It's been a rough few weeks for me. First I had to slog my way through Bioshock Infinite, then drudge past TellTale's Walking Dead, then shortly after submit myself to the agony of Naughty Dog's Last of Us. After severe depression and fits of uncontrollable sobbing I realized something; Becoming a father has made me soft(er). Let me set the record straight, I've always been a man who is in touch with his emotions (just ask me to explain the "Alternate Ending" comic for Fosters Home for Imaginary Friends) it's just something that has gotten worse, if that's the right word, since Hayden arrived.
Spoilers from here
Sure, this scene tugs at the heart strings, but it's nothing compared to the end. The climax of the game is a mirror image of the opening, with Joel clutching Ellie, running through the madness of the hospital trying to escape. I lost it. Again, not terribly out of the ordinary, but the impact was greater on me. It was so simple for me to put myself in Joel's headspace.
The same goes for The Walking Dead game (That would be TellTales, NOT Activision's). It was simple for me to get into Lee's head and care about Clem, because she represented exactly what she was supposed to, something beautiful in a world destroyed. Lee getting bit resonated more with me than every single zombie bite I have ever seen, movies, comics, games combined. That fact can be attributed to Clem, the thought of leaving her alone and unprotected in that world was devastating.
At it's core Infinite is a game about blinding regret. At the games conclusion you are left with the complete picture of a broken man, who sold his daughter to pay for gambling debt, and spent the rest of his life torturing himself for it. I know some people didn't quite like the way it wrapped up, and that the alternate universes let a bit to many story conveniences in. I found the resolution to be engaging and heart breaking. That moment when you realize you've been playing as Elizabeth's father this entire time is heart wrenching. Again, the feeling is compounded knowing there is an infant in the other room that is completely reliant on me.
So what do all these games have in common, other than being crazy depressing? These games made me realize something, video games are growing up. As an industry we have evolved from "Save your Girlfriend" (who was probably kidnapped by ninjas, or an over sized lizard... thing) to "Play as this guy, and through this guy view the complex and emotional path of parent hood, a thing mostly reserved for adults, but you can have a taste in delightful long form visual story telling utilized to near perfection."
I know that is quite the mouthful, but it's the truth. Granted, games have grown up in other equally artistic ways, but the exploration of the dynamic between parent and child is something so core to the human experience, it practically trumps everything else. This is not just entertainment. These games represent a way to gain insight into a core human experience.
For me, The Last of Us takes the cake (in the saddest way possible). While I love all these games, it holds the most water in terms of human interaction and storytelling. The evolution of Joel and Ellie's relationship is more than simply believable. I mean, I believe Lee would do anything to keep Clem safe, and I believe thank Booker was so wracked with guilt he would do anything to make up for it. Believability isn't everything, it's part of an organic whole with so many moving parts it's amazing how right each of these games got it.
There is a moment in Infinite that is a rather touching Easter egg where Booker plays the guitar while Elizabeth sings. It's very moving, and touching, and other sappy words, but the Last of Us has small moments like that (even something as insignificant as Joel glancing at his watch) throughout the entire game. I would recommend any gamer who is or will someday be a parent play these games. In all honesty it will prepare you for the harsh reality that parenthood is terrifying.
Don't get me wrong, being a parent is perhaps the most amazing thing ever in the universe, it's like life's bacon. There is, however, a flip side to that happiness. That is the stress and worry of having something you love so much more than you ever thought possible be so incredibly fragile.