Koster and Crying

Something I often hear is of a loose goal of games as a medium: to make the player cry. I’m confident that this has already occurred in many story-heavy, cinematic games. But does this count?

In cinema, directors call upon lighting, music, story and actors to construct a massive wall of sensation. If they want you to cry, or laugh, they can generally do it. This power is also given to game developers when cutscenes and scripted in-game events take place. However, as expressed in an earlier post, this is a form of “cheating”.

In my opinion, for a game to fairly consider itself to achieve any kind of emotion as a game, it ought to do so through the mechanics and natural dynamics of gameplay. If it achieves this through a cutscene, then I believe that it’s more the medium of cinema that is achieving the emotion.

Can the game itself invoke strong emotions in the player? I believe so. Raiding in World of Warcraft manages to create high levels of stress for players, followed by a great spectrum of emotions based on the outcomes of battles: from immense disappointment at coming close but dying at the last second, to slight disappointment at losing a fight which you never expected to win, to minor success at killing something for the twentieth time and receiving loot as a reward, to incredible accomplishment and glory at defeating a powerful enemy for the first time, with a large group of friends who have stood together, training exhaustedly for days or weeks to reach that point. I would be shocked if those extremes had never drawn tears from anybody.

When I killed Ragnaros for the first time, it was emotional, but not because a great evil had been purged from the world of Azeroth; it was because it was a reward for the hard work put in by my friends over the weeks, to get that far. Likewise, when a football team wins a game, they manage to feel emotional without having a demon appear at the end to slay their captain.

While I have no objection to the use of cinematic techniques in video games (they contribute greatly to the player’s experience, and the overall experience is the entire point of all this), I do take issue with games claiming to take a victory for the medium, with an achievement earned outside of gameplay. I want to hear of games making people cry because of anxiety or drama or unfairness or victory, from the dynamics of the game itself.


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