Emotionally Rich Games

My post on GameCity7 is currently under construction, but in the meantime thanks to some thoughts, conversations and tweets during and following the festival it got me thinking. One of thoughts thought paths was to do with my Dissertation in which I am trying to discuss portraying and evoking positive emotions through game play mechanics…quite a large thought so as a warning this is a long post.

Thanks to a link on Twitter I have just read through Ten Indie Games That Will Make You Feel Things by Adrian Chmielarz where he collects together the lesser known Indie titles that are emotionally driven. Now I have heard of a few of these, either through Uni course, museum exhibits or talks at GameCity, and I have just played the few one the list that I hadn’t heard of, nearly all of them were of a sombre or of a atmospheric nature. Now I wanted to talk about some of the games there, as I found that as I made my way through the list my brain kept reminding me of my dissertation and how difficult it’s getting trying to find examples of positive emotional gameplay. I have retyped this post a few times and each time I read it back it didn’t make sense until I started talking about the games on the list, so I have gone through the list in the same order here and presented my own observations.

To start with The Call of the Fireflies was one I couldn’t play as I don’t have Crysis, but looked very sombre in the trailer and of course reminded me of Grave of the Fireflies and Firefly, a film and TV series that is not exactly brimming with happiness.

The next on the list is Every Day the Same Dream, now this was mentioned in Uni but it wasn’t until the New Walk Museum 2Player Exhibit in Leicester that I got around to playing this, and it is a very sombre take on the mortality of life and that most people go through life not doing much else that what they normally do each day. The game has some interesting results when you deviate from the set path before you.

I haven’t played the Europa Concept yet as it was very similar to a game concept I had to work on earlier this year which made me wonder…but anyway watching the video play though and reading what people thought of it is again about loneliness and the struggle for survival.

Then there is Freedom Bridge which I hadn’t heard of but had heard of it’s creator as I had played Loneliness recently and found that it was emotionally engaging on a level that may not have been intended by Jordan Magnuson. Best go have a play now of both as it won’t take long… 🙂

Screen Cap taken from Necessary Games Site

When I played Loneliness I tried to always interact with the other squares on screen, just like I do with people in real life even though I have been burned many times. My partner on the other hand stopped trying after a time fearful that he was hurting the other squares on the screen and tried to avoid everyone, much as he had done in life before. As for Freedom Bridge I didn’t find that as emotionally engaging as a game experience unlike Loneliness, mainly as it is about the subject of war and conflict so the emotional connotations are already set up before you play. Although the ending made me jump out of my seat unlike any other game I have played! These are ‘not games’ from what I am given to understand as they are more about using gaming technology to deliver interactive experiences, something the next developer is well known for.

The Graveyard by Tale of Tales is an interesting one as I first came across this in a talk at GameCity6 by where Richard Lemarchand talked to Michaël Samyn and Auriea Harvey from Tale of Tales. The theme again is very sombre and is about the mortality we all share, which appears to be the common theme for majority of games on this list.

The next game on the list is sadly out of reach being a UT2004 mod, which is a shame as it certainly sounds interesting, Hollow Moon, which according to Chmielarz little colour and sound, an experiment I would like to do to see if a game can still be emotionally engaging without those established key tools that usually create emotion in a player/viewer etc.

Then there was ImmorTall, which without spoiling too much, it is again about a common theme that is appearing here. It has to be played really to understand it, thankfully it is available to play online, go play then come back. 🙂 It also reminded me of NoFace from Spirited Away a little, but I think that was more the colour pallet and shape of the alien more than anything.

I was quite surprised to see a Half Life 2 mod which was a horror game on here, I do not have Half Life installed on my laptop, and I know I have a slight issue wanting to be a game designer/producer and not liking horror games I don’t think I want to play it. To clarify I am a big wuss when it comes to horror, I made it though most of Bioshock, I watch Devilbod playing Dark Souls and I saw most of Dead Space…but horror sticks with me and I can’t sleep, even thinking about Event Horizon makes me want to keep all the lights on in the house. I just don’t do horror well, might have something to do with an over-active imagination in the sense that I put myself in the characters position in my mind.

Then there is One Chance, if you have played Every Day the Same Dream this will be very familiar to you, but with some disturbing twists. The game also means what it says in it’s title, you only have one chance to play through it and that’s it. Seriously try to start again, there isn’t a way to do so through the game. It is a very clever use of internet technology and is also a concept I have been toying with in my head as what better way to create emotional resonance when you cannot change what happened, just like in real life?

Then just as I think that there are no games on here that aren’t designed to make you cry with despair and think about the fleetingness of life Proteus comes up. It’s sunset beach scene a stark contrast to the others on the page, and it’s content also vastly different. There is not a game here as such, I got to play it briefly at GameCity and talk to Ed Key even more briefly about it. I had not come across it until last week and I am still not sure what to make of it. It is a pixel beauty in which the sound and environment are so tightly tied and the world is a living breathing playground left for the player to explore.

Image From: Proteus Gallery

I have it downloaded now and am off for a proper explore, but so far it is the first game since Glitch that has come across as emotionally engaging in a positive way. Glitch is an odd game, that I could write even more about for an even longer space of time as I have to stop myself playing it daily or I would never get anything done! 🙂

But is it just me? Am a just drawn to these types of games? I don’t think so like with my film choices I see out the more fun games, the more light hearted and the more positive games when I am gaming for fun. I know the tag line ’emotionally driven’ games is on my radar at the moment as I am writing my Dissertation on emotion in games, and a lot of the time that tag appears to lead to games that explore the tortured side of the human condition. I am also currently working my way through how music plays a big part in creating emotion, that in fact music appears to have an all encompassing power to affect people’s emotions regardless of the medium it is presented in, so haven’t gone intentionally seeking for games yet. Yet back on topic is it that I am just missing the ’emotionally rich’ games about positive emotions? Or is it that positive emotions like happiness, love, kindness etc are harder to portray effectively in a gaming medium?

Film has a whole genre for ‘feel good films’ and I am known among my friends for always seeking out films, TV series etc that don’t contain too many depressing themes (or violence, or horror, or psychological thrillers – which means movie nights in my house are usually constrained to the selection of Pixar titles we own.)

So are games lacking that ‘feel good’ genre? I think there are some out there that fit the bill, the little that I have experienced of Proteus so far seems to fit that bill. I want to say Journey is a positive emotional game as well, but the implied story and the ending verge on aching sadness that tarnishes the pure joy of sand dune gliding and floating as a white cloak. (That and I cried bitter-sweet tears at the end…) I am currently enjoying Costume Quest, which is fun and quirky but doesn’t have emotional game play at it’s core, unlike the games Chmielarz picked out. Yet that is part of my point I can name a few console titles I have played recently that would probably not make a list like the one I have just gone over.  Ones that are purely joyful to play, the first ones that spring to mind are games from the Katamari series and of course the Little Big Planet series. Then there is NiGHTS, which I am far too bias to talk about really, but for me is the embodiment of joy and happiness in the form of flying and the story – the latter never really being fully understood unless you read the manual and watched all the cut scenes. (Another post brewing about my thoughts on that game…)


Image Originally Found On: Gimmie Gimmie Games

There is the other issue, the individual reaction to games and their emotional triggers, Papo & Yo taught me that, even though the game is about a very serious emotionally scarring event/circumstance it made me angry and sorrowful but others happy through catharsis, a way to deal with the subject matter the game cleverly portrayed.

Image From: Arstechnica

Or is the the fact that positive emotions in games come off as false? As most positive emotions such as happiness and love are evoked through interactions with other people. That simple joy is what games can always provide no matter what their content as a person who plays a game is enjoying the experience no matter the emotional triggers contained within.

I guess I could debate this for a while, and this is why my Dissertation write up is proving difficult at the moment, as there so many games out there each one catering to different tastes and expectations. That there is something for everyone if you know where to look and not everyone is going to have the same reaction to a game, that it is all individual at the end of the day.

But for once I would like to see the ’emotionally rich’ games or the ‘games that make you feel’ tag lines leading to a more positive collection of games as there is not enough chocolate in the house for the more sombre titles that are apparently quite common at the moment.

P.S. After writing this post I already have a follow up one writing itself in the back of my brain, as I forgot about Flower (not something I would normally do I blame it on the flu!) another game from TGC, as for the majority that has got to be the most emotionally positive game I have played to date without being just purely playful like LBP. But that is a post for another time. 🙂


4 thoughts on “Emotionally Rich Games

  1. Hey, thanks for mentioning my game and that was a good follow up to Adrians list. I just wanted to say as a PSA, if you ever get hl2 installed, never ever play that mod. I’m fine with horror, usually completely unaffected, and that had me genuinely terrified. If you don’t do horror well, well you might have a breakdown or something. It’s that good. (bad?)

    • Liz Lansdown says:

      Hi Quick Fingers no problem, I look forward to playing your game more. 🙂 Heard on Twitter that it was getting developed further?

      Thanks for the heads up about PSA, I do tend to stay away from those types of games am fine with Bioshock just not Amnesia…its certainly an interesting side of design though to create such an environment that affects players that much as it seems that it would be worse than a movie, especially if the game is never quite the same in each play through.

  2. Have you played One Chance yet? It is a flash game about a scientist who cures cancer, but the cure becomes infectious and starts to wipe out all life on earth. You play through a week of his life and you make multiple decisions per day as to what to do. The kicker is if you do not find a cure and everyone dies the game ends and you can not play it again. Every time you reload the page it shows your character dead in his lab.

    This heartbreaking game that can only be played once i felt is a genius experiment into perma-death. Since every action has consequences you really have to think about what you are doing. If you have not played it please do. If you have played it I would love to know what you think about it.

    • Liz Lansdown says:

      Hi. Yes I have played One Chance, every similar to Every Day the Same Dream I thought. I played it through and got the ending in the park with the guy and his daughter I wasn’t sure if that was the good ending or bad one until I refreshed and got a park with green trees in the game window. 🙂 It is interesting that there is no way (aside from some tweaks to your browser settings) to replay that game. Not something that would be possible on many platforms. I remember hearing about a crazy idea of doing something like this during the GBA era which would make the player buy a new cartridge every time they died in a game therefore making the player literally pay for their mistakes.

      I think it works as a game play experiment and certainly makes a game more memorable as you have to think about your actions rather than constant trial and error in game that allow you to reload as soon as you have made a mistake. I think games like Dark Souls have perhaps a slightly better happy medium though by making the players actions within the world permanent as it saves so regularly onto one save file, as I don’t think the perma death would work in a game that you have to pay for.

      One last thing on One Chance was the emotional impact of the game was quite harrowing, and even though it was simple graphics the death of the guys wife in my play through was very chilling as my first thought was ‘I have to make sure the kid does not see that.’ There are things wrong with it as you don’t get enough choice in the game at times, but then moments like that which make you think about the in-game character interaction and reaction are rare I find.

      (Oops small ramble over…) 🙂

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