GDC 2010
How Can Videogames Make Us Cry?

Greg Tito | 13 Mar 2010 20:14
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"There's more to this ending that deals with issues of family that is very touching, but for me, that was the moment right there. Although, I must admit, I didn't cry," Rouse said. There was a burst of laughter when the somewhat violent ending was playing and Rouse said it was just like George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life. Perhaps the juxtaposition didn't work, but the point he was trying to make is that perhaps it's the happiest and most triumphant moments in games that can make us cry.

The theme of loss and recovery can be very powerful. TO illustrate this, Rouse showed a clip of an old silent film called Sunrise in which a man plots to kill his wife, can't go through with it, and then loses her in an accident. The man goes through an extraordinary journey of finally realizing that what his wife was worth to him only to have her taken from him. The film goes an extra step in drawing out emotion though when it's finally revealed that his wife survived the accident after all. You don't realize what you have until it is gone.

Gaming examples for this emotion are Floyd in the text game Planetfall and even GlaDOS in Portal where characters who are nuisances or even trying to kill you can still exhibit that pain of loss when they are gone. Rouse then compared this to the experience he had playing Nintendogs with his 2 year old daughter. They created a dog called Goofu and would spend hours together with him doing the more complicated parts and the daughter doing the feeding and petting. "Then when I was away on a business trip, my wife called me and told me that Goofu was gone. I was destroyed by this news," Rouse said with a laugh. "I was seriously depressed for like days. But when I came back, we played it and this amazing thing happened where Goofu came back." Apparently, Nintendo had built in a mechanic where your dog can run away if you don't feed it or play with it for a while but there's a chance that it will find its way back home. "There was just this amazing moment when Goofu came back. I was actually brought to tears."

The last way Rouse discussed in which games can make you cry is with nostalgia, which actually encompasses a lot of the elements already discussed. He showed this great clip from Mad Men in which Don Draper is pitching the Carousel slide projector for Kodak. This idea, that experiencing the joyful pain of life over and over, can be very moving and has definitely brought me to tears in the past. Games can do that too, by showing us what we've seen and allow us to feel nostalgia for how we used to play when we were kids.

You may agree with some of the ways Rouse outlined that games can make us cry, or even which specific examples he used, or you may vehemently disagree. And you may have some talented people arguing on your side.

At the panel, I overheard a guy behind me say, "If I were doing this panel, I don't think I would have used any of those things. I honestly would have given that speech completely differently."

When I turned around, I saw that the guy who said that was Warren Spector.

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