am apparently twisted through the fourth dimension WRT Psychonauts; the whole world thinks it’s a brilliant emotional story with shoddy gameplay, I thought it was a very enjoyable platformer (meat circus, no problem) polluted by disgustingly clunky, exploitative stories. Agent Klein and Coach Somethingorother were the only ones with the restraint to carry their worlds. I literally shuddered in disgust at “Oh, you don’t want to go in there, darling” and “Why doesn’t he shut up and kiss me already?”

  47. CMaster says:

    Don’t think I’ve ever cried from a game, or not in memory anyway (who knows, may have cried from frustration at Whizzkid or something as a small child). Closest I ever came was probably the second mission of Homeworld. Part of it is just the cheap trick of using Agnus Dei. But the sadness anger inside of me and the cold, shellshocked voices from Fleet Command and Intel. Damn. Helped I think that I’d read the full back story of Kharak in the manual before playing as a result of having got the game when away from the PC for a few days.

  48. Petethegoat says:

    I liked the quick-time events in Fahrenheit. Am I a monster?

    The second half admittedly isn’t as good, but I never thought it was bad at all. The flying-fighting was a bit shit though. Not really as epic as it was supposed to be. :p

  49. feighnt says:

    Ian: oh bloody hell – that ep of Futurama! assuming it’s the same one i’m thinking of…

    i hadnt cried for something like ten years or more – got a bit choked up and all that, sure, but never *cried* – until i saw THAT episode. the whole thing was giving me a rising sense of dread, and that ending, with the dog just waiting there, while they played that song… that just killed me. i still get choked up thinking about it :(

  50. Phlebas says:

    The end of Ico.
    Okami – conversely a beautiful game about the rebirth of faith. I was coping fine until a moment when someone decides to be a hero.
    Today I Die, being all poetic and unexpected.
    The ending of the first Syberia.
    I’m sure there’s something else on the edge of my mind too but I can’t quite think of it.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      I’m pretty sure I’ve never cried at a game while playing, but thinking about Okami sometimes makes me feel all teary, mainly from all the happy memories. It’s one of the most uplifting games ever, in so many ways, and it makes me kind of glad to be alive, like some of the better Studio Ghibli movies do.

      Plus, wolves and mythology are two of my most favouritest things, so…

      Where’s my PS2?

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