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Breaking Through The Apathy: My Top Four Emotional Gaming Moments

Jonathan Lester
Apathy, Doom, Emotion, Far Cry 2, Games articles, Metal Gear Solid, System Shock 2, Top Four

Breaking Through The Apathy: My Top Four Emotional Gaming Moments

As a cynical gamer with more addictions than I can count on one hand, I've been mired in a sea of apathy and detachment for years. Typically I feel very little other than mild pleasure, irritation and occasional anger in my day-to-day life... and people tell me that the decades I've spent gaming has numbed me to the highs and lows of the real world.

They've got a point... but every once in a while, a gaming moment comes along that genuinely makes me feel something. An emotion so profound, in fact, that I rate them as some of the defining moments of my life. So allow me, if I may, to step out of my objective comfort zone and share some of my seminal gaming experiences with y'all. Remember that this is a very subjective subject, though: and you might be surprised by some of the games that make my list!

Oh, and spoiler alert.

4: Hybrid Zombies, Brown Trousers [System Shock 2]

Breaking Through The Apathy: My Top Four Emotional Gaming Moments

Is fear an emotion? Psychologists may argue that it's just a basic survival instinct, but I'd beg to differ. Horror games can make you jump us jump out of our skin or make us feel oppressed and alone, but it takes an exceptional game to successfully manage both. Enter System Shock 2.

Sneaking around a creepy ship populated by horrific hybrid zombies armed with nothing but a wrench and a psychic ball would've been bad enough... but SS2 upped the anti by making the abominations spawn randomly around the map. Not only that, but they frequently called out to me- both taunting me with the knowledge of my inexorable doom and begging me to end their newfound anguish. I was frequently too scared to go round a corner or enter a new area; literally, System Shock had me by the short and curlies. Retreating to an area that I thought was safe proved to be the last straw...as I turned around straight into the twisted leering face of a hanging corpse... and then was shocked almost to death as a pipewielding ex-crewmember stoved my virtual head in.

Apparently I screamed. Like a five year old girl. I've still haven't lived it down.

3: Activated? Wait, what now?! [Metal Gear Solid]

Breaking Through The Apathy: My Top Four Emotional Gaming Moments

The original Metal Gear Solid was an emotional rollercoaster ride that provided half a dozen unforgettable gaming moments that've stuck with me over these last dozen years. Say what you want about the franchise, but Kojima really knows how to tug on the heartstrings. Whilst Psycho Mantis, Meryl's sniping and finding out that I was nothing but a biological vector could've all been strong contenders for this list, there's one pivotal event that stands out as one of the most gutting and surprising moments of my gaming career.

Convinced that I had to reprogram a keycard to avert a nuclear holocaust, I spent two hours desperately running and gunning in a race against time. Confident in my success (and that I'd seen through Liquid's unconvincing Master Miller disguise), I finally slid the card into the launch console... to be told that I'd armed the system and the terrorists were clear to deploy Metal Gear. I barely registered Liquid and Ocelot's humiliating taunts as I realised that I'd been completely and utterly duped into doing their job for them.

I was furious at myself for not putting two and two together. Embarrassed that I'd inadvertently played right into Kojima's hands. Humilated and angry that a fictional character had caught me completely unprepared- and the feeling of helplessness was as keen as I've ever experienced.

Damn, I'm an idiot. At least I managed to kick Liquid's pasty ass to make up for it!

2: Die, demons! DIE! [Doom]

Breaking Through The Apathy: My Top Four Emotional Gaming Moments

A few years back, I was grinding through the original Doom on Nightmare difficulty. As a seasoned id veteran I rarely saved my progress- but after an enormous battle that depleted most of my health, I thought it would be worth a punt. Thing is... it was a bad save. I'd neglected to notice two enormous monster closets opening and an incoming Hell Knight plasma blast- and try as I might, I couldn't salvage this situation at all. I continually got humiliatingly bushwhacked by the horde of demons that spawned behind me no matter how hard I tried.

And then something happened. Something that turned the tide of the entire battle. I got angry.

I was sick of the demons lording it over me. Over mankind. Sure, I might die... but I was going to take every single one of those ungodly sons of b*ches with me. Laughing, roaring, cursing and taunting my virtual foes, I charged into the fray, blasting through the last of my cells, shells and armour. The red mist came down as I switched to the chainsaw.

A few minutes later, my housemate cautiously stuck his head around the door to check if I was okay... to find me in a power metal pose and cackling maniacally at the screen. The demons lay lifelessly strewn around me... and a single percentage of my health remained as the exit console winked invitingly at me from across the room. Looking back on things, I feel a little silly getting so worked up about a computer game- but I learned a valuable lesson. Sometimes, to get even... you've got to get mad.

1: Bye Bye, Buddy [Far Cry 2]

Breaking Through The Apathy: My Top Four Emotional Gaming Moments

Whoa! Wait! What?! Far Cry 2?! What's wrong with you?!!!!1!

I hear you. In fact, I'm a little surprised myself... but I'm going to tell you a story. A story about a man called Paul Ferenc.

Left to fend for ourselves in the midst of a wartorn African hellhole, Paul and I stuck together for survive. We saved each other's lives half a dozen times apiece, with Paul literally dragging me to safety out of raging bush fires and impossible gunfights to live another day. We were men of few words, but we relied on each other to get by and slowly formed an alliance of necessity.

One day, however, I was bushwhacked outside of Pala by a roving patrol. As I crumpled to the ground and my vision faded, I was vaguely aware of strong hands lifting me to safety. Paul had come for me- and between blacking out I saw him fend off the hordes of militia as he bodily pulled me out of the firefight. Back on my feet, I patched myself up... but looked on in panic as a mercenary snuck up behind my buddy and shot him down like a dog. Dispatching the assailant, I sprinted to Paul's side and readied the morphine syrette that'd patched him up many times before.

But something was different this time. It didn't work. Begging me for more morphine to stop the pain, I japped him with another syringe, convinced that it was a bug or a glitch... but it still had no effect. Granting his desperate plea for more morphine, I hit him with a third shot...and with a peaceful sigh he lay perfectly still. Paul was dead. I couldn't save his life...yet he died saving mine.

Stunned, I laid my controller down and left the room. The sheer surprise and gutwrenching realism of the moment had completely knocked me for six, and I literally couldn't bring myself to keep playing for the rest of the day. Sure, I had other buddies down the line- but I couldn't form any sort of attachment after that. They were going to die. Why get to know them? Goodnight, sweet prince.

When was the last time a game made you feel something real? Surprised that Aerith and Heavy Rain didn't make the list? Want to recommend me a good psychiatrist?! Have your say in the comments!

Add a comment4 comments
Sam Parsons  Jun. 12, 2010 at 16:13

Three words. Weighted. Companion. Cube.

With you on Shock 2 though. Utterly terrifying.

Matt Gardner  Jun. 12, 2010 at 16:44

That cube broke my heart :(

Ryan  Jun. 13, 2010 at 21:00

Phew, glad it's not just me with the total apathy day in day out - I also wondered if games had induced this, or inversely, if games are the only way to cut through it and feel something.

I'm with you on all MGS and SS2. I'd add Homeworld, Persona 3 and FF7 to the list - HW's use of music, coupled with your ship's voices, right after the initial mission was very effective and touching; really fired me up to save their race. FF7 and Persona 3 are both very strong on interaction and emotions, both memorable.

Jonathan Lester  Jun. 14, 2010 at 17:57

There are plenty of us out there- though this phenomenon tends to get swept up and ignored in the deluge of alarmist and erroneous "games cause violence" tirades.

You're right, FF7 and Persona 3 are extremely profound- but the third-person narrative style tends to deaden the experience for me. I usually get the biggest emotional reactions from games that let me either play as 'myself' or imprint onto the characters.



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