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A Game Has Never Made You Cry

Tear For a long time, the games industry debated the question of whether a videogame could make you cry. But as I hope to demonstrate, this question is either irrelevant, or a game never has nor never could make you cry.

Over on Raph Koster's perpetually interesting blog, a discussion recently broke out pursuing once again the question of the boundary work: what actually constitutes a game? Are titles like Wii Music – which lack explicit goals – really games? The term “imposter” games was bandied about, although I prefer 'non-games' myself. Discussions like this highlight that at the heart of such debates are the issue of how one defines “game”, and in this there are many choices.

The principle camps that this breaks down into are the systems-focused perspective that considers games to be formal systems with mechanics, goals, challenges, measures of success or some other metric or progressive element. There is vast variety in these positions but for the purpose of this discussion I intend to collect them all under the “games as systems” label. Conversely, there are those who endorse a wider definition of game, such as myself, who principally reach their position by following a line of thought heavily influenced by the French intellectual Roger Caillois. In his observed patterns of play, he casts the net for games very wide indeed – including, for instance, recreational skiing and theatre in the remit – partly as a consequence of the word for 'game' in French (jeu) being also the word for 'play'. These positions I will collect under the heading “games as play”.

It is readily apparent that under the “games as play” approach, the question as to whether a game can make you cry is ridiculous – since theatre comes under this definition, games under these kinds of definitions had always already made people cry, even before the first videogame. You could tighten up the definition to exclude purely narrative forms, but then (as we shall see) we fall into the other trap.

From the “games as systems” approach, the problem is that the formal system aspects of games evokes a number of emotions – Nicole Lazzaro has grouped these into sets in her 4 Fun Keys model – but none of these emotions will make you cry, except perhaps frustration (a form of anger), as happens when a game drives you to such rage that you throw your controller across the room. But these kind of tears are not what the question we are pursuing is talking about: it is referring to tears of sadness or tears of joy – the kind of emotional response that one can have from a story. And tellingly, Nicole's initial paper on her model is subtitled “four keys to emotion without story”. Story has to be excluded, because by the process of empathising with fictional characters it is possible to evoke any emotion in a story.

This is the nub of the issue here: a story can make you cry by empathising with the protagonist (or another character), but a game (when viewed as a formal system) cannot do this. It follows that the only way that a videogame can make you cry is by using narrative tools that have nothing to do with games as formal systems whatsoever. So even though, for instance, many people report that they cried when they played Final Fantasy VII at the fateful scene (and indeed, several other cRPGs also show up in player studies as having provoked tears) the moment that actually brought the player to tears was a non-interactive cut scene. It wasn't the game (in the systems view) that made them cry – it was the story – and there never was a question as to whether stories could make you cry.

Hence this question collapses in upon itself. Under the “games as play” view, the question is entirely irrelevant, and under the “games as systems” view, it is the story-aspect of a game that has made people cry, not the game itself. I therefore conclude that a videogame has never made you cry.

The most plausible objection to this claim that I can see is that by letting you play with characters in the system-aspect, the cRPGs deepen your relationship to these characters, and thus allow the catharsis triggered by the story element. I'm open to this objection, but since a purely narrative form would have allowed you to deepen your relationship with the characters without interaction, it's far from clear that allowing interaction is enough to make the claim of a game making you cry (under the systems view) unless it can make you cry within the systems-play. But when a character dies during gameplay, the option to reload is essentially always present (removing the catharsis from death) – even if you have to turn the game off and on again to achieve it – and if it were not you would be more likely to feel frustrated at being manipulated than to experience the cathartic effect.

One might also object on the grounds that role-playing (improvisational theatre, as in a tabletop role-playing game) might move you to tears, say, in a massively-multiplayer game. But is this kind of storyplay something we can honestly claim is delivered by the videogame itself, or does the game simply facilitate what could equally have happened without the game? Either way, it does not happen often in videogames and when it does it is usually as a consequence of the talents of the players, and not a result of the systems of the game. I am inclined to treat this solely as a a form of narrative and thus not included in the "games as systems" view, but of course this is not the only choice.

Games (under the systems view) cannot make you cry. Videogame titles can include narrative material that makes you cry, but no-one can claim to be surprised that a story can make you cry. Barring some serious change in what constitutes a videogame, the only way they are ever going to make you cry is via their narrative elements, and never by their game elements.

Feel differently? Your viewpoint is welcomed in the comments!

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This strikes me as saying that a movie has never made you cry, because it is narratives that make you cry, and, with a few exceptions, movies have only told narratives through text. Text, as we all know, originated in print, and therefore is not present to the motion picture medium: it is only through cross-pollination of the mediums that narrative can be achieved.

Does this not sound absurd? This is based on a fundamentally overly reductionistic definition of the gaming medium. Text, voice acting, and custscenes are part of the medium, and any self-respecting developer will use all the tools they have at their disposal to create meaningful experiences.

Very interesting article. Really got me thinking. I think the argument is essentially semantics, with the line between interactivity and passive storytelling becoming increasingly blurred. Keeping that in mind, I'd say that yes, games CAN make you cry.

(Take note, this comment will contain slight spoilers for Portal, BioShock and Metal Gear Solid 3 and 4.)

Games like Half-Life 2 (and it's follow-up Episodes) and Portal are interesting in this debate. In both, you retain control of your character, who has essentially no personality other than the one you assign to them, through every scene, narrative or otherwise. I have tears in my eyes every time I'm forced to euthanise my Weighted Companion Cube (I'm always the quickest to do it, she tells me), and there are several scenes in Half-Life 2, mostly involving Alyx, where I've felt both elation and sadness. Of course, these events are still linear, but you are more of an active participant and less a third-party bystander.

It's all down to context. In a story, it isn't merely words that make us cry, it's the context they are placed in. I'm technically a writer (because I write stories, sometimes) and I'm fond of the "few words with maximum impact" approach. In the most emotional stories, it is often a single word or phrase that makes me cry. It isn't the words themselves but their place in the environment, the atmosphere, that has been created around them.

Surely it's the same for games? To return to the euthanising process in Portal, it is the act of picking up a box and dropping it. It is a very simple game mechanic. In the context of that scene, however, it is, for myself at least, an action heavy with guilt and sadness.

There are other examples I could think of. The end of Metal Gear Solid 3, in which you are made to execute the Boss with her own weapon, and the end of MGS4, where you make Snake stumble and finally crawl, agonisingly slowly, down a corridor to his seemingly inevitable death. These are both incredibly powerful scenes, and it is the interactive element - YOU are pulling the trigger, YOU are forcing Snake along on hands and knees as he burns - that imbued them with such power and, yes, made me cry.

Of course, you then end up back at the "what is game mechanic and what is narrative" argument. BioShock was rightly lauded for blurring this line, providing a reason for the linear and non-interactive elements that are necessary in an action game. It, too, is a game that made me cry.

Still, I would say that if a game mechanic can make me cry due to the context it takes place in, then a game has indeed made me cry. It may not be the mechanic itself, but then, it is the context of the words in a story that make me cry, not the words themselves.

Metal Gear Solid 3. You had to end the Boss' life. You had to pull the trigger.

You are not going to cry without an emotional attachment to something. So a game without a story is never going to make you cry because of the game. Just as a movie that is focused on a building for two hours isn't going to make you cry because of the movie. Video games, Books, Movies, Play can be used as mediums for a story that can cause emotions but you don't get any emotion off the medium itself. You are right that the question is irrelevant.

The hardest part for games in my opinion for emotional story telling in the future is the fact that they are largely fantasy. The average person will not relate to Marcus, Cloud, Solid Snake, or many characters. When a game can make you relate to the character you are playing enough that his attachment to other characters is understood through your own emotional attachments then you will fell the emotions. I don't cry at love stories but when a movie where a father dies I can't help myself because it is a situation I understand and relate to.

As for the Tamagotchi-style play and Creatures the players formed an attachment to the character they raised just the same as if it had been a plant. They cared and nurtured it and to lose something they had invested themselves into would make many people cry. All video games are not art the same way all movies and paintings are not art, but some are because almost anything can be used as a medium to carry a story or emotion.

Good comments here. I, like others who have posted here, think that the narrative cannot practically be separated from the gameplay system (except in theoretical discussions such as this). Narrative itself is an incredibly complicated system that links itself to games in a very weird way. Saying that a system of gameplay rules has never made anybody cry is a bit like saying paper cut and bound into a book has never made anybody cry. The form (game system or printed text) is a vehicle for the content.

As for my counter-example, I'd like to bring up Ico. I just replayed this game and was struck by how well narrative and gameplay are integrated. We don't develop an attachment to Yorda through cut scenes, exposition, or even in-game dialogue. We empathize with her through the system of rules that allows Ico to interact with her--calling to her, holding hands, protecting her. I would say that this is an example of emotional attachment created by gameplay mechanics rather than narrative. To complicate this a little though, I wonder why players can feel the way they do about Yorda, but not about Ashley in Resident Evil 4, who we interact with in much the same way.

FYI I'm a 18 year old dude. Now let's see...

got teary eyed at:

-MGS series multiple times.(expecially 4). Don't want to spoil anything but there's quite a few.
-Probably would have if I didn't know before hand about Aeries in FF7.

-Ocarina of Time: I was like 9 or little and sobbed when Link left the forest for the first time.

Cried softly at:

-FF7: Crisis Core ending.
-MGS4 (toward the end and the last major scene in the game).

That's all I can think of. Ironically, I think I've cried more for games than from movies (The ends of Forrest Gump, Brokeback Mountain, and Million Dollar Baby...and I've seen a ton of movies.)

I wrote a rebuke of the "games as system" view in a blog post, along with an explanation of why it's important - stick with it through the boring logic part, because in the end it gets into the exact kind of stuff Chris's argument demands. Here's the link:

"A Game Has Made You Cry, But... Procedural Rhetoric's Value"

I have never cried in a game ever.

It is the system elements that even when in a cut scenes that are the barrier. It is for numerous reasons but games just rarely even come close to the nuances emitional connection of a film. I am to busy actually playing to ever really connect. That and I find even the writing in the best games still barely comes close to a great film maker. Largely because people who can program games are under some kind of impression they can write a good story. Final fantasy is sad in the way a romantic comedy manipulates you into crying even when it's all for show. For this reason i play games to have fun.

If I am playing a game to watch it I will see a film. I play games to interact.. hence if i am crying in a game most likely it's not the interactive experience I am craving but just a JRPG with heavy cut scenes.. which are way to measured and predictable to truly affect me.

NOTICE: THERE ARE SPOILERS FOR GTA4, MSG4, AND Assassins Creed IN MY COMMENT

I think one avenue that has the capacity to make a person cry in the 'games as systems' was shown, in a primitive form, in GTA4 in the moments where the player was given the choice to let certain NPCs live or die.

Or, in a similar way, in MGS4, when the player has "beaten" one of the various members of the "Beauty and the Beast Corps" (Laughing Octopus, Crying Wolf, etc.) and the player is made to kill the more or less defenseless women, if it were an option rather than a requirement, it could be a moving choice.

Or, in Assassin's Creed, in the cut-scenes following a 'successful' if the player had to decide, after hearing the other side, whether or not to kill the character, it could be a moving choice.

Granted, all of these scenarios have to be set up, in one form or another, by narration, but I think they show the movement toward to an experience that has more to do with emotional interactivity rather than passive emotionality.

Now, to quickly voice what I think is a distracting issue. I think that framing the discussion with "games as play" on one side and "games as systems" limits, and eventually cripples, the discussion of what videogames can achieve.

To illustrate the problem, I'm going to use text as an analogy.

You ended your post by saying,

"Barring some serious change in what constitutes a videogame, the only way they are ever going to make you cry is via their narrative elements, and never by their game elements."

And if you replace "video game" with "book", because what is a book if not a collection of word constructions that are made valuable by a persons actions (in this case reading/page flipping), and "game" with "page flipping/ocular scanning", because in the same way "game systems" are the way we physically interact with them, the way we physically interact with books is ocular scanning/page flipping. When you replace those things you get:

"Barring some serious change in what constitutes a book, the only way they are ever going to make you cry is via their narrative elements, and never by their ocular scanning/page flipping elements."

Which, to someone who has grown up in a society that has valued books, sounds rather ridiculous in the same way the videogames statement should.

Crying is great if it emerges out of a story or out of anywhere that it's result isnt out of being a victim (in our discussion). However, it's not a rubrick for art. As artistic rubricks go, maybe laughter is one for comedy... i digress.
Crying can emerge out of recognition. A person can hear a song (even if instrumental) and begin to cry or laugh because of an emotion they remember, or something they identify themselves with the music. Yet, we dont hold back music as inferior because it doesnt intend to build tears on people's eyes. We also dont suggest that music cant reach ANY emotional response.
Crying (as an emotional response) can happen because of many things; sometimes the cause is even subconcious. We dont cry just because of anything or just any story. there are triggers (which are very individualistic) that help the emotions cary over. Hell, people cry like people yawn... contagiously; yet you suggest that a game cant have a mechanism that identifies itself with an emotion. what about Passage?
Stories: Most stories are based on the classic plots of which there are significantly fewer than the stories that are based on them. Now, people dont just cry at the mere mention of the plot...
Crackhead mother loses baby in trash... (a la hemmingway 6 word story, it could be both plot and story, but i guarantee you that fleshing it out and placing devices that help the reader identify with it, prosing it out, narrating, etc will make the reader more likely to cry)
Even if you have two stories that are based on the same plot, it's not guaranteed they both will pull at those tears. It's the creators manipulation that does that. Designers can create or use those same triggers, and i dont mean story mechanics, I mean simbols that pull at the human condition... An raised APR credit card statement makes me cry. A Speeding ticket makes me cry. As mechanics, these are much more prevalent in games than in stories. I've been moved by the marriage, whats the story there?

But why be held back by just crying, how about laughter. I've laughed at others and myself while playing games... it seems like an abrupt conclusion. you're trying to fill in these blanks... crying is to (blank) as laughter is to (blank)... if crying can emmerge out of seeing a sculpture, why cant it out of playing a game when it's clear that other emotional reactions are easily found within a jue, game, juego, etc).

Some others might have said this in the many long, long comments, so I'm just going to quickly sum it up with my first point and expound with my second:

1) The interactivity inherent in games, which cannot be found in other forms of storytelling, changes the perspective of the audience from being beyond the fourth wall to being on the stage.

2) This allows the player to build invested relationships with the fictional characters. Hence the most tear-jerking game I've played: Shadow of the Colossus.

SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT

I would not have cried if I watched it as a movie, but because I had traveled through this whole story with my unconditionally-loving horse only to have him die saving my life triggered a cascade of emotions which only grew stronger when the character (me) became a possessed monster, confused and scared, struggling against a spell of banishment to reach his dead princess who was the whole reason for this quest. And then she wakes up trapped alone in an empty valley. And then you hear a neigh and there's the horse, limping from the fall he took to save me.

I would have thought it sad were it a movie, because I've seen similar things in movies. But because I went through this whole adventure with my faithful steed, trusting him to come when I whistled and transport me from colossus to colossus, because I could press a button and the character would PAT THE HORSE AND REASSURE IT, it transformed the moments of his fall and his return from merely "sad" to "heartwrenching."

"Can anyone boot anything other than a tamagotchi-style game cleanly through the hole in my argument?"

Chris,

I experienced a whole range of emotions with Animal Crossing: Wild World for the DS. I played every day for a really long time. I was sad when animals moved. I was happy when they sent me letters at New Years. I laughed when they did something funny. And so on.

There are bits of preset sequences in Animal Crossing, but not really that much in the way of big, narrative, static scenes... except maybe for things like when they surprise you with a present on your birthday (by which I admit I was a little touched). But the relationship is developed through interaction, such as taking care of your town (picking weeds, watering flowers, growing trees) and keeping your neighbors happy (visit with them, send them letters, invite them to your house).

You might consider this to be "tamagotchi-style," but I think that Animal Crossing is a little more than that because it also involves cultivating the environment. But there may be a larger pattern here in games that encourage you to develop a relationship with AI and game environments through giving you a caretaker role.

Well - recently I played Primal (PS2 title). I Inserted the disc, watched the trailer and was touched by the art and design - presentation and I didnt knew nothing about the story. And from that trailer I was SO close to tears of joy!

That was true later in the game - when I was exploring middle age architecture - and again - design brought some tears to my eyes.

So, I think, that games CAN make you cry if their design or game-play mechanics rely on things close to you.

Wow - that's a lot of comments! Much too many to handle in detail, so I'll have to keep it brief. Apologies to anyone whose comment I've skipped over.

Bez - the problem with the "games as systems" view isn't this viewpoint, per se, it's that it tends to appeal to players with a bias for systems-thinking (Rational temperament) and as a consequence people who wield this view have a nasty tendency to think about systems-based play more than other kinds of play. It's a perfectly valid perspective - but it tends to exclude as irrelevant many forms of play that are actually extremely relevant to more diverse players.

"We may all be playing games in the gig venue (or theatre), but we're not all playing the same one."

Are you sure? I think it's the same game, but we all have different mechanics. ;)

GregT: if only I had the patience to play Braid, I might have an opinion on this! :) I'm prepared to believe it's moving for the players who can play it, though, since it's mentioned a lot.

Michael S.: I completely agree with what you say here - and you and Aureia are really pushing this as much or more than anyone else I know in the games space. Keep it up! :)

Darius: this sounds very interesting - it's management-narrative via gameplay mechanics. We've seen this in sports games, but I've never really considered it as a source of emotion before.

Travis: Yes, I think everyone has played Shadow of the Colossus now. ;) I was angry when Agro died. I always get very attached to my horses in games, and to have him taken from me by the design team to generate pathos annoyed me. The interesting thing about the emotions of this game was that the first time people kill a Colossus, they often feel sad - that's a rare achievement in itself.

Brian Chen: I agree that sports become narrative, and that narrative is so embedded in our experiences of the world that we can't eliminate this. But I sense you feel you are undermining my argument, when I feel you are strengthening it... I do like this idea of mechanics as a means to maintain, attention though - very interesting.

Shoogerbare: Street Fighter? Really? Wow, that *was* an unexpected game to name! :)

Gumbrel: nice call on the use of voice - it really does make a huge difference.

Pearce: "dangerously reductive" - ah, a phrase after my own philosophical tastes. :)

Marco: I don't know Crisis Core, but it sounds like this has nothing to do with the gameplay. It looks like a narrative event imbedded into the gameplay - nice, but not enough to overcome my original objection.

Bryan: "You are basically removing one way a game presents it's narative to prove a point." Yes, and to provoke discussion - mostly the latter.

"Can you get a great sense of accomplishment from watching a movie?"

I can, actually. But it has to be a suitable challenging movie - a Kurasawa, say.

Little Boot: thanks for this Fable 2 anecdote - I found it fascinating! It really shows what might be possible in the future.

Luke (and others): film, theatre, books etc. *are* narratives. You can't remove narrative from a narrative, but you *can* separate narrative from play, at least conceptually. I do agree with the general argument that this kind of reductive approach is narrow, however.

Simon Ferrari: I'm confused as to why a response to the sublime would not be an emotional response... And delighted that this post provoked you to write something substantial! I'll take a look...

Johnny B: I agree that narrative is not the only way that we can be moved emotionally, and music is a good example of a formal form that can do so without narrative.

Stephanie: thanks for this anecdote! I shall take Phoenix Wright as another example booted just about through the goalposts (perhaps hitting one of them on the way), since although the narrative is indelibly bound up with what's happening here, the pivotal role of the decision marks it clearly as play.

Manwards: Oh yes, undoubtedly semantics. :) It's the best way to provoke discussion! ;)

*phew*

Sorry I didn't have time to respond to anything further, but this was a real deluge of comments!

Thanks to everyone for sharing your viewpoints! Very interesting reading.

Have you ever lost a level 80 character in Diablo Hardcore mode? I've cried several times, and that is TOTAL gameplay. Not cutscenes, no narrative, just death.

I cried playing Halo single player the day it came out when I first found the SPNKR. Marathon was a defining game for me. When I first saw those SPNKR rounds in the dropship wreckage, I felt like I had finally come home after years in the wilderness.

(Spoilers Final Fantasy 7)

I know of people who cried when Aeris died in Final Fantasy 7.

Shadow of the Colossus? Gods know I felt pretty damnably bad stabbing the Colossi, whose only crime seemed to be being between me and the 'win' objective. Only three or so of them in the game are really aggressive towards your character at all, and the rest remain passive until you attack, some even beyond that.

The dichotomy between "systems" and "narratives" is certainly false, not because, as some are suggesting, both have an intertwined cause and effect relationship, but because the inherent linearity of all video games will suggest an underlying narrative to players even if no such narrative is intended. Within the realms of the unreal paradigms video games present concepts such as "winning", "losing" or "participating" are themselves untruths whose meaning is contingent upon the player interpreting them symbolically, which is, in turn, only achievable if that same player is able to refer to a pre-existing series of narratives entirely unconnected to the experience of playing the game. In other words, the whole concept of "systems" is rooted in "narratives": if it were not, there would be no point in playing a game in the first place. To recap, then; because even the very action of playing a (unreal) game consists in someone believing they can "win", "lose" or simply "participate" (none of which are actually really existing options), the only significant way to draw any consequence from the action of playing is to rely on a fiction already extant in the game.

It's also problematic to suggest that games are somehow so separable from cut scene narratives that the inclusion of such necessarily leads to a point in which one is capable of saying that the game hasn't moved them to tears, even if the cut scene did. To steal a slightly garbled metaphor from the original post, if we're moved to tears by an actor in a theatre it's because we empathise based on our own life experiences before we even enter the auditorium. If we had never experienced sorrow, for example, it would be difficult for us to feel sorrow when its essential simulacra is presented to us on stage. Yet I have never heard anyone seriously argue that theatre cannot make you cry because a prerequisite for the act of crying is going through whatever it is that made you cry in the first place, the logical consequence of which is the following statement: "theatre cannot make you cry, because you may cry even without the stimulus of the play, so all the play does is invoke an emotional response, not create one." That would be absurd, as it is in the argument here. Whosoever has cried at a cut scene (god help you) has cried at a part of a game entirely inextricable from the rest of it. Take the cut scene away and although they'd still be playing a game, it couldn't any way be said to be the same one, so it follows that cut scenes a game does make.

Once you realise that systems are narratives (that is, meaningful only when referred through stories we tell ourselves) and narratives are systems (even in very logical forms, like images, language and programming languages) it isn't the "games can make you cry" theory that collapses in on itself, but the argument made in the OP.

i understand what you say about the game system cannot make people cry at all... anyway...

While i was playing winning eleven, at the end of a championship...i couldn't score... i need to win to be champion..but i just was drawing... damn i take a goal... damn man... i was playing and crying. I buy Schevechenko (or something like this xD) I built my team, I was so into it. You can say "it was frustration" but hey, it was something the game give me at all. the system of it is play, score, do not take goals... I take goal, and yup cried. The next season I win, and was a drama also... i make the goal at end... it was a crying a goal. Sentimental dude I'm uh?

As a good brazilian my blood gets hot at soccer. xD

But the thing is... I think Story nowadays make parts of the game at all. You have to give some 2 cents to the player understand why he is playing this system thing. Cause this way the game system doesn't have a purpose at all... so my opinion is that story is the same as the game. This way, game can make cry. xD
(I also cried in the end of zelda... damn I'm such a cry baby)

Thinking about system and plot separately its like to say when your REAL soccer team wins a match: "you cried cause your team wins, and not cause of the match by itself" yup! but all the match minutes, tension, hardworking built up the win and the emotions for me to cry.

The system alone cannot make a people cry, a plot can. But a system alone is like playing tetris. just killing some time.

All the game system make part of the sensation of I DO IT. The game system create the empathy of character with player at most, cause at this moment they are one! the game story came cause someone have to explain whadda hell i have to do and who are these dudes by my side... and why the heck this damn guy is hitting me? xD

Anyway, i got your point... just want to say this that pass through my mind.

sorry my english and confuse parts... Think about it and translate to english at same time make me crazy. xD

see yah =D

Jeff: Diablo? I don't think that's crying in the sense being discussed here, that sounds like withdrawal. >:)

Weasel Boy: Halo? Wow - another unexpected choice of title! Of course, your experience wasn't from the game systems in this instance, but it's still an interesting case to cite.

Janine: I know exactly how you feel here! But after a while I became dead inside and did what the game asked of me. That in itself was a disturbing lesson...

Kid Sisyphus: I think you must have missed my first comment here, which clarified my intentions - and deceptions! :) You may need to check this to understand what's going on in this post.

But I must observe that systems are not narratives, although narratives may be systems. There is not an equivalence here, but you are correct that systems *always* create narratives of some kind when they are experienced.

"Whosoever has cried at a cut scene (god help you) has cried at a part of a game entirely inextricable from the rest of it."

What a queer monadic philosophy you have when a component that can be pulled out and even experienced seperately (via YouTube, say) is "entirely inextricable"! :) Under the systems view, the cut scenes are expressly excluded, so I think you missed my point here.

But check my original comment before pursuing this, as you need to understand the purpose of the post before you can really pass comment upon it.

Warchild: your English is perfectly understandable, and undoubtedly better than my Portugese! :)

You are of course correct that making these distinctions becomes silly after a point, and indeed, I was fully aware of this when I put the post together.

The narrative "wrapper" of a game is an essential part of what makes a person cry - even in the tamagotchi case, above. This is not indivisible from the system (as Kid Sysyphus tries to assert) but it is certainly inevitable in anything other than an abstract "puzzle" game.

---

Thanks for the additional comments! Always interesting to read.

I understand the provocation in the original text and your justification of such, but I believe you've made a fundamental category mistake in pitting narrative against system, since there's no meaningful way to disentangle either.

I assert that systems are narratives; fictive constructs only ultimately reducible to the underlying paradigm (metanarrative) from which they originate. That we perceive reality within the confines of certain rules we consider rigorous or proper does not mean there are no other possible rules. If Aristotle's head had fallen off in some freak accident we may never have received the concept of the syllogism, and consequently might have discover different (inferior or superior) forms of logic that may have radically affected the development of Western civilisation. The point being that a system is a narrative (most often linear) amongst narratives. In this sense, everything is a fiction, unless one believes truth to be divine and revelatory, in which case mankind (and this discussion) is simply rendered irrelevant.

Conversely, video game narratives (cut scene or not) are "ghosts in the system", though the system itself is contained within an even larger overarching narrative. If you can't use a system to create a narrative, you have no story, but if you can't use a narrative to create a system, you have, literally, nothing.

On my alleged monadism: I doubt you (or anyone else) would seriously trust a review of, say, The Dark Knight, based on a 2 minute clip on YouTube. While it's possible to be entirely satisfied by different aspects of a unified whole, it makes little sense when talking about a game in the abstract to refer to specific parts of it, especially when you consider that your "systems view" is really a "narrative view" and vice versa.

Obviously we have a philosophical disagreement that it'll be impossible to resolve, but I still think your (perhaps deliberate) category mistake stands, and that it isn't possible to defend it without having to reformulate exactly what it is you've asserted in the OP.

Have already been covered I imagine, but here are some completely interactive scenes that are intended to evoke emotion (spoilers follow):

MGS3 and the scene with The Boss near the end. Interaction is actually forced. YOU as the player have to take negative action.

Shadow of the Colossus and the end scene shortly before Wander's demise. You can struggle all you want, but you'll never reach that girl you worked so hard to save. Forced interaction again.

Fallout 3 (or any of the games in the series). You're frequently forced to make emotionally challenging decisions in an interactive fashion.

Dead Rising, near the end characters you've grown to at least like you gotta put a bullet in their heads for their own good (personally didn't make me cry, but I can see why someone might). Purely interactive.

Mass Effect like Fallout you are frequently forced with tough decisions in an interactive fashion.

Grand Theft Auto 4. Wish I thought of this one sooner 'cause it was a big moment of the game for me. There are several points where you have to choose between two characters that are going to die, and at least two of these situations are fully interactive. The sniping one really sucked (in a good way).

That's all I can think of off the top of my head. If I went through my game collection I could probably find more.

Demaar: thanks for this list! I think all of these have been mentioned previously, but it's nice to see them presented coherently like this.

Kid Sisyphus: thanks for coming back to resume our discussion! It wasn't clear from your previous post that you were au fait with my framework here, and I still think you're missing something in terms of comprehending of my purpose here.

I would like to note, however, that one does not have to resort to divine truth to be a realist these days - there are plenty of scientistic realists in the world today who take their authority of absolute truth from their faith in science, and not from a faith in God. In this regard, see my piece on Ethics of Metaphysics.

The problem with your "systems are narratives" assertion isn't your core idea, which I'm certain we could throw around long enough to be in accord over, but the way you present it. Let me try and expound upon this point.

An ameoba, a bus schedule and a star are all systems - indeed, since the rise of systems theory, everything can be rendered as a system - but none of these things are narratives in and of themselves.

We usually take the word 'narrative' to mean 'a story that is told'. The amoeba and the star (outside of an idealist position) exist independent of any concept of narrative. The bus schedule is a story of a kind, but it is not a narrative - it is not narrated, but delivered in a systemic form. It may become a narrative - when someone decides to check when a bus is coming, and tells someone else, but it does not begin as a narrative, at least in terms of how this term is usually used.

So I suppose this comes down to your definition of narrative, which seems to overstep how this term is usually used, and that's perhaps where we get into trouble, because you're wielding this word in a specific context, but you don't quite provide it, leaving me slightly bemused.

Now if you're taking a view that all of our perspectives are essentially stories, then you are in accord with what I wrote earlier this month in The Stories We Tell. But you seem to be coming from a stronger position, of some kind: you write as if you have access to some basis for authority to your claim that all systems are narratives, beyond the choice of interpretation.

Aren't you conflating the system model with the entity? And if so, you should bear in mind Alfred Korzybski's warning that "the map is not the territory".

Plus, it is not I who "pits system against narrative" at all, but rather the "ludologists" who have sustained the utterly irrelevant "narrative versus system" debate. It is indeed this view that I seek to pastiche here for my own amusement, but this is secondary to the main purpose of the post, and neither is it my general view on this matter.

You see, this is a honeypot designed to encourage players to share their experiences of how games have made them cry. The very reason I didn't think you had read my earlier comment was that you didn't show any awareness of the role of the post - the narrative behind it, if you will - as your comment waded in on a philosophical point that is, I'm afraid, quite tangential to what is going on here.

Now if you enjoy philosophy, you should be over on my other blog, Only a Game, as that's where all my philosophical discussions go down. You'd be more than welcome there!

But for now, I'm done with blogging for a week. Feel free to reply, and I will get back to it eventually, but probably not until after Gregorian New Year.

Best wishes, and perhaps we shall meet again... :)

Best wishes to you too, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I've checked out your other blog and it all seems thoughtful, reasonable and interesting, but for the purposes of this discussion I'll stick around here.

Back to the debate: First off, I don't believe it is possible to conceive of a realism that isn't itself qualified by an unreal narrative construct. You can rely on scientism to provide a basis for explaining external reality if you want, but you'll eventually have to concede that such a view is simply a preference, which in itself is formed through selecting one metanarrative over another. If you start from accepting a metanarrative which constructs no deity, you simply end up affecting the purpose of your conclusion, which, in reality (only coherent when seen through unreal foci) is infinitely variable. A naive example: I start out with an atheistic scientistic metanarrative, you start out with a religious scientistic metanarrative. We both discover exactly the same theory of evolution of the same day. Mine contributes to the denigration of the existence of God. Yours contributes to an increased understanding of God's truth. The discovery itself is identical. Only our overarching narratives (events we connect through language with no basis in objective reality) differ. There is no realism; just a set of narratives preferable to others according to a specific set of ultimately linguistic systems that are themselves verbal and written expressions of higher narratives. So in contradistinction to your point about scientistic realism, I posit that it is only possible to talk about "scientistic unrealism".

I agree when you say that most external things are not narratives in and of themselves, but there's no way (no sense) of conceiving of them without first constructing what are essentially fictions in order to better understand them. You don't know what a star is, you just ascribe to it a certain narrative ( a scientistic one, say) that explains what it is, with which you're in agreement. If this sounds incredibly relativistic, take heart in the fact that it isn't: I fully endorse the view that, in order to make progress, the dissemination and adoption of some narratives are preferable to others, but narratives they all are.

This underlines a paradox in your rather libertarian "freedom of belief" theory: if freedom of belief is upheld, it necessarily means that we are unfree not to believe in freedom of belief, even at an individual level. In this sense, I think your examples elsewhere of Communist repressions fall slightly flat, because repression may protect freedoms if the alternative is not being allowed to believe anything other than your "freedom of belief". Anyway, I digress.

I'm not really all that concerned with your "do games make you cry" question, just with the fact that you seem to think it possible to escape the use of narratives, when, in video games at least, they're all pervasive. These games without narratives... they just don't exist. So while I agree with you to the extent that games with advanced story elements are more likely to elicit tears, it's only because, in (un)real terms, the narratives of so called non-narrative games are rubbish by comparison.

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