The following contains spoilers for Mass Effect 3, The Walking Dead: The Game and The Last Of Us
Around fifteen years ago, I used to spend my nights grinning from ear to ear, sending Sonic spinning from one badnik to the next while collecting every ring in sight with my lightning shields. The eleven year-old me spent time playing games when really, I should’ve been getting a good nights rest before school. At times I’D turn up a yawning mess as my late night session’s on the latest Sega game was affecting my education – not that I cared.
Fast forward to the present day and games are just making me downright miserable.
“The Walking Dead connected with me directly as a father, making it difficult to think straight at that point.”
Take Mass Effect 3, a game that was the end of a saga, the end point of a journey. All that time agonising over decisions, worrying long after I switched the game off whether I’ve just sent a whole species to their doom. Was there anything I could do afterwards? No, I just kept thinking of some of the decisions I’d made over and over again in my head, was it the right call?
I wouldn’t find out until further on down the line.
But little did I know that all these decisions I was worrying about were about to be annexed into one funnel, all those multitude of answers and paths each of us had taken were simply put into three categories – red, blue or green. The controversial ending to one of this generations most recognisable trilogies.
After immediately completing Mass Effect 3 I was in a state of shock. I couldn’t go back, I couldn’t play it. What have they done? I asked myself for days afterwards, my mood genuinely dropped after the anticipation of finally seeing the end of Shepard’s journey and not knowing how or why it had come about in this catastrophic finale. I felt hurt and miserable afterwards, but I got over it. I plucked up the courage to come back and earn Mass Effect 3′s platinum.
I thought that a decision like that in Mass Effect’s narrative would be the most emotional I would ever get about a video game, but then The Walking Dead took me by the hand and ripped my arm off.
To be precise Episode 4 of The Walking Dead was the point where I knew that this game had one hell of a grip on me. Just hours after you had to see Kenny’s son die, you discover a small, starving child in the loft of a house. He’s already turned and clearly no threat to you, so the decision is made to put him out of his misery and end his life. Despite the fact that in the end this was the right thing to do it still had the effect of making me tear up.
I have a son myself and on that level The Walking Dead connected with me directly as a father making it was difficult to think straight at that point. I went back and forth thinking of my own son, and thinking of this situation, it was hard and I’m sure most parents who played this section saw it differently to those without. In one fell swoop, ‘helping’ this poor infected child was harder than chopping any limb off a body or making tough decisions about which adult dies. For this scene alone The Walking Dead was my personal game of 2012.
The Last Of Us Spoilers follow
And in a similar way The Last Of Us caught me off guard with a child scenario as well, but this time it was straight off the bat. Joel’s daughter Sarah is killed by a soldier within the first twenty minutes of a powerful and stressful opening at the start of the infected taking over.
I don’t think I’ve ever been moved so much in the opening segment of a game, show or movie. I hadn’t even got accustomed to any of the characters or even the dark environment that The Last Of Us would eventually portray. But right there, that moment will again live with me for a long time.
Just like that someone you care about is ripped straight from you and that’s the type of scene that games have had the difficulty of getting across to the player. In years gone by the only emotion and narrative attachment most games could ever hope of getting would be one’s of anger at a design decision. There are of course exceptions to this rule through the years but with The Walking Dead, The Last Of Us and even Journey, we’re seeing different stories being told in different ways but all evoking feelings that video games had real trouble in eking out before. Moving into the next gen I’ll be sure to have a box of tissues and a tub of Ice Cream at the ready.