There’s something incredible about spending tens (or sometimes hundreds) of hours with a fictional world for it to then illicit a genuinely strong emotional reaction from you.
Frustration at not being able to defeat a particularly difficult challenge and the elation that causes you to physically fist-pump when you overcome it, fear of the unknown as you creep around a dark and foreboding mansion knowing that the next turn of the corner may be your last...
However my favourite emotional reaction brought on by a few games is crying. It could be due to sadness, joy or sorrow; either way I just love it.
Often sadness, fear or frustration as well as many other emotions with negative connotations occur within our lives because of awful things that affect us or those close to us personally. To feel these emotions would mean that something terrible has happened. It could be a death of a family member, fear for one’s life or sudden redundancy. Video games give us a chance however to feel these incredibly poignant and important emotions without consequence. We can feel and learn to deal with them within a simulation of sorts, freeing us from the nastiness of real life and its grievances. It’s a true emotional catharsis.
The Persona games stand out here particularly well for me due to their reliance on forging deep and meaningful relationships with friends and confidants. You develop these characters stories as you progress and for all intents and purposes devote a year of your in-game life to them. You help them overcome emotional and physical hurdles, shouldering their burdens and allowing them to grow as individuals not only because you gain in-game rewards for doing so but because you come to love their personalities in real life. You want to spend time with them.
When I played Persona 4 and came to the end of the year I felt panic knowing that my time with these incredible people was drawing to a close and I simply wasn’t ready yet, and the same has happened for me just recently having caught up to Persona 5. And I cried. I cried for the rest of the night, my heart feeling both the pain of separation (not only of the characters but of the closing of 110 hours of an experience I wish didn’t have to end) and the relief of knowing that in-universe, this isn’t the end of these characters bonds in the same way that it is for me.
The Persona games perfectly emulate the feeling of leaving behind those you love so that their lives may go on, be it with or without your companionship and guidance. It’s something we probably all know the feeling of especially if you still remember graduating from school or needing to move to a completely new town, city or country; perhaps even just returning home from a visit to a loved one and being unsure of when you might see each-other again. This feeling is something that for me ATLUS recreates perfectly. Finishing a Persona game is more than just ending a video game. It feels like saying goodbye to real friends.
Another game that truly stands out to me is The Last Guardian. I won’t say too much for the sake of spoiling plot, but the finale of that game (especially when your last interaction is to physically point, symbolically finalising the end of your time together) left me distraught. I was unable to think of anything but that game ending for the rest of the day and a lot of the day following too, because yet again it felt as though I had to say goodbye to yet another thing that I had come to love deeply. On a much more personal level Trico looked and behaved very similarly to my wonderful cat D’argo, who lost his little life a few months ago. When I was interacting with Trico in-game, I was reminded regularly of my admiration for D’argo every time. I yearn to go back to The Last Guardian in memory of him... But I haven’t been able to bring myself to that kind of vulnerability yet.
Isn’t it strange how much meaning we can give to something as “trivial” as video games?
And so I’d love to read: What were your most emotional experiences when playing certain games, and what did those experiences mean to you on a personal level? I’d love to know.