Emotions and gaming don’t always go hand in hand but when they do the interactive nature of games can make those moments incredibly gut wrenching and heartfelt. Gone are the days when we stare at a 16 bit sprite running left to right dodging generic monsters on a screen with little more motivation than the princess is in another castle. Now we are able to interact with high definition, fully motion captured and facially animated characters with rich back stories while adventuring in whatever chosen world we wish to inhabit during our travels.
Since the emergence of complex storytelling in games, designers have tried to imbue their games with varying degrees of emotional gravitas. Sometimes its laughable and sometimes its incredible but I believe we are in a time when a well crafted story with memorable characters can rival any book, tv show or movie and even perhaps surpass them. That being said I’d like to share the moments in gaming that have genuinely moved me since I was able to hold a controller. These are just a few of my favorite moments and by no means do I consider them “the best” or the only ones in gaming, just my personal favorites. Let me know yours in the comments.
Oh and Spoiler alert for Final Fantasy 7, Halo 4, Metal Gear Solid 5, Mass Effect 3 and Telltale’s The Walking Dead.
Final Fantasy VII- Aerith Dies
This is an obvious one which is why i’ve started with it. FF7 was probably one of the first games I had when I got my Playstation and hell did I sink a lot of hours into it. I remember how I thought this game is actually pretty bloody deep compared to the mindless shooters I was use to playing and genuinely that Sephiroth was a complete dick by the time I left Midgar.
Then after leveling up my badass team of heroes and taking the lovely Tifa out at the Gold Saucer, one of my party was kidnapped and like a bat out of hell I rushed to a crater at the top of the map and found the sweet and innocent Aerith kneeled down trying to save the planet with her strange magic. Then the rest is history, that arse hole Sephiroth dropped down and put his sword through her back, christ that hurt me at the time.
I think that was the first time I actually felt sad at losing a character in a game and it showed me even then as a kid that games were more than just a way to kill time and stop me thinking about that hell called school.
Metal Gear Solid: The Phantom Pain- Killing the Infected
The Phantom Pain is one of my favorite games of all time, I honestly consider it a masterpiece of gaming along with many other people and many other gaming news outlets. Metal Gear Solid’s 5th outing is not your standard Metal Gear game as it focuses much more on raw gameplay than on a convoluted story with 3 hour cutscenes every now and again but it still has its fair share of storytelling and character development.
Big Boss has a hell of a backstory filled with tragic moments and for those who know the lore of the Metal Gear universe you know he’s a tortured soul who wants nothing more to be free from the will of those who would sacrifice people they deem expendable for their own political desires(RIP The Boss). That’s why while some would say the story in the Phantom Pain is under developed, I would says its the perfect subplot to explain why Big Boss would eventually go on to be one of the series most influential villain.
Late on in the game a virus you thought was contained and even cured comes back to haunt Big Bosses base and many of his soldiers. While many know the virus actually killed many more when you first encounter it, all those deaths happen off screen which is not the case the second time around. A quarantined part of the base has turned into a horror house with those who are in different stages of infection fighting and hiding to stay alive.
After preventing the spread of infection to the wider world you’re left with one choice against this incurable disease, eliminate your own soldiers. This is a truly gut wrenching experience for several factors one of which is that most of the soldiers you have to kill, you actually went out of your way on the battlefield to recruit yourself. You’re forced to gun down every man and woman you encounter with an onscreen message reminding you that your hard earned heroism score is decreasing every time a soldier dies.
What’s worse is the one soldier you attempt to rescue is infected just before leaving quarantine forcing you to gun him down just at the exit. You’re also treated to several soldiers proudly saluting Big Boss knowing that he has to shoot them before the infection sends them mad. The mission ends with Big Boss walking through the corridors of the base bloodsoaked, dropping to his knees and screaming in pain. Easily the most powerful scene in gaming i’ve had in awhile.
Telltale’s The Walking Dead Season 1- Lee Dies
Telltale have done an absolutely amazing job with the Walking Dead series of episodic games. The point and click style adventure game has been transferred almost perfectly onto consoles by the developers and you have to commend them for the use of the source material. I admit to not having much enthusiasm to play the first episode when the game was first released but decided to play anyway because of how big a fan of the show I am and i’m glad I did now.
Telltale’s The Walking Dead Season 1 follows Lee Everett, a convicted criminal and his companion Clementine, a young girl left home alone while her parents are away evading the Walkers. At the end of season one Lee and Clem have worked up a very touching father daughter relationship and playing as Lee you instinctively make every decision on keeping her safe and well. One such decision leads to Lee being bitten by a Walker and racing to save Clem from a madman while fighting the infection for as long as possible.
After a thrilling episode with plenty of highs and lows Lee finally manages to save Clementine but he only has a short amount of time to speak with her before he turns. As the player you’re forced to speak to Clementine and try to instill some final words of wisdom before the end comes.
It’s a truly heartfelt conversation between two characters that you have honestly learned to care about over the five episodes. What really turns on the waterworks though is the end of the conversation you have to make the choice between having Clementine shoot Lee and put him out of his misery or allow him to turn so Clem can save the ammo. Both are absolutely horrific choices but are in keeping with both the source material and the game and if you weren’t crying at this point well I guess you just have no soul.
Halo 4- Cortana Dies
Halo is the best first person shooter series ever, period! I can already hear fanboy and fangirl battle lines being drawn based on that statement but the one thing Halo has that Call of Duty and Battlefield don’t is an iconic hero and an incredible and rich story. One thing that it has is the dynamic between Master Chief and his faithful AI companion Cortana.
If you play the Halo series throughout you begin to see why the Chief needs Cortana and why she needs him. They remind each other of something maybe neither of them really has, humanity. An AI created to aid soldiers and a soldier engineered to end a war become the best of friends, hell if you change the premise it would almost make a decent Pixar movie.
The 4th outing of the series sees the Chief and Cortana being marooned in deeps space after a long hyper sleep and a short time after being awoken Chief realises Cortana is not herself. Having started to succumb to rampancy, a kind of AI old age Cortana begins to act irrationally even putting their lives at risk. The chief vows to get Cortana back to Earth and get her the help she needs, but they must fight a new and terrible threat first.
Throughout the game you can see a sense of urgency arise between the two with a few heartfelt moments in between along with one of my favorite quotes in the Halo Universe “I can give you over forty thousand reasons why I know that sun isn’t real. I know it because the emitter’s Rayleigh effect is disproportionate to it’s suggested size. I know because it’s stellar cycle is more symmetrical than that of an actual star. But for all that, I’ll never actually know if it looks real… if it feels real… before this is all over, promise me you’ll figure out which one of us is the machine.”
What brings the game to a close is a showdown between the Chief and a powerful enemy who is attacking Earth and just as he believes Cortana is able to be saved she embraces her rampancy and splits her program to destroy the enemy, his ship and save the Chief. The moment between the Chief reaching saftey and Cortana passing is a kind of Tron esc style goodbye with Cortana actually able to interact with the Chief for the first time.
It’s a brilliant scene made all the better by Cortana voice actress Jen Taylor who put in one hell of a performance with a seemingly intentional break in her voice as Cortana touches the Chief for the first and last time before saying goodbye.
Mass Effect 3- Tali and Shepard’s Goodbye
A lot has been said about the ending to Mass Effect 3 but let’s just remember the saga, after a fan uproar the studio decided to give us a 1.5 GIGABYTE download for free to address fan concerns that, in my opinion anyway made the ending quite enjoyable. Not to mention for the really nerdy of us know that the ending we got was not necessarily the ending the series was meant to have as the main writer left towards the end of the second game. The Reaper mission was originally meant to have something to do with dark energy not the rise of AI’s. Yeah who knew eh.
Having gotten that off my chest i’d like to share what I honestly consider the greatest piece of voice acting in any game, ever. There are plenty of moments across the trilogy that could go on a list like this, in fact you could probably make a much longer list like this just from Mass Effect but the moment I have chosen is with everyone’s favorite Quarian, Tali Zorah Vas Normandy.
To many including myself Tali is one of the most interesting characters in the Mass Effect series and this is in no small way due to the fantastic writers. Since you never see Tali’s face you have to solely rely on her dialogue and voice acting, which are both simply perfect.
There is a point towards the end of the game, just before you embark on the final push that you can make your goodbyes to the crew and companions you have made throughout the 100+ hours you have put in over three games. If you have romanced Tali Zorah throughout the game you are treated to a truly touching moment between your character and Tali as they say their final goodbye and tell each other their feelings. One line in this scene tears me up every single time. Tali is reminiscing about a time on her home planet and stating unequivocally that she “wants more time.” Liz Sroka voices Tali and during that one line her voice breaks and it is bloody incredible acting and gut wrenching for the player.