306: Disney-Colored Death

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tahrey:
There are plenty of disney games out there you know... including this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lion_King_%28video_game%29 in which I presume you die quite often.

I remember that game! And I wanted to squeeze it into the article, but it just didn't fit. As I recall, you die a lot, it was absolutely impossible. But as zerobudgetgamer points out, it didn't linger on the death stuff at all.
(The Disney Villain deaths were something else I wanted to fit in but didn't have enough room for: they're proof of how much reactions matter, I reckon).

shado_temple:

I'm with Timmehexas, that's just cruel! I pressed play just expecting it to be the music...

EvilPicnic:
And you're quite right that in any other narrative media the prospect of death is the great source of pathos, and something which games lose out on when any 'death' is impermanent. I have been thinking about what mechanics you could use to get around this, but the obvious ones (such as 'permanent' death) just result in games which are either boring, or frustratingly hard. Hmmm.

This is something I spent a lot of time thinking about. The best conclusion I can come to is that you feel the death of others more strongly, so the emerging trend for perma-dead NPCs that you're made to care about is the way forward, kind of like The Gentleman mentions. Another way of doing it is the way Roguelikes (of which Spelunky is the most playable example) do, making you care about the character in terms of stats and items you build (and randomly creating a unique world) and then one death meaning the permanent end of that.

Dastardly:
This'll sound odd, but the first thing that popped into my head while reading this is the difference between Hostel and Hostel II. Bear with me on this, it makes total sense by the end.

Woah, that's quite the reply. Fascinating stuff, man.

Izzyisme:
I am tired of Escapist writers citing Jason Rohrer's Passage as an example of where games need to be moving to.

Hands up on this one. I don't have any great love for Passage (Rohrer is a really interesting person to follow), and it's such an easy pick to represent 'art games', but it provided a perfect example for what I meant about mechanics bending away from the traditional gaming way, and in a way that mirrors a filmic approach. So, yeah, I'll agree it's an easily over-used game, and I think in a lot of ways it's a dead-end in terms of what games 'could' be because it's so much it's own thing. But it makes death part of the game WITHOUT being part of the narrative, in a traditional sense.

F'Angus:
We need a Bambi like game (though I watched it the other day and was really surprised by how quickly the death scene is over.)

I deeply recommend everyone goes back to the film and watches this scene and the next. It's surprising how short it is for such an iconic moment. But especially how sudden the next scene is. It literally jumps back to the sunniest, Disneyiest bit of the entire film within seconds and completely disregards the death. Which contrasts interestingly with what Dastardly was saying...

Tin Man:

The thing is, before gaming can get its Lion King or its Up, it needs its Disney or its Pixar.
We need a champion for the kind of thinking that rocks the boat by inventing the artform it goes on to perfect.
It has to be said, I don't think that videogames can ever reach that level.

Really? Aw, man. I don't think we're too far away. Valve is probably the nearest we've got to a Pixar, in terms of building the foundations for Great Art. From what I've played so far, Portal 2 is probably the greatest comedy game ever made, and laughing is just as important as crying, right?

...But thanks so much everyone, for reading, and commenting, and then overwhelmingly having such (suspiciously) nice things to say! There's already a link at the end of the article, but to take the opportunity to plug for a moment, check out my website (www.alex-spencer.co.uk) if you fancy reading more of my work.

And, finally, sorry to anyone I dredged up those painful memories for. ;)

Alex Spencer:

Really? Aw, man. I don't think we're too far away. Valve is probably the nearest we've got to a Pixar, in terms of building the foundations for Great Art. From what I've played so far, Portal 2 is probably the greatest comedy game ever made, and laughing is just as important as crying, right?

Firstly, thanks for taking the time to get back to me, and I've added your website to my list of things to check on my lunchtimes XD.

Regarding your reply, I actually thought on my own point and considered it for a little while, and Valve did indeed pop into my head as the kind of thing I might be talking about, but I talked myself out of it... Valve, while I agree they're the great, independent and forward thinking team that we've got(another I think thats up there in terms of creativity is Atlus), they're also a great highlighter of how far we really are from something really meaningful on that level.

Portal 2 is a good example for what you're talking about, and I agree, laughing is as important as anything else(if the most transient), but look at things like L4D and Team Fortress. Fantastic games, but they have exactly no real meaning to them, which is fine. Now let me make it clear: I love games and wouldn't be here if I didn't, and I love reading the views of people who want to make it more then it currently is, but I think the form is too fundamentally different from 'conventional' artforms to create the same emotions in the same way.

Taking Pixar as an example, I think all they can teach us in the gaming world, really, is that coming up with some new shit and doing it really well is enough to achieve greatness. But I think the conclusion there is that we need a team who can come up with new ways to express emotion in a way that only games can. Some have come close. But I just don't think its possible for gaming to be able to silence an entire theater audience full of people.

I'm not saying that there isn't the Next Big Idea out there somewhere waiting to be stumbled upon, but I'm not holding my breath... If we're to evolve as an artform, we're to do it by creating, not following.

My 0.02.

PS, sorry if that turned into a ramble. The above was written in a single flurry of consciousness. It is what it is =p

I cried when Bambi's mum died.

I cried when Simba's dad died.

Stop making me cry!

I would say that when it comes to conveying a tragedy such as death (especially for kids) Disney does it right.

You don't have to show blood and guts.
You don't have to show the smoking gun.
and
You don't have to show THE BODY.

Instead... They arrange it in such a way that the viewer "gets it" (pretty much) immediately and is moved to the correct emotions.

Alex Spencer:

Dastardly:
This'll sound odd, but the first thing that popped into my head while reading this is the difference between Hostel and Hostel II. Bear with me on this, it makes total sense by the end.

Woah, that's quite the reply. Fascinating stuff, man.

Haha, out of context, that really does make me sound like a crazy person... But thanks for getting back to me on this!

F'Angus:
We need a Bambi like game (though I watched it the other day and was really surprised by how quickly the death scene is over.)

I deeply recommend everyone goes back to the film and watches this scene and the next. It's surprising how short it is for such an iconic moment. But especially how sudden the next scene is. It literally jumps back to the sunniest, Disneyiest bit of the entire film within seconds and completely disregards the death. Which contrasts interestingly with what Dastardly was saying...

I think it was a good plan, on their part. It allowed different people to react in different ways, rather than forcing a particular reaction on everyone (Thou shalt be sad). For more mature viewers, the happiness of the next scene doesn't undermine the sadness of the death--it underscores it with irony. The rest of the world doesn't notice, barely anything changes, and you're left to reconcile this gaping hole in your left alone. The audience member is left to dwell on the death while everyone else skips merrily along.

But for the younger kids, who maybe aren't quite at a point where they'll grasp the emotional weight of the death, the movie goes right on as though the death is just a momentary plot point. The movie doesn't force them to dwell on the death, as if to say, "No, really. Go back a moment. You should really still be quite sad about this."

Now, do I think all of this was the plan, carefully and strategically weighed and considered? Not necessarily. But even if it is a result of a somewhat laissez-faire approach to eliciting emotional reactions from the audience, that works, too. It's a sign of a writer that trusts the audience to get it, if they're ready, and doesn't get pedantic with those who might not.

It's a mature type of writing, especially given the target audience. I think it's great to have mature writing for kids, even the young'ns. Getting a kid emotionally invested in a story gets them interested in more stories, rather than just holding their gaze for 90 minutes. And there are really only two things a writer needs to make that happen:

1. An understanding of how audiences think and feel, so that they can lay a trail of breadcrumbs that lead to the desired emotional outcomes. Knowing how to wind up for the hit, and how to follow through (or not) is just as important as connecting with the ball. Or, if you prefer a chess analogy, knowing how your opponent can and will react three moves from now is the only way to ensure the game goes your way.

2. An understanding and appreciation of the audience's autonomy. They are thinking, feeling beings. For one, this means you can allow them to fill in some blanks themselves (which they will often do far better for themselves than you can). But it also means recognizing that sometimes they will react in unplanned ways, and the writer shouldn't display resentment for that by belaboring the point or trying to artificially add weight to the scene.

As far as how this ties to gaming, I think we're getting much better at the first, at least from a mechanical standpoint. Tutorials are, overall, improving. We know which parts of the game will give new players the most trouble, and we plan moments of instruction to get them through it. The next step is applying that same forethought to the emotional content of a game.

But as for the second? Trusting the audience to get it--that's something we're not very good at, many times. We fall back on tired old tropes to convey things like villainy, innocence, sadness... the stories sometimes border on allegory in how explicitly they define each character's one-dimensional persona. They tend not to trust an audience to play nicely in any grey area. Perhaps it's a bit of laziness, too, as it's just easier to write in black and white.

As they say, it's not Disney unless a character dies in a heart-wrenching, usually horrifying way.
Seriously though, how were we not traumatized as children?

Well put. Many things can be said about Disney; one of them being that they do not pull their punches when a character dies.

Roboto:
My Bambi was the end of half-life 2e2 :(

That is an excellent gaming example, though we have yet to see how Alyx progresses from that tragedy in her life. I like to think that Episode 3 will begin with her being closed-in, with some feelings of inadequacy and scorn.
Before I end up breaking the thin wall of spoiler here, I will end with that.

automatron:
As they say, it's not Disney unless a character dies in a heart-wrenching, usually horrifying way.
Seriously though, how were we not traumatized as children?

Because it felt natural, and was put across for a child to understand without padding the view. It helps that Disney films also end with the protagonist living happily ever after. Able to move on from the pain.
Trauma happens when you let George Romero, Wes Craven, or M. Night Shyamalan teach your children about death.

shado_temple:
I have to admit, Up made me care about the protagonist and his wife faster than any movie I've seen in a while; I bought the soundtrack to the movie, and every time I hear the music from the "Married Life" montage, I admit that I feel the tears coming on.

If I can find a game that can move someone that quickly, I'm all for it.

Ugh the intro to Up kills me, the rest is alright but doesn't hold up to the intro in the slightest. They could've just released that as a depressing Pixar short.

The answer is simple: Have Joss Whedon script a video game.

I've never seen lion king or bambi but your descriptions made me sad...So that really says something...I may watch them even though I've had them spoiled...

I thought Dragon Age 2 did this quite well in the quest 'All That Remains'.

Timmehexas:

shado_temple:
I have to admit, Up made me care about the protagonist and his wife faster than any movie I've seen in a while; I bought the soundtrack to the movie, and every time I hear the music from the "Married Life" montage, I admit that I feel the tears coming on.

If I can find a game that can move someone that quickly, I'm all for it.

Oh god you horrible, horrible person! Why'd you have to make me watch that again... *blubbers*

Yeah, as much as I want to watch that clip, I don't want to start tearing up here at work. I first watched UP! over at a friend's house (and we're all 30+) and the room got really quiet, except for my friend's kids (5 and 8) just weren't quite of the age where that would resonate with them yet.

My brother said he felt the need for revenge when the main characters girlfriend gets shot in "The Darkness". I remember the scene, I actually felt that taking (most) control away from the played really helped it. It made you feel helpless. You have got to understand my brothers like a cyborg, hes so un-feeling its kind of funny so this was a big deal when he said it.

shado_temple:

If I can find a game that can move someone that quickly, I'm all for it.

How about Eternally Us? It's only about 20 mins long, but still good.

I'll post a lets play of the full game if you want to see it.

I cried a bit just reading the paragraph about Up. It is truly a beautiful film. If I was to ever make a video game, I now know the ending I would use.

Tin Man:
Taking Pixar as an example, I think all they can teach us in the gaming world, really, is that coming up with some new shit and doing it really well is enough to achieve greatness. But I think the conclusion there is that we need a team who can come up with new ways to express emotion in a way that only games can. Some have come close. But I just don't think its possible for gaming to be able to silence an entire theater audience full of people.

I'm so close to agreeing with you, it was hard to have anything to say that wasn't just nit-picking. But, I dunno, I'm not sure (beyond technical stuff), Pixar do anything *new*, per se. Their films are very very well told and shown stories, but they're quite traditional. What Pixar know brilliantly is that basic theory stuff, all the 'language' of films. Take the way Up pulls on you by just showing a couple of mementoes from Carl & Ellie's life, and playing a bit of their theme, which were so briefly set up in that opening... That's just really sharp, efficient storytelling. But it's not inventive, as such.

samsonguy920:

automatron:
As they say, it's not Disney unless a character dies in a heart-wrenching, usually horrifying way.
Seriously though, how were we not traumatized as children?

Because it felt natural, and was put across for a child to understand without padding the view. It helps that Disney films also end with the protagonist living happily ever after. Able to move on from the pain.

Yes! Exactly this. It's such a beautiful lesson, and something that I think probably helped me. Even now. I can mentally place loss in that kind of narrative, and it's soothing.

Baldry:
I've never seen lion king or bambi but your descriptions made me sad...So that really says something...I may watch them even though I've had them spoiled...

I'm so sorry, Baldry! But... having Bambi spoilt? Woah, that's kind of impressive!
(I really recommend watching both, btw. They're both brilliant films, in their way. Up's totally my fave, though.)

Dastardly: yeah, that's totally it. This is kind of the point I was making in that last post to Tin Man. Pixar are total craftsmen. They know all the rules and all the reactions and while the closest we have to that is Valve's intensive playtesting and apparent intuition, that's only mechanical stuff (and it's still not perfect).

I guess Craddoke was joking, but yeah, Joss Whedon totally does that. Leaves room for you to react (and, in some cases, then prods at you a bit for reacting so predictably).

In fact! The narrative obstacle that would be best set for games would be a whodunnit. Something that can be solved by the player, without artificial boundaries, but with red herrings and genuine subtle clues. Hmm.

...Wow, really didn't expect the afterbirth of this article to be so fascinatingly stimulating. You guys!

Mmm death is a part of life, and I don't think children should be shielded from it, it can be traumatic, but it can also inspire kids not to take life for granted. I love that Disney movies did this and detest the regulation on the mention or implication of death on most kids programming.

shado_temple:
I have to admit, Up made me care about the protagonist and his wife faster than any movie I've seen in a while; I bought the soundtrack to the movie, and every time I hear the music from the "Married Life" montage, I admit that I feel the tears coming on.

If I can find a game that can move someone that quickly, I'm all for it.

Wow, that's damn impressive. Also; saddening. :(
I'd really REALLY like to play a game that can make some emotional connections that fast.

Mother 3.

That's all.

The opening of Up is probably much worse for adults than it is for children.

My ten year old step son wouldn't really understand the sequence where they are breaking open their savings for day to day things that they need.

As a married adult the idea of being forced to leave the dreams we have together to late is something that we live with day to day. I doubt very much you'd find a long term couple out there that hasn't, at one point or another, been forced to put aside something they wanted due to finances.

I would love to see video games which could manage to visit these themes.

Heavy Rain did a good job with some of them, dealing with the loss of a child and what it can do to the surviving family. Some of the scenes in which the father is desperately looking for his child and the choices he has to make are truely moving. However, I have a hard job really calling it a game... its an interactive movie.

The trailer for Dead Island is amazing at this and I hope the game itself manages to act on this.

I think it is getting easier for video game companies to tug at our heartstrings as gamers get older. As teenagers and even younger adults we didn't have the ties in the world that would cause some of this stuff to affect us the way it would now, as many of us have partners, familes, jobs and aspirations.

This just shows how goddamn old I am, but the closest I've come to crying for video games was the middle of the Fortress of Regrets from Planescape Torment.

It captures an intense feeling of hopelessness as you and your companions are drawn apart and you only see what happens to them from a distance, unable to act.

I *actually* cried at right before the end, though, when the final battle happens.

But they were tears of joy, and if you played you'd know why.

Up still makes me cry.

LKArtillery:
Mother 3.

That's all.

also,

Mother 2

Mother 3 was sad and displayed grief and all that, but what about earthbound?

I want to call attention to a moment that may not have even been intentionally sad.

alright so, jeff hasn't seen his dad in 10 years.

as he goes find a way save his friends who contacted him psychically, he meets his dad. neither no what to say, they are kind of just acknowledging eachother. they then go on and do what they were going to anyway.

who here can sympathize? I can,thats how I know my parents, replace a decade with a month or five, and as a result its the single most memorable part of ANY game to me. but even it had to rival the rest of earthbound.

we have had our bambi, it came out the same year as their lion king.

The only real answer I have to this is, as several have said in front of me, Half-Life 2: Episode 2. It's almost not even the voice acting and the build-up. It's the extremely terse, time-sensitive conversing between the characters. No refutals, no speeches, no quips. It's desperate and final.

Otherwise? I can't hear the end credits music from Final Fantasy 6 without getting smacked in the brain by the memory of Shadow, my favorite flipping character. There's actually no less than three of those moments in that game. If I think, it's more like seven. Recently? Virmire in Mass Effect. Thank God there's not a time limit on speech choices is all I've got to say about that.

The Lion King was pretty much the only time I ever cried in a film, even as a kid.

That was such a powerful scene.

Timmehexas:

shado_temple:
I have to admit, Up made me care about the protagonist and his wife faster than any movie I've seen in a while; I bought the soundtrack to the movie, and every time I hear the music from the "Married Life" montage, I admit that I feel the tears coming on.

If I can find a game that can move someone that quickly, I'm all for it.

Oh god you horrible, horrible person! Why'd you have to make me watch that again... *blubbers*

I should have refused to watch that.. DANG IT!...

Ehem..

Anyways.. great article.. and ya.. Disney..is Disney for a reason.. Good stuff.. Games seem to need to have less of such drama, but I think they can do it.. But someone say "was that fun". The definition of fun, may need to change in their mind about the game.

Alex Spencer:

From Bambi to Up, Disney films have hardly pulled their punches when it comes to showing death to a young audience in their films. What can videogames learn from their example?

This was, at it's core, an interesting article, but the Lion King was more or less 100% plagiarized from Kimba the White Lion, (seriously, it's ridonkulous - Matthew Broderick even said so :O) including the surprisingly blunt death scenes...

Even so, very nicely written article. Interesting points.

Thespian:
This was, at it's core, an interesting article, but the Lion King was more or less 100% plagiarized from Kimba the White Lion, (seriously, it's ridonkulous - Matthew Broderick even said so :O) including the surprisingly blunt death scenes...

Yeah, I'd wondered about this. I've never seen Kimba, but I've heard tell. Is it worth watching? Does the Mufasa/equivalent death work in the same way?

Alex Spencer:
-snip-

Kimba was an anime TV series, from which key moments are very (VERY) similar to the lion king, and I think it's certainly worth watching - It is essentially a Lion King cartoon series. Kimba ends up trying to eat bugs and whatnot to get along with his herbivore friends.
The Mufasa death thing shows Kimba's father dying in a stampede, but betrayed by his Aunt, not his Uncle, so yes the death is almost the exact same. Not that Disney didn't replicate it well, but it's interesting to know the roots.

shado_temple:
I have to admit, Up made me care about the protagonist and his wife faster than any movie I've seen in a while; I bought the soundtrack to the movie, and every time I hear the music from the "Married Life" montage, I admit that I feel the tears coming on.

If I can find a game that can move someone that quickly, I'm all for it.

And this is what makes Pixar so damn good. Up is ostensibly a kids movie, but starts with a montage that will make grown men cry big manly tears, and turn women into absolute blubbering wrecks. I've seen it happen. Even now, knowing exactly what is going to play out, I feel it welling up.

To be able to evoke that kind of emotion, without a single spoken word, is beyond impressive.

Were a video game able to capture that level of engagement .... damn ...

I am actually really really curious on how Valve would actually cope with the story that has been setup with the loss of Alyx's dad. Will HL3 (ep3) start with Alyx mourning, will it skip ahead, will Alyx be depressed/angry for the entire episode. Will there even be a funeral?
Or will the game start with a cold opening, like a combine invasion continueing and forcing the player to flee a base that is under heavy attack with no time to look at his body or give him a proper send off. And then actually only mention/show/notice the player of eli's death after you have already played a fair portion of the game?

I recommend folks check out Xbox 360 JRPG classic "Lost Odyssey".

It heavily explores the themes of love, loss, death, rebirth, mourning, and sacrifice. When your main character is immortal, and everyone around him very prone to death, the story looks back on his long life and everything he's held dear that time, fate, and nature cruel stole from him before he was ready.

The end of disc 1 alone is a moving, long, painful, drawn-out, and expertly done funeral where the player actively participates in gathering supplies for the send-off ritual, preparing the body, and preparing to say your final farewells to a certain character. It's gut-wrenching, yet it, for the first time, snaps the hero Kaim from his aloof, cold view of the world and gives me the drive to protect the lives of the ones left behind.

Games need more examples like that.

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