Editorial: Games Need Real Human Emotion
I recently watched Up for the second time, and I am not afraid to admit that my eyes still water during more than a few scenes in that movie. I’m still impressed that an animated movie marketed towards children could evoke such emotions out of me. Throughout the movie there are themes of love, friendship, sorrow, neglect, and redemption, among other things.
Seeing how a simple cartoon had this level of emotion, it shouldn’t be that difficult for games to pull it off as well. Yet that almost never holds true. The only video game to ever trigger an emotional response out of me was Mother 3, a game which few of you have heard of and even fewer have played. For the uninitiated, Mother 3 follows the story of Lucas and his family as their peaceful world plunges into dystopia. Mother 3’s plot deals with the same themes as Up, especially with redemption and the loss of loved ones, all the while providing outstanding gameplay.
I think part of this advantage comes from Mother 3 being a role-playing game, allowing it to provide plenty of story along with its gameplay. The slightly-slower pace of role-playing games also allow for more genuine emotions, as most action games would suffer from the sudden slow-down of emotional scenes. Yet Up managed to pull off a healthy balance of excitement and emotions, so why not games? Part of it surely has to do with Up’s status as a movie, yet games are little more than player-controlled movies when you really boil them down. An action/adventure game could so easily emulate Up’s styIe of emotional storytelling with exciting action sequences. You just need to establish characters that the player cares about, which is somehow more difficult with video games than other forms of media.
But there must be a way of making deeper characters in games. Characters could interact more during actual gameplay sequences rather than leaving all of the storytelling to the cutscenes. Make the transitions between playing and viewing almost seamless. Part of that means less pre-rendered cut scenes, as those really take you out of the world as presented in the actual game. Developers need to make the world as you see it in-game more lifelike; maybe have NPCs talk to you without you approaching them and pressing a button. Or tell a full and complete story rather than having the player make their own decisions and detract from a proper narrative.
I think games can only tell a real story by doing just that: telling it, and not placing you in it. That may sound backwards, as the purpose of games is to place you into the action by giving you control, but I’m arguing that stories could be much stronger by following a character’s story rather than making it. I’m not saying all games need to be like this, but it would be nice if more games followed the storytelling of books and movies.