Monday, May 08, 2006

A game that could make me cry

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.


Chris said...

I just thought I'd air out my recurring comment in this regard, that games have already made people cry. Anyone who believes otherwise has not looked into the subject very deeply. :)

Take care!

chico queiroz said...

Interesting... so what we might need is not more R&D, but more confessions ;)

Anyone willing to let it out, please, feel free to post (anonymously, if you wish) a comment on a game that have made you cry.

Hoofin Dan said...

I've had some involvement in this project and sometimes it has certainly made me want to cry.

I think what you talk about are feelings similar to nostalgia. Some of the routes included in the game will be historic- they no longer exist in the real world.

I think it's really cool that people with vivid childhood memories of travelling along these routes can use the game as a kind of trigger to spark this kind of nostalgia.

I was thinking the other day as well about how Google Earth is now giving people the tools to create models of their homes. And how I would like to recreate the house I lived in as a child. And if other people did the same you could start to use Google Earth to spool back in time. And you could then use this as a kind of community hub- a way of getting back in touch with old friends and neighbours. Finding out more about your history/roote etc.

chico queiroz said...

Hello hoofin dan, thanks for the post!

You´re right about the nostalgia. The historical routes certainly give a nostalgic boost to people (not only the ones who have actually been there, but also their sons and grandsons).

A friend of mine once said Google Earth was the greatest non-game ever - and sometimes I think he is right. I didn´t know about its new home-modelling capabilities, but it makes a lot of sense - just take a look at several websites where people tell the stories of their lives powered by Google´s satelite photos... I think it´s great that they release creative tools like that.

Anonymous said...

Which games are you referring to Chris? I'm really not aware of that many. The obvious one is Ico. And there is the death of a character in one of the Final Fantasy games(I think) which is often cited. Speaking from a personal perspective games have never even come close to this goal

chico queiroz said...

I can add at least one to the list: Planetfall. I've never played it, but I've read several times about people who cried when floyd, the robot, sacrifices himself.

Chris said...

Hi Anon,

The point I am making is that certain people claim that games have not made people cry. This is patently untrue - you cite some examples yourself (although I've not found a report of someone crying in response to Ico yet - interested in a case study if you can point the way!)

The most commonly cited games are FFVII and as Chico says, Planetfall. However, in case studies I have had examples from various other games, although the only ones that I can remember off hand are Grandia II and (strangely) GTA: Vice City.

That a game hasn't made *everyone* cry is not in doubt. But neither has any film, play or TV show either!

That there are people for whom this event has not even come close to occuring says more about people than it does about games.

I freely admit we have a long way to go - narrative in games still needs substantial improvement, and narrative is still the easiest route to getting people to cry - but it irks me when people say "a game has never made us cry", as what they tend to mean is "a game has never made *me* cry" which is a fairly empty machismo statement with little or no value. :)

If you want to find cases of games causing people to cry, you just need to ask a large enough group of people - and preferably people outside the conventional Hardcore segment.

And all this without looking at tears of laughter and frustration, of course. :)

Take care!

Anonymous said...

Yes, I see what you mean.

But there is no direct equivalent of the movie "weepie". Films seem to be able to create emotion really easily. They know which buttons to press.

In games we have not yet worked out how to press these buttons. The emotion seems almost to be a byproduct of the game. The main aim of the gameplay is usually to challenge, thrill, explore and excite the player rather than focussing purely on taking them on an emotional journey.

Chris said...

Anon, I completely agree with you!

The trouble is the market is currently focussed on the easiest to market forms of gameplay, c.f. agon (games of competition and fighting), and specifically those drawing upon the emotions of excitement and fiero (triumph over adversity).

I feel we are close to a threshold of recognising that other emotional experiences are there for the making - as the very existence of this non-game blog attests! :)

I for one would love to work on (for instance) an adaptation of a Jane Austen novel, or the game equivalent of a romantic comedy, all of which imply very different emotions. Sadly, the idea that I might get funding for said games is currently beyond comprehension.

What the near future may bring, however, who can tell!

Anonymous said...

i cried after killing my first giant in "shadow of the colossus".

chico queiroz said...

Chris Said: "I for one would love to work on (for instance) an adaptation of a Jane Austen novel, or the game equivalent of a romantic comedy, all of which imply very different emotions. Sadly, the idea that I might get funding for said games is currently beyond comprehension."

Let's hope alternatives such as Wii's online service (as posted by Patrick) give this kind of projects a better chance, serving as a platform to scratchware designers on a budget... We will have to wait a little longer, I guess...

chico queiroz said...

Ok, so far we have:
* Rail Simulator (potentially)
* Planetfall
* Grandia II
* Ico
* Shadow of the Colossus

7 titles. That's not bad, actually. Quite a big figure, considering the number of comments.

Copyright, Chico Queiroz