There has been a debate for a while now on if and how can a computer game make you cry. This kind of emotional response from the player, it's argued, could illustrate how games are capable of provoking a broad range of feelings, some of them quite different from the thrills games are usually related to.
I won't discuss here how I think games could be designed to achieve such goal. Or the artistic merits of video games in general. For now, I just want to tell you about the upcoming game that possibly could make me cry.
Before I reveal its name, I must say that the developers probably have no intention at all of achieving such goal through their product. That's why I believe that this case could point out how different products can get different reactions from different players. Are you ready? It's Kuju's Rail Simulator. Strange?
It sounds strange, I'll give you that. Of course, train models are often subject of love and care from collectors and enthusiasts, but how many times have you seen someone weeping in front of his miniature coaches (unless they are broken)?
The reason Rail Simulator could embarrass me in front of other players lies in the way it could possibly play with my memories of the time I've spent commuting in the UK. Maybe some of you don't know that, but being a commuter is much more than just using public transportation. It involves a whole state of mind maintained by schedules, rituals, free newspapers (will they include a SuDoku mini-game?) and landscapes. Or at least it feels this way for someone new to that world.
While some might view the content as boring, I must say that there are few things more poetic than train rides to me. I love the way your mind goes floating, riding its own train of thought, from station to station, while you look outside the windows to both familiar and unfamiliar cities. Train rides are very reflexive by nature, and I think train simulation games, management aside, work pretty much in the same way.
How could I not get emotional after virtually traveling through the cities and suburbs that were part and setting of one of the best times of my life? I believe these 'documental' games, based on real locations or situations, might have a power of stimulating some feelings that are not as easily accessible by purely fictional games.
Now, I have no idea on the actual routes that will included in the game - but I hope the mod community can repair any injustices to my ideas for the perfect experience. I hope they remember to include the graffiti that precedes London Waterloo and the skyline of that city. The long queue of workers leaving from Farnham. The stains caused by drunk commuters in Woking station after weekend pub sessions. The deserted, often dodgy, Sunday afternoon Chertsey station. And everything else I can't remember now.
As I'm proud to have a friend working on the game, I hope he reads this post and makes sure every detail is there.
It's funny to think how Rail Simulator wouldn't mean anything like that to most people (that I am aware of - maybe this kind of reaction is more common than I think). My impression is that most players are train aficionados who could either feel like knowing for the first time places depicted, or, if residents in the area, recognize the places they have been traveling to and from during all their lives. However, for me, and other people in similar cases, this could be like watching a vhs or seeing photographs from the good old days. And interact with them in real time.
I don't know if any of this contributes much to the discussion on how to make games artistically better. I don't think it does. However, I just wanted to make a point on how open to subjectivity games, as any other art form, can be.