Everyone here knows what it’s like to feel invested in a video game. Whether it comes upon you gradually after twelve hours have passed and the controller is still clutched in your hands, or the process began while you were lining up outside GameStop in the rain shivering with anticipation—we’ve all been there. But what about the games that broke you? I’m talking about that moment you froze, headphones digging into your ears, so stunned by the unexpected left-turn in the gameplay that there were tears in your eyes long before you realized it. This is when you left invested behind, and the game truly became immersive. So, what games have we lost ourselves in? Check out what made our list of top emotional moments in a video game. (Break out that Kleenex, friends.)
In the 2013 reboot of Tomb Raider, I was emotionally invested in the scene where Lara Croft killed her would-be attacker. It was a particularly striking scene for me because I was sexually abused as a kid. When he ran his hand down the length of her arm, I knew what was about to occur and it gave me chills all over. Though Lara saved herself from a potential rape by shooting her would-be attacker in the face, she still fell to her knees and gagged until she nearly vomited. This scene was considered controversial and talked about in-depth as a result. Personally, I thought Lara’s emotional response to murdering another person was very raw. Had I been in her position, I would have ended up in a puddle of my own sick if I was forced to kill someone.
When Sarah dies within the first ten minutes of The Last of Us. It’s hands down the most brutal scene I’ve ever experienced in a video game. It doesn’t matter how many times I play the game or watch the scene unfold, because I will always end up in tears. The part that gets me every time is when Joel is holding his dying daughter in his arms and glances over at Tommy in despair, before turning his attention back to Sarah and realizing that she died. He repeats over and over again, “Don’t do this to me baby girl,” and coupled with the amazing soundtrack, it just sets the stage for weeping.
The first time I played Gone Home, I had no idea what it was about, and was convinced it was a horror game. This kept me jumpy and tense throughout the entire experience, as well as slightly resentful towards my best friend for convincing me to buy it in the first place. Once I figured out that the main characters were queer girls, like me, my anxiety heightened and I felt like I was waiting for the moment when I found out they were dead. That’s how most stories that involve lesbians tend to end: tragedy.
I kept trying to harden myself against what I saw to be an inevitably disappointing ending, but at some point I was hard at work discovering clues when I came across something that directed me to a hidden room under the stairs. The phrasing used in this clue was really worrying, and said something along the lines of, “This is where it’ll happen.” Since I was discovering clues out of order and had no context for this, and was already dreading something terrible, I went into panic mode and went flying across the house, yelling “NO NO NO!” I was terrified I was going to find Sam and/or Lonnie’s bodies and then everything would be ruined forever.
When I got into the room and realized it was a false alarm, and that they were just playing around with the occult (the little cuties), I finally realized that this game might actually be different. The panicked dash across the house made me feel completely invested in the well-being of the characters, and I had felt, for a moment, that I was actually there. That it was actually me running across the house desperately trying to find my sister. It definitely helped that my name is Katie, and I felt like Sam was speaking directly to me throughout the game.
When I made it into the attic and found out what had happened to the girls, I was so relieved that I sat alone in my bedroom and cried. I had been on edge throughout the game, but it was the discovery towards the end that broke down my cautious walls and let me truly empathize with the characters. This was a level of immersion that I honestly hadn’t experienced before in gaming.
I honestly wasn’t sure what to put on here at first. Emotional moment in a video game? There are plenty that I could think of off the top of my head, but there were none that immediately came to mind that quite felt right. My favorite games came to my head first, but as I thought about them more, I realized that they weren’t my favorite games because of a particular emotional scene. Games are often designed to be uplifting and because of that, it’s the darker moments that often stand out. Do I talk about the end of Journey and how it felt like I was soaring? The panic from Valiant Hearts: The Great War when I thought the dog was going to die? The fear and trepidation as I neared the end of Gone Home and thought I was going to find something terrible waiting for me?
In the end, I couldn’t decide between two games and for very different reasons. Both of them, in their own way, play on your expectations of what the game should be. In Spec Ops: The Line, I went into the game expecting to be a hero like I would be if I was playing Call of Duty. I thought things would be uncomplicated with cartoonish, evil baddies twirling their moustaches before going off to tie helpless women to train tracks. The entire game worked against me, drawing me deeper and deeper until I wasn’t having fun anymore. I played the game because I needed to play the game, but it wasn’t fun.
Instead, as I followed Walker, I felt like I was walking through Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness or Dante’s Inferno (in a metaphorical sense). Spec Ops does everything it can to strip everything away from you and Walker as you play, grinding the both of you down until you feel the true weight of the story. There was a reveal at the end, one which I was both surprised by and expecting, as if part of me knew all along exactly what was going on inside the game and was actively trying to make it otherwise. I’m being vague, I know, but I don’t want to spoil the game for anyone who has never tried it.
The other most emotional scene I could think of was from Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. This one was emotional because … well, quite simply, it hits you in the face with it. There is an entire section of the game where the developers removed a core gameplay mechanic. This decision helped to make the story more impactful, leaving me as lost and confused as my character, trying to make sense of a world that I had thought I understood. While the actual event that triggered this section was so obvious that it was impossible to miss, it was the aftermath of the event when things became more real. I found myself going through different stages of denial, hope, and even a strange kind of bargaining along with my character. I tried interacting with everything on the screen as if that would change the story and even refused to do what I was supposed to, hoping that if I dawdled long enough I could make things right. The moment stuck in my head and handled the emotional weight of the subject matter far better than most games even though not a single word was spoken throughout the entire game.
Michelle B (✎)
First off, I’m gonna come right out and say that the entirety of Gone Home was the most emotionally evocative experience of my modern, happy little lesbian life. Some people really adore this game, and others rant about how it’s stupid and a letdown, however, the majority of the stupid camp seem to not be LGBTQIA+ themselves. That said, it certainly filled a gaping hole in my gaming life for a week or two, and while I won’t spoil anything, I will say that I knew exactly why she’d recorded all those X-Files episodes.
In my whole gaming life, however, the most emotional scene in any video game was Celes’ suicide attempt in Final Fantasy VI. These days, most people overlook this scene, preferring Aerith’s death in Final Fantasy VII, but this impacted me much more for several reasons. For one, having a party member die at the hands of a villain is powerful, but having your only remaining playable character try to kill herself adds so much more to the overwhelming sense of helplessness and depression.
The scene is triggered when Celes, who is stranded on an island, loses her attempt to save the ailing scientist Cid. (Note: it is possible to save him and not trigger the scene.) Believing herself to be the last person on earth, she flings herself from a cliff in a short, but heart-wrenching scene. I was a suicidal teenager myself at the time, and the game had already had a huge impact on me, so seeing that (and then everything getting better) brought me a sense of connection that few games have done since. Except maybe Gone Home.
I cry at everything. Friends from 7th grade still trot out a story of me sobbing quietly, yet proudly during The Muppet Christmas Carol. Fact: I also cried pretty hard while viewing the most recent Muppet movie. I also cry whenever I see the Lucasfilm logo before a Star Wars film or trailer. I’ve cried during commercials for 100% cotton clothing. Basically, at any time while consuming forms of media, I may burst into tears and recover quickly, leaving guests and loved ones stunned or convulsing with silent laughter.
So it’s no surprise that my first major RPG was also the source of one of my first major weeping sessions over a fictional character. I won’t describe the scene in great detail to preserve the shock and sadness for others who haven’t enjoyed this very old game (though the very title of this is a bit of a spoiler itself). I will say that the scene was sudden, unexpected, and thoroughly stressed out your 12-year-old Biscuit. I still play the game, often for hours, just to have a good cry at that scene. I recently played it on my Twitch stream and myself and the chat were marinating in our own sad tears, though we spent most of the game until that point totally trash-talking the now-deceased character.
I love that video games can do this to people. I love talking to people who are playing the game for the first time, and I am always amazed that they don’t know what’s going to happen. I believe that spoiling it is akin to screaming, “DUMBLEDORE DIES!” to a person who is enjoying the Harry Potter series for the first time. So, play Final Fantasy VII (if you haven’t already done so). Tell me how you dealt with the first “big moment” of the game and your first big reason to cry while playing it.
In Dragon Age 2, I killed Anders. I always kill Anders, because I just knew that Sebastian would carry out his threat and invade Kirkwall had I not. It’s the kind of luck Hawke has. In Inquisition, I was proved right about that assumption. However, Hawke never finds this out. Hawke never even gets to know who Anders was before he merged with Justice; the apathetic, eccentric cat-lover I met in Awakening. He just sounds so defeated when he’s about to die. “I’m glad it’s you, love,” he says in a monotone. That’s if you romance him, which I did on my second playthrough. Because I wanted to make things more interesting.
I hadn’t planned to kill him the second time around. But when it came down to it, I thought that it was better for one man to die than to risk the fate of an entire city. I had become so invested in the character I was playing that I wanted to see what happened to her. I wanted her story to be the one I continue.
One of the worst things is that I can kind of understand where Anders was coming from. He wanted to spark a revolution, and he succeeded in that. The events of Inquisition meant that mages are free and no longer kept in Circles. Maybe he was justified after all—from a utilitarian perspective. So you know how in the Keep there’s this option to say, “Hawke approved of Anders’ actions at the Chantry” and “Anders executed?” People find this peculiar. I don’t.
Shel Shepard (✎)
The Walking Dead is a video game I picked up not too long ago. I was immediately hooked by the characters, especially one kick-butt reporter by the name of Carley. Carely is a no-nonesense, get-the-job-done type of girl. She is also one hell of a sharp shooter (which, to me, is just hot). After certain events happen and the group you are trying to survive the apocalypse with begins to argue, it all reaches a boiling point between the Carley and another woman, Lily. In a heated argument in which Lily is accusing another person, Carley jumps to the boy’s defense. Lily loses her temper and, without a second thought, shoots Carley.
I cried SO HARD after that scene. Killing a character is bad enough, but killing a character that I grew to love so much? My heart was completely shattered and devastated beyond repair. Agony ripped through my entire being. I felt so angry at Lily and was glad to leave her behind to be eaten by zombies. “Good riddance” is what I said as I watched her panic and run from zombies.
Carley will always have a special place in my list of video game girlfriends, as well as in my heart. Her character was outright awesome and I wanted so much for her to be with Lee, the protagonist. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go grab some tissues because Carley is still a raw wound.