Video games got their start as being just that. A game that you play on video. You do this to have fun. As the industry has grown and development possibilities expanded, are much less limited. They’ve evolved into a medium capable of telling rich stories. Video games now receive awards for narrative storytelling just like movies, television, or books. Sometimes these stories can impact their audience more than they would in other mediums. Watching someone choose to let a friend die can be heartwrenching, but made even more distressing when you’re making that decision for them. Then the tears start falling.
We reached out to our readers to talk about what games have struck a chord and tugged at their heartstrings the most. Here’s what they selected.
Mass Effect Legendary Edition | $38-60
The Mass Effect trilogy is filled with strong characters, relationships, and conflicts that build up to cathartic moments of payoff, particularly in the third entry. The final ending is notoriously controversial, but most of the side stories get wrapped up in a nice heartfelt bow throughout the run of the game. Sometimes I’ll randomly find myself humming, “I am the very model of a scientist salarian” and begin to tear up.
As an emotional mess, there are multiple games that came to my mind in answer to this, but there was clearly one above the rest even though I realize there will be scoffing at it.
For me, the final part of Mass Effect 3 just hits me in so many emotions. Just to name some of the top moments: “There is no Shepard without Vakarian”, “No matter what happens, you mean everything to me Liara”, “You did good, child”, Shepard’s final crawl across the floor of the control room. Hell yeah, all those emotional heights.
Life is Strange | $40
I myself have never played the first Life Is Strange, but I did pick up Life Is Strange: True Colors when it came out and adored it. Luckily, The Life is Strange Remastered Collection which includes Life is Strange Remastered and Life is Strange: Before the Storm Remastered is set to release February, 1—just a couple of weeks away.
The characters are believable in that they are confused and awkward in that coming-of-age teenage years, and dealing with the inexplicable complexities of life that they are not necessarily yet equipped to handle. The game is so much more than just “a walking simulator where you can rewind time to influence the outcome”. It doesn’t hurt that nearly all of the voice actors nail their parts and the game has a unique art style that exists somewhere in the purgatory of watercolor and cell-shaded animation.
Celeste | $20
Never thought I’d be getting emotional over a pixelated puzzle platformer, but here we are. Celeste works brilliantly as an emotional story because the narrative mirrors the gameplay. The main character Madeline vocalizes throughout the game how her anxiety and depression are bringing her down. When you’re frustrated, she’s frustrated. She learns to overcome and keep trying and so do you.
Celeste. Sometimes all it takes to cry is to hear that you’re gonna be ok.-@christophvmp
The Walking Dead: Season 2 | $20-$23
The Walking Dead from Telltale Games in many ways paved the way for narrative-first, heartwrenching stories in games—or at the very least showed publishers there is a demand for this kind of experience. Season 2 doubled down on this in a major way. If you’ve not played the series, be mindful that the following comment from one of our readers is spoiler-heavy.
The climax to Telltale’s The Walking Dead: Season 2, specifically if you choose to shoot Kenny. That reunion had been bittersweet from the off go, but this decision (shooting either Jane, Kenny, or letting them fight) is one of the hardest that series ever put you through.
Kenny had been a paranoid asshole ever since he showed up again, but he was still one of my favorite characters from season 1 (and had the best character arc IMO). I DID NOT want to shoot him, but even though I loathed her, I knew Jane was right. Kenny was losing his mind. That little moment of clarity he has before dying and the short conversation with Clementine that ensues are so heartbreaking. Never in my life has a video game moment made me bawl so violently. The only one that comes close: the scene with young Kid after Lucas’ orphanage burns down in Chrono Cross.
Before Your Eyes | $10
This is a game that came out last year and has been mostly overlooked, but it left quite the impression on those who played it. It was in my personal top 5 games of the year and I plan to return to it again after I’ve gotten enough water in my system so I don’t die of dehydration bawling my eyes out.
This is a game I knew nothing about other than the gimmick (you control the game via your webcam by blinking). The gist is you’ve died and your life is literally flashing before your eyes. What I wasn’t expecting was just how intelligently this gimmick drives home the central theme of the story. You’re going to have to blink eventually and life must move on. - Spooge