Video games, like any art form, will try to elicit emotional responses from their audiences.
Sometimes game developers set out to create a story that not only involves sad occurrences but also revolves entirely around the emotion. The purpose of these games is often to make players reflect and contemplate heavy subjects and hopefully realize something profound that will stay with them long after they have finished the game.
A story can be compelling because or even despite all of the tears it wrenched out of you.
The following video games accomplished their goal of making players cry in the best and most beautiful methods available.
1. “To the Moon”
In Freebird Games’s 2011 emotionally powerful 16-bit RPG “To the Moon,” it is up to Dr. Eva Rosalene and Dr. Neil Watts to fulfill the final wish of the dying Johnny Wyles: He wants to go to the moon, but he does not know why.
By using a futuristic technology that creates artificial memories, the two doctors traverse backward through Johnny’s memories to insert the aspiration to go to the moon, all while exploring the rollercoaster that was Johnny’s life.
Just played through my favorite story game again called "To the Moon". This game has always left me an emotional wreck lol.
— Zachary McPhink (@GoForZachary) September 9, 2018
Tragedy, secrets and regret plague Johnny’s memories, and it is immensely difficult for the players to witness his sorrow firsthand. The achingly lyrical soundtrack only intensifies the desire to cry.
As players control the doctors and progress through the mission, almost palpable relief is felt as you gather clues and solve puzzles to implant synthetic yet happier memories into the mind of the comatose Johnny.
All the struggles and strife lead to an ending so bittersweet, it will haunt your memories to the point where you will want to call Dr. Rosalene and Dr. Watts for yourself.
2. “That Dragon, Cancer”
Ryan and Amy Green tried to alleviate some of their grief by creating an autobiographical game based on their experiences of raising their son, Joel, during his four-year battle with terminal cancer.
“That Dragon, Cancer” is a simple point-and-click adventure game with fantastical and abstract reconstructions of some of the real moments the Greens experienced, both the highs and the lows.
As if the visuals were not heartbreaking enough, actual voice recordings of the parents interacting with Joel and their two other children further enhance the intimacy of the game. You are in the room with the Greens when they learn that Joel’s tumors have returned, and you’re forced to listen to Amy Green’s devastating inner monologue.
The Greens developed more than a video game; they developed a beautiful, raw tribute to their son that touched the hearts of many, as evident by the letters and cards of support peppered throughout the game, sent in by real Kickstarter funders who had suffered similar losses.
3. “Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons”
Given that all in-game dialogue is spoken in a fictional language, “Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons” relies on its stunning visuals to tell its tragic tale, which makes the story developed by Starbreeze even more universally adored.
By the way, Brothers- A Tale of Two Sons was absolutely amazing. Great story, great visuals, and overall such a great experience
— Wildez (@wildezgaming) September 11, 2018
The eponymous brothers must tackle troubling issues, such as loss and acceptance, as they venture out in search of the Tree of Life to cure their ailing father. A heartwarming bond forms between the siblings as they are forced to work together to overcome obstacles and solve puzzles within their colorful world.
Work together indeed, because players must guide the brothers in tandem with each half of the controller. The left analogue stick and shoulder button is assigned to the older brother and the right is assigned to the younger. This innovative design pays off when the mechanic is subverted to brilliantly marry the gameplay to its storyline and themes for one of the most tearjerking endings of 2013.
4. “Emily Is Away”
“Emily Is Away” proves that video games’ stories do not have to be complicated to still cut so deep.
This visual novel developed by Kyle Seeley is stylized in a mostly faithful recreation of the Windows XP chat client, AOL Instant Messenger. Players choose the dialogue options for the unnamed protagonist who repeatedly chats with his high school crush, Emily.
Over the course of five years, the relationship between the two ebbs and flows, and both the protagonist and player must handle the pain of regret and rejection. The story is linear, so players cannot significantly change the ending no matter how hard they try. And trust me, you will try.
The allure of the road not taken is all too familiar for most players, so it is pretty easy to envision people you know in real life as the characters in the game because they are purposely one-dimensional. Therefore players not only hurt for the protagonist but for themselves because many have gone through what he is now experiencing.
5. “The Walking Dead”
Developed and published by Telltale Games, “The Walking Dead” video game takes place in the same zombified world as the comics and television show. Almost all of the characters are original to the game, so there are even more opportunities to grow to care about a new character — only to eventually have them die a gruesome death that’s often directly in front of family and friends.
Goodbyes are tough, but they’re even tougher for an 8-year-old. That’s why the player’s goal as main character Lee Everett is to protect and teach his rescued charge, Clementine, how to navigate the decaying world around her. The story is affected by the dialogue choices of the player, so whether Lee imparts wisdom on the young girl or traumatizes her, she will remember for episodes to come.
I never thought a video game can make me cry until my man and I played The Walking Dead
— big boss (@McmenemyTessa) September 5, 2018
Most of the sadness of the game stems from the grieving you do for and with the characters and by watching Clementine’s innocent perspective become soiled by the corrupt actions committed by desperate people trying to survive.
In between all the mourning are difficult decisions and philosophical conversations about life and death. Players will soon realize that the zombies, or “walkers” as they are called in the game, are not the only monsters in this world.