Mood killers come in many forms. It can be a sudden abrupt noise thrashing through a quiet solitary moment, a seemingly silent but deadly fart that incapacitates a gathering of people during a sombre moment or an intense or emotional scene can be completely void of any substance due to something as simple as delivery.
When it comes to films and games, the delivery of a line or action that should evoke sadness, joy, shock and a like depends primarily on two things. Those are the performance of the actor and the material they are given to work with by the writers.
Games are becoming much more interactive and cinematic in the experience they offer. They’re no longer linear in terms of story, as well as basic gameplay. Stories are weaved that are cover a broad scope in terms of genres. Excluding some genres of course (I’m looking at you, pigeon dating simulator Hatoful Boyfriend).
Pigeon dating sims aside, we have games stocked with humour and comedy in Portal and Ace Attorney, disturbing horror from Silent Hill and FEAR, emotional epic rollercoaster’s like Final Fantasy and Mass Effect, and then quaint ambiguous walks amongst a silent yet live world in Dear Esther. A lot of games out there need more than good gameplay and descriptive scenery writing to execute actual realism and good story telling.
Emotion is a powerful driving force in reality and a vital part of getting a user involved in the narrative. How scenes and dialogue are written and then executed audibly can make or break an entire adventure in some cases. On the flip side, Limbo is an example of a game where the art style alone can really hammer home the feeling of dread and loneliness without an abundance of dialogue. It also goes to show that simplicity can often be a more obvious method of emotional expression, as also shown in minimalist adventure, Thomas Was Alone.
Humour is subjective, but there’s ways of pleasing a majority or at least not coming across as lazy and just desperate. Games like Phoenix Wright may have very little voice acting, but when it does make an appearance it is typically quite passionate and funny. The minimalist use of audible dialogue has even transcended to the real world, with the shout of “OBJECTION” being a key phrase that’s repeated outside of the game by fans and has become a staple within the series. It’s a true example of how less can be more when creating an emotional connection with gamers.
The dry sarcastic tone of voice used by Ellen McLain in the Portal series is now famous and loved. If you’re going to play a psychotic sarcastic robot, then you’ve gotta talk the talk accordingly. McLain’s deadpan execution speckled with apt moments of actual human emotion, such as worry or anger, is one of the reasons people love playing Portal and has made GLaDOS one of the most iconic characters in gaming history.
Horror won’t work if simple attributions like fear aren’t coming through via the voice actors. A character can meander around a spooky foggy graveyard and every time something eerie pops up, just scream a generic “rarrgh” and keep on moving. That’s not going to leave a lasting impression of genuine fear, and worst still, it won’t have had any build up. Many key franchises in the survival horror genre have faced a lot of criticism over their latest instalments for trading in the classic “jump scares” of old for a more action and shock based approach.
Build up and causing anticipation in the viewer or gamer is a key element in effectively provoking a fright or tingle of goosebumps. Change in breathing, talking to ones self, erratic noises and hesitance – these traits can introduce so much more alongside the aesthetic atmosphere of horror games.
Fahrenheit was a game that wasn’t horror centred and yet had paranormal and bizarre elements embedded throughout, yet it also produced the standard well known and loved feel of a moody detective story. Confusion, anger, fear and even the sound of unwavering reassurance that things were black and white came across excellently due to the voice acting and writing of the game. The art direction also really gave life to a game that really deserved the work it got and the underrated praise it received.
Also folks, good emotive phone sex needn’t be bland and done standing up. In this area Fahrenheit is
teaching a bad lesson.
Like or loathe it, Dear Esther is a game where very little happens. In a game where all you do is walk around and and explore the environment, it’s easy for a lot of folk to dismiss it as being a worthy story driven game. However with the tone used by the narrator and the sound effects that contribute highly to the atmosphere and the writing, Dear Esther may have been a boring game in terms of play, but it is certainly not one lacking in emotion and quietly yet strongly portraying it well.
As consumers get fussier, rightly or wrongly, more effort in general is needed to produce stellar story driven games. It takes a simple enough formula to score a decent win and it’s just sometimes that classic hyperbole of life of “what is easy is for some reason hard to do” can strike.
Emotions aren’t a sissy thing. They’re not a gender exclusive trait and they aren’t limited in description or occasion. There’s a hundreds ways to express sorrow, joy, fear and indifference, even. Games that have the means in terms of technology for character model expressions, writers who really care about their worlds and voice actors who treat games with the same respect they would a job where their faces were seen can produce amazing works that reach and reverberate with gamers and the whirlwind of emotions we feel on a daily basis as human beings.
That is unless those emotions are ones of sexually yearnings for dramatic emo pigeon boyfriends. Then you’re on your own.
What games pull particularly well at your heartstrings? Should we expect more emotional involvement with the increase in technology? Share your thoughts in the comments below or hit us up on Twitter.