For the most part, I like to see how many ways a game will let me explode the head of my enemy. Games like The Division and DOOM let me shoot stuff good and then stab them right in the bullet wounds. Then during the cutscenes I make out with a hot girl in a bikini. Like most dudes, my life is exactly like a Bud Light commercial from the '90s but all the time.
And one thing's for certain, I NEVER cry.
Okay, maybe every now and then, in between quick scoping counter-terrorists (I NEVER PLAY AS A NARC), a special game comes around that cuts to the core. When it happens I turn off all the lights, turn on some Tom Waits, pop open a bottle of Gentleman's Jack, and howl in the night like a werewolf that just got stood up by a very attractive golden retriever.
This is a list of games that will make your eyes pee harder than when you watched that Futurama episode with the dog.
This brilliant indie game from 2013 introduced used an interesting mechanic where the player controls two brothers at the same time to solve puzzles. But mixed into the fairytale setting were dark themes such as suicide attempts, ritual sacrifice, that thing when a girl you like straight up turns into a spider, and of course death.
That's right the older brother dies leaving half of your controller useless, which isn't really the sad part. That happens when the game forces you to bury him. After that, the tears keep coming when the little brother must back track through a few of the puzzles that he needed his older brother to solve, and forces the player to push the older brother's controls along with the little brother's to get him to, say, cross a body of water by himself. It's something he wasn't able to do at the beginning of the game, and is there to show the player that the older brother is helping him in spirit. Holy crap, is there an onion chopping festival happening next door? Don't look at me!
I was honestly more afraid to play this than Outlast and Dead Space combined. The game chronicles the real life struggles of Joel Green, a child diagnosed with terminal cancer at just twelve months old. It plays like a point-and-click adventure game that recalls memories from the parents' time with Joel including real voicemail recordings and personal letters sent to the Green family. Joel was able to fight cancer for four years longer than predicted, but tragically, his life came to an end at the age of five on March 13, 2014. And I just can't with this. Nothing is more tragic to me than the thought of a parent having to bury their own child.
Some players were turned off by the overt religious overtones in the game. Other people like the game but hate the fact that life is totally unfair and stupid and mean. Like the film Dear Zachary, it's an experience that will stick with you for a couple of days afterward so be prepared. Like buy a puppy or something seriously. Lastly, there is a documentary due out later this year about the Greens and the making of That Dragon, Cancer called Thank You For Playing. I will absolutely watch it but be warned, I will be cry-hugging you if you see me afterward. And I hugs tight.
On paper, nothing about this game says, "this will make you cry," but we said the same thing about the Adam Sandler movie Click and we all saw what happened there. "I love you son. I love you son. I love you son." Look at your father when he talks to you! Wait, where were we? Oh right, you are the young man Wander and in order to save the maiden named Mono, you need to find and defeat the sixteen giant monsters known as Colossi. What is more rock and roll than leaping off a horse, onto a dragon, and swording it to death while gliding through the air? Also, "swording" isn't technically a word. What is up with that?
The problem is that these massive creatures, for the most part, aren't mean to you. They don't insult your mother or steal your credit card information or call you a casual or anything like that. These beasts are majestic and beautiful and slaying them becomes a tragic act that makes the player question why they must take part in such brutal killings. Also, at the end of the game, Wander finds himself swept up in a whirlwind inside the temple while trying to reach Mono who lays unconscious on the other side of the room. No matter how close you get to her, the wind always pushes you back until you as a player give up and succumb to failure. At least there aren't any dead dads involved. I'm looking at you, Click!
Even though the story ends with a rebirth of our hero and Mono alive and well, that moment in the whirlwind sends a message to us as the gamer that sometimes, no matter how much we want to conquer an obstacle, life might just make it impossible and there's nothing we can do about it. It's like that time in middle school when I desperately wanted to go on a date with Jennifer Morris, the popular girl, but I couldn't fell all the Colossi (football players) in order to do that. Why, Jennifer?! Why you gotta be like that?!
Forgive me for spoiling a 19 year old game, but I have to for the sake of this article. Emotionally engaging games can be extremely effective if they form an attachment between the player and the main characters. Even the main villain Sephiroth (arguably the baddest dude of all time), has a compelling back story and strong motivation for his character.
Also, games from over a decade ago could pull some fantastic bait-and-switches in this relatively young art form. In this case, they took the main love interest and your group's healer (an essential part of any party in a jrpg) and killed her off about half way through the game. Nobody saw it coming! It's like the Red Wedding of video games. It is also the first time a game made me cry. Well it was either that or when I heard the opening rap songs in Toejam and Earl 3 but for very different reasons. Back in 1997, I didn't even know such a feat was possible, as I was primarily blasting demons to pieces with my BFG and trying to see "a naked" in Leisure Suit Larry. So congratulations FF7 for popping my tear cherry.
Rumor has it that there was supposed to be an alternate ending where you could bring Aeris back to life and get a "good" ending, but they had to scrap it due to time constraints. Instead, at the end, you defeat Sephiroth, and the world ends anyway! Let's see if they plan to change this with the Final Fantasy 7 remake coming sometime in the near distant future.
Telltale does a wonderful job of giving players narrative choice in video games (or at least the illusion of that choice). In this case, would you like the nine year old girl to blow your brains out? Or just leave you to turn into a mindless zombie wandering around the countryside like my unemployed friend Chet from back home in North Carolina?
Remember that awful feeling you had as a little kid when you lost your parents at the grocery store for even ten minutes? Well, this is like that but times a million forever. Putting yourself in a little girl's shoes all alone during a zombie apocalypse is enough to bring anyone to tears, but making her murder her only protector right before that is absolutely devastating.
Clementine will remember that.
Okay, hear me out on this one. Have you ever gotten Orenstein and Smough down to where it's just Smough with the lightning powers and you're out of flasks and he does that electric butt stomp thing right when you were swinging at him with one hit left and you died? And that was like the fifty eighth attempt and you're now out of humanities so you can't even summon for help?
Or those rooftop archers?
Or the Fume Knight in the Dark Souls 2 DLC?
OR THE SMELTER DEMON?!
OR WHEN THEY MAKE YOU FIGHT THE SMELTER DEMON AGAIN IN THE DLC????!!!!!!!!!!
Like, I know these aren't as touchy-feely as the other entries but no other series of games has caused me to weep harder than Forest Gump in front of Jenny's headstone. Though I walk amongst you as the paragon of stoic manliness you know and love, know that deep inside I am BROKEN. Irrevocably broken.
So there you have it. Sure, I may spend most of my time in the Dark Zone earning phoenix points by putting holes in named enemies with my Liberator assault rifle or commanding D-Dog to mouth-knife enemy soldiers to death, but every now and then, once in a blue moon, a game enters the shuffle that makes this grown-ass man break down and cry...
And it's a beautiful thing.
Holden McNeely is a member of NYC's influential sketch troupe MURDERFIST a featured host/panelist on The Roundtable of Gentlemen podcast, and streams regularly at twitch.tv/holdenatorsho