Games in 2017 that made me cry (for better or worse)
2017 was a year where, unfortunately, video games happened. Now there are signs in the stars that they will happen in 2018, too. 2017 also was a terrible year overall. Coincidence? Hardly. So, until we’re free from this magnificent infestation we call gaming, all we can do is begrudgingly play these things, these ‘games’, and gauge them on what they excel at: making us suffer.
And what better measure for suffering than the body’s own waterworks? That’s right: tears. There are things that manage to make you cry, an excess of the elusive ‘emotion’. When something makes you cry, it’s either succeeded at something or did something horribly on accident. Whether you cry because you’re happy, sad, or angry, or because of something less clear-cut than that, video games have been known to make people cry. And they’ve made me cry more than once this year.
And I will never forgive them.
5. Hollow Knight
Hollow Knight is a game I’ve written about before. You’re a tiny bug with a sword and a dream, so already that’s an amazing premise. Fighting your way through the ruins of long abandoned kingdoms, overgrown pathways, and hostile ant colonies, you get the feeling that you’re not discovering something new. You’re visiting something that has been lost — cultures and technologies before you. Despite the lonely echoes in the architectures, there are plenty of friendly characters that greet Bug on their journey. A silly cartographer whose ambition exceeds his age, a pompous warrior who finds himself in the maws of some terrible beast, a charming mask-wearing man who is merely exploring, just like Bug…
Then, there’s Myla. A happy little miner when you first meet her — she sings a song for Bug and asks them to sing along. They don’t, and she starts explaining why she likes that song so much and how singing and mining are the best things ever.
The second time you go to check up on her (she’s always in the same place, digging for those treasures!), she’s seemed to have forgotten some of the lyrics of the song she loves so much, so she’s resorted to humming the melody instead. At this point, I was already so not okay with what was happening. The third time, she sings a different song. About meaninglessness and the darkness. The plague has gotten to her; you have to kill her. There’s an item in Hollow Knight that lets you read the minds of NPCs (and their corpses). Her last thought: “How much longer must I dig?”
4. Finding Paradise
The long-awaited sequel to that notorious tear-jerker To The Moon, Finding Paradise is the exact same except worse. By which I mean better. By which I mean it deals with dying, happiness, and the circumstances that make up both even more meaningful, more resonating, more soul-crushing.
In both To The Moon and Finding Paradise, a corporation called Sigmund Corp. developed a machine that can create artificial memories and implant them in people. Dystopian in its own right, the company uses this technology to allow terminally ill patients in their final stages of life to remember a better life than they actually lived. Their sorrows, their regrets, their mistakes — with their full consent, patients allow their memories to be rewritten in order to believe they lived the life they never got to. Everything about this sequel is a beautiful continuation of this gentle, evocative, bittersweet world. The lives lived of patients are still rife with gutting moments, their family members are still wrapped up in a confusing, uncertain ordeal, Eva is still the same serious, but lovably snarky woman and Neil is still kind of a blunt asshole. All of this, presented in a charmingly simple RPG Maker aesthetic and with a clever, funny script, makes for an emotional experience with peaks and valleys that are worth remembering.
Improving the memories of someone who knows exactly where it went wrong is a heavy issue that deals with family as much as it does with the person itself. I find a lot of comfort and closure in this game/these games, mostly because my grandmother is dying of Alzheimer’s. At the point of writing this, I’m not even an hour into the game but I’ve basically filled that hour with tears. It just makes me happy, and already really sad thinking about what might be next. If commodities were truly capable of being the comforting, necessary construct they sold themselves to be, this game would be what I’d consider a friend.
Tears: 500, will be more
3. Nier: Automata
There’s nothing I can say about Nier that hasn’t already been thinkpieced to shit or livetweeted in understandable cry-typing. Maybe I can link to the piece I wrote for ZEAL about Yoko Taro’s other games? In any case, if you’ve played the game, it’s clear that the game intends to move the player by engaging them on distinctly emotional terms. The language, visual and textual, pieces together a narrative that draws players into thinking about its themes: identity and purpose, war and propaganda, life and value, and, finally what does it mean to be human? Yoko Taro doesn’t invite players to think about anything by asking them outright, though; instead he forces them into a stunned silence where you can’t help BUT think about the meaning and purpose of it all, and how you feel about it.
There were two very clear-cut moments where this happened to me, and I cried after the both of which. The first was the ‘Wise Machine’ sidequest in Route B. In this quest, prime fuccboi 9S hacks into a couple of machines standing on the edge of a tall precipice, staring off into the distance. Inside their systems, you hear them think aloud: they realise their designed purpose is to fight, but they are empirically bad at combat. Ergo, they cannot fulfill their purpose. Ergo, they have no purpose. Ergo, they have no reason to continue existing. After an escalation of completely rational and sober thoughts, each machine jumps leaps to their death. This stuck with me like a knife in a chest: a machine arriving at the perfectly logical (not reasonable) conclusion that it should die was an emotional impact I didn’t expect nor possibly knew how to brace myself against.
The second time was in the aftermath of the attack on Pascal’s village. A fatherly figure with a village of pacifistic machines, his home is attacked and he barely manages to escape with the only remaining inhabitants: a handful of machine children. You help him fight off waves of attackers to ensure the safety of the last survivors, but, it’s too late. You go back inside; there, you see that, horrifically, all the children have stabbed a bolt through themselves, their AIs made unsalvageable. Even though they simply look like the tinier versions of the standard enemy type, the time you spent in Pascal’s village lets you know them, familiarise yourself with them, and recognise them as what they’ve been programmed to be: innocent children. And seeing these small, affect-given bodies with a metal stake driven through their chest, I cried my eyes out. I also resent that scene.
Yoko Taro succeeded, at that point, in making me feel an emotion, but it was an overwhelmingly awful one. Having the goal of making games emotional is a commendable one that should be supported, but it’s a double-edged sword to have your goal be “make people feel” if you deem it unimportant what they’ll feel or how you’ll make them feel it. This is why I remember Nier: Automata on a blacker page than it probably deserves to be.
Tears: Fuck video games forever
2. Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne
Okay so I know Nocturne came out in 2004 but I played it this year, therefore it counts.
Anyway, the game rules but there’s not much in terms of cry-material. BUT: if you try to recruit a Jack Frost when you already have a Jack Frost in your party, this happens:
They’re so happy to see each other!!!!!!! It made me so happy I cried!!!!!!!!!!!!!
1. New Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony [!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!SPOILER WARNING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!]
Danganronpa is a series best known for two things: that wacky bear and the rampant violence. The formula is simple: a cast of sixteen teenage meritocrats are trapped on a remote location and are forced to participate in a ‘killing game’. Basically what if an American game-show involved the contestants choking each other out. If someone commits a murder, a mock trial is called into life in order to democratically elect the culprit. If the jury, consisting of every surviving teen up to that point, votes for the wrong person, they all die and the murderer gets off scot-free. Conversely, if they get it right, only the murderer dies in a very well-animated, half-comical, half-gruesome cutscene.
[!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!THIS IS THE SPOILER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!]
In the fourth trial, it’s revealed that your big friend and lovable giant Gonta Gokuhara was set up by massive fucker Kohichi ‘Small Komaeda’ Ouma into committing a murder for him. The murder took place in a digital game — and Kokichi tricked Gonta into killing in what is basically the whole premise of Sword Art Online. A self-proclaimed gentleman, his gracefulness never wavered as he had to hear from his friends and from Kokichi himself that he’d been set up to kill, and subsequently, to die. I loved him — he was my friend who loved bugs, and I cried like a baby.
[!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!SPOILER IS NOW OVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!]
So, my journey through video games as a medium of woe and distress comes to an end. Though only this year, because as long as video games exist, we will all continue to toil in this fallow, interactive muck. Perhaps next year, with the release of Ace Combat 7 and Monster Hunter World, I’ll be able to find a bit of joy in my life again. Probably not, looking at the vector of the world. I just hope that you, dear reader, get to enjoy the video games you play as an experiential totality, an artistic enrichtment, and just as a plain ol’ good time.