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Sometimes a story cuts you to the quick. Whether it is with a heavy dose of nostalgia, saying goodbye to a favorite character, or even just giving you the reassurance that someone out there feels the same way you do, many video games have crafted tales that affect us deeply. Here are five games that struck a chord with us through their carefully crafted narratives and thought-provoking choices (Warning: spoilers for the games are included.)
Night in the Woods
Night in the Woods tells the story of Mae, an only child, who is coming home after dropping out of college to discover that her hometown is moving on without her. The things she grew up with have changed or disappeared giving the game a melancholy feeling that deepens as we learn why Mae left school and about her deteriorating mental health. As Mae tries to reconnect with the people she once knew, she also discovers sinister things going on in her town.
Night in the Woods does an expert job of conveying the feelings of someone who’s grown up in an economically depressed town and deals with loneliness and depression. While it is fun to play, the entire game has the lingering sigh of depression looming behind its narrative-focused, exploration-style gameplay that will stick with you long after you put the controller down.
Gone Home is another game about returning to your home after having been away for a long time. In the game, Katie Greenbriar has just returned after a time overseas to find that her family is nowhere to be found. The game lets you explore at your own pace and gives off a sinister air that can give you the feeling that it might be a horror game at first. As you search the home for clues to what happened, you begin to worry that around the next corner you might find something horrible and supernatural. Eventually, by reading notes and interacting with items around your home, you discover, though you were wrong about the supernatural, you were right about the horrible.
Your sister, Sam, has a hard time growing up while you were gone; she started dating another girl and her parents could not accept her relationship. With her parents planning to force her into counseling Sam’s sister ends up running away to in the hopes to find her girlfriend and start a new life. Gone Home draws you in and lets you experience Sam’s raw feelings through her own words. The game weaves a distressing story about the emotional strain of being LGBT in a prejudiced family and the gut-wrenching feeling of heartbreak, but it also gives you a glimmer of hope that perhaps Katie’s family will find a way to be happy in the end as everyone finds their own paths to healing.
Celeste is a meditation on finding a way to deal with your darker feelings and grow. This game follows a young woman named Madeline as she climbs Mount Celeste is an effort to escape the pressures of life. The mountain is rumored to bring your true-self into reality and as she climbs, it turns out the stories are true; Madeline’s depression and insecurity manifest as a gothy version of herself.
Instead of trying to beat this darker aspect, the only way for Madeline to move forward in life is to come to understand her feelings and accept this part of personality. Together the two Madeline’s are stronger and can overcome obstacles she couldn’t otherwise navigate. It’s rare that an action-platformer deals with such heavy subjects, but in this case, Celeste offers a powerful perspective on taking control of your emotional health.
The previous games in this list ask you to empathize with the characters; letting you engage as deeply or superficially as you like. Papers Please slams its mighty iron stamp down and forces you to JUDGE. In the game you play an immigration officer in the dystopian country of Arstotzka and it is your job to decide who may cross the border using the governments strict rules. On the surface Papers Please is a simple puzzle game where you must check visitor’s identification documents for errors and forgeries, but as desperate people come to you begging to visit sick family or hoping to take refuge it becomes a devious moral dilemma as you can opt to let people through illegally and risk your job or block legitimate visitors to get bonuses. The decisions you make directly affect your paycheck, which you need to support your family and often times you must pit your family’s welfare against your empathy for others in need. This push and pull makes for an anxiety-ridden experience that will leave you haunted by your decisions.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
Of all of the games on this list, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons was the one that really punched us in the feels. Here you have the story of two brothers whose father has fallen ill. To save his life you must adventure together, relying on each other to overcome obstacles, and eventually find a cure. The game does a fantastic job or evoking a strong bond between the brothers even though there is no dialogue. There is a simple joy and sweetness between the two boys and it is easy to believe in their closeness.
When the inevitable happens and your brother is killed just as you finish off the final boss, the previous hours of getting to know these characters and care about them makes his loss unbearable. While you may suspect what will happen as the story unfolds, it doesn’t make it hurt any less and the game drives the point home as you spend an entire scene burying your brother. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is bittersweet and beautiful and perfect if you are looking for a real heart-wrencher.
What kind of games get you all teared up? Let us know in the comments below and be sure to tune into Game Engine on Twitch and Alpha for more video game goodness every Tuesday starting at 4PM PT.
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Hailing from New York, Jessica Fisher is a writer, artist, and all around geek. In addition to Geek & Sundry, she writes for Gameosity.com and produces the Gameosity Reviews Youtube Channel. Find her talking about all things geeky on Twitter as @miniktty.
Image Credits: Finji, Nintendo, Fullbright, Lucas Pope, 505 Games