Making the Player Feel Bad is a Good Thing
There’s a certain aspect of storytelling that videogames are becoming increasingly better at. It’s an aspect that has been in existence since the likes of Ultima hit PCs, but it’s never really been a thing on console until recently. Making the player feel bad is what I speak of, and it’s an extremely powerful storytelling method. For too long, players have been able to go about their ways in videogames and not give a second thought about their actions. Thankfully this seems to be changing.
There are a number of recent games this generation that have actively made the player feel bad, even regretful, about their decisions. It’s no longer confined to role-playing games, either. Genres once thought little of are getting in on the act. Making a player feel bad is a tricky thing to achieve; it requires the player to be invested in the game, its story and its characters. Forcing a player into a decision that is immoral, without context, does little. Choices and events in a game have to feel natural and somewhat attached to the game’s universe if they are to make an impact on the player.
A key example of how things have changed would be 2012′s Spec Ops: The Line. What seemed like a stereotypical modern military third-person shooter was, in fact, a smart videogame experience. At the end of the game, the player was left feeling a sense of guilt and remorse for their actions. This was achieved by solid writing, good use of imagery, and creating a connection between the player and the game. Pulling the trigger is a rather trivial thing, but Spec Ops: The Line flipped that on its head in its closing act, making the player look back on their actions with a certain sense of anguish.
Metro 2033 and its sequel Last Light are also two good examples of making the player feel bad. Both games set the tone early on, hooking the player into the universe they’ve just recently stepped into. Metro 2033 starts to make the player question their actions and attitudes towards the closing act, while Last Light does it from the first hour ’til the last. The difference between the two is that the first game makes the player seem like a hero, while the second places said player in an almost villainous role. (Think I Am Legend for reference.) Its something that is only made possible by effectively encapsulating the player into the game’s universe and its culture.
The somewhat recent release of The Last Of Us has also shown that players are enjoying games that make them feel bad/guilty. Taking a life in a game is no longer such a cut-and-dry process. There’s a sense of weight there now, and sure, while most of the time the player will gun down voiceless/faceless enemies, it’s the moments when these enemies are put into context of the game’s universe that can leave the player feeling like the villain rather than the hero. The Last Of Us does it through notes left around the game, reminding you that the enemies are just people trying to survive, much like Joel and Ellie themselves.
Hopefully this is a sign of things to come, and hopefully more games will follow suit.