The Game That Made Me Cry
Posted on 6th Apr 2009 at 14:42 by Joe Martin with 24 comments
Giving myself free reign for a minute or two though, Beyond Good and Evil is probably one of the best games I’ve ever played, though it bears the distinction of being one of the only games I can say that about but have only actually finished once. Unlike the other games on my list of favoured titles (Planescape, Sands of Time, etc), once is enough when it comes to Beyond Good and Evil. It also has one of my favourite game trailers ever.
Beyond Good and Evil has a more unique distinction though, one which is a whole lot more damning and which I can’t recall ever really writing about in detail before. Beyond Good and Evil is the only game that’s ever made me cry. I’ve got misty over a lot of games – but Beyond Good and Evil pushed me over that breach and made me actually start sobbing.
I’m going to explain why now, so if that idea interests you and you think you might be interested in playing Beyond Good and Evil at some point then I implore you not to read any further. There be spoilers beyond!
BG&E is set on the planet Hillys, which is an idyllic little countryside that’s being besieged by an alien race called the DomZ. Who the DomZ are and where they come from isn’t explained, but we do know that they are fighting with a galactic army called the Alpha Section – an army that may not be as helpful as it seems.
The player is cast as Jade, a young human photographer who works with her uncle Pey’J to run a small orphanage for children whose families were…taken…by the DomZ. That’s the word Jade uses; taken, not killed, but it’s implicit that she’s saying it that way just to avoid hurting the children.
Gradually, Jade and her porcine uncle Pey’J (literally, a talking pig) become involved in an underground movement that suspects the Alpha Sections of foul play. Jade is enlisted as a spy for her photography skills, which play a big part in the mostly non-violent game, and Pey’J comes with as the duo investigate what’s going on exactly. Jade is mostly pretty sceptical, but she needs the money to keep the orphanage open.
Jades motives change utterly though when Pey’J himself is taken. He’s the type of loud, loveable character that you instantly sympathise with; a source of comic relief and great depth – so when he’s gone it’s crushing how the tone of the game suddenly shifts. Jade makes it the aim of the game to find him and it’s an aim you want to fulfil too, especially as Jade delves deeper into the conspiracy and gets closer to the startling truth.
That isn’t what made me cry though. To understand what did, it’s important to remember that Beyond is a very cartoony game; it has a very kid-friendly interface, no gore, no swearing, a happy palette and lots of talking animals. It’s like Lego Star Wars in how it comes across as more of a well-made kids game than anything, even though you kind-of suspect that it isn’t a kids game at all.
For me, that had a rather unique effect. I was playing the game and trying to find Pey’J and hearing Jade talking about how the DomZ were ‘taking’ people and I was thinking how silly it was.
The whole idea of the DomZ is that they are killing all these people, orphaning all these kids, turning people into monsters and so on, and yet somehow Pey’J is supposed to be different? He shouldn't be, of course, but Jade's attitude and the way the game is presented lead you into the obvious expectation that you'll save him just in the nick of time. Like how Dr. No should have just shot James Bond, but didn't because it's a film, you know Pey'J should be dead but of course he isn't. It's a game; you're going to save him in the nick of time.
Except you don’t. When you finally catch up to Pey’J it’s apparent that the nick of time was a long time ago. He’s dead; cold. Your mission was futile, you can’t help him now and you never could. It suddenly falls home that this isn't a game - this is a war. That made me start crying right there in my basement flat. People can make fun of me for that, but I don’t mind.
The story takes some turns from there, but for me that was one of the emotional highpoints of my gaming history. I felt winded. The game had blindsided me; the whole point of it all was to rescue Pey’J and yet when you get there not only can you can you not save him, but you don’t even get a chance to try! There’s no boss who you try to fight, no final soothing words imparted as Pey’J slips bravely into the afterlife – he's just dead, on a slab. Worse, he died alone.
That hit me like an emotional sledgehammer and, frankly, it raised the bar and changed the way I look at games. It’s one of the reasons I enjoyed The Path so much; because it felt like it was making an emotional impact in a similar way.
Honestly, I could talk about this topic for a lot longer, but I probably shouldn’t unless I want to talk the topic to death. Time to let you guys talk instead - has any game ever made you cry? Why don’t more games do this? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so drop them in the comments below.