By now I would imagine you would have seen the first episode of the HBO The Last of Us TV adaptation of the game. When you know that scene is going to come in advance it can be hard to prepare for the emotions that no doubt will tear you up inside and give a sense of grief that you dread and at the same time look forward to. In the moment leading right up to this part my heart was slowly breaking and I became fidgety as I said to my wife “I am not ready for this again.” Where Joel who is played by the amazing Pedro Pascale carrying Sarah through the ravaged city to get to the river due to her ankle injury and (prepare for a spoiler here) get stopped by a army bloke pointing a gun at them both while asking his boss on what to do. While Joel pleading with him not to shoot as they are not infected, my heart literally stopped as he opens fire and while Joel was shot his daughter was and to see the grief, sadness, helplessness watching his daughter die in his arms made me cry inside and to see the scene fade into black. Devastating.
Now back when this game came out in 2013 and saw this for the first time I had felt sadness but I was not a parent back then. In 2023 I have a daughter who is nearly 6 and a son who is nearly 3. Seeing this moment again as a father literally broke me and I would imagine every father who saw this. If she was not asleep I would have gone and held her close to make sure she knew she meant the world to me. Even writing this I feel the raw emotion of that moment asking the question “How can you want to make a parent feel this sense of loss and sadness?” Following this part and looking at what Joel has become 20 years later with no remorse and just throwing a dead child who was infected into a fire really shows how much time can change a person who has been through a sense of loss or a huge emotional life change. It will be very interesting in seeing how this show goes forward in mirroring the game. Granted if you have played both The Last of Us games then it won’t be a surprise.
There are other games that playing again with being a father that just break me down and no doubt other parents too. I am only mentioning a few others but there will be moments in games that pull you into the emotional pit for lots of other reasons.
The next one that ties in the most emotional is Season 1 of the absolutely brilliant Telltale series of The Walking Dead. If you know then you know! You play as Lee Everett escaping a car accident while being escorted to jail for killing someone who his wife cheated on him for at the beginning of the outbreak. Coming across a little girl called Clementine who hid in a treehouse in wait hoping her parents were going to come back. That never happens so Lee takes her with him in search of her parents while meeting other characters along the way. I’ve always loved voice actors and Dave Fennoy who plays Lee struck the perfect tone and emotion with the dialogue and then Melissa Hutchinson who played the sweet Clementine is one of if not the best pairing for these characters. Lee would teach Clementine moral values and closeness of being a parent while as the player we make those difficult decisions for them.
Through 5 episodes seeing character deaths and trauma it all leads to the final episode called “No Time Left” was always going to be a tough one to prepare for. Back in 2012 these episodes were released once every few months and the previous episode ending on the bombshell that Lee was bitten by a walker it wouldn’t be too hard to presume that it won’t end well for Lee. Yup! That does come to pass but getting there is always the most difficult to process as a gamer and as a parent. You get to see even more the close bond Lee and Clementine have while Clem sees her parents as walkers but knowing Lee has not got much time left. He wanted to make sure she was safe and did everything he could to teach her on how to survive. I will never forget how this made me feel even the choices you pick to say to Clem in those final moments. I wasn’t a parent at the time but I cried like a baby as Lee gave her a choice but clearly he wanted to be shot so he didn’t become a Walker. Clementine clearly crying to feeling the grief of having to let go. His final words to Clem “il miss you” to be reciprocated back while the brilliant soundtrack tearing on the heart strings as you chose to either Shoot or leave him there in handcuffs. Still crying while realising the start of the game he was in those handcuffs and ending it the same way. It took me a long time to get over this and the first real game since Gears of War 2 ( we will get to that next) that really shook me. I revisited the whole game series when the collection was released with PS Pro and Xbox One X enhancements and my daughter was only less than a year old and boy when I got the this part again I just trembled, same feelings as before but thought about what would I want if I was in this situation myself. Obviously make sure I didn’t get but by a walker but would I want her to leave me cuffed and turn into a walker or be put out of my misery? A huge credit to the game developers in the creative decisions and giving us the choice on what to do. I think I would rather be put out my misery as long as I knew she was safe and could look after herself.
The final game for me would be Gears of War 2/3. I’m linking both these games together as it serves one characters purpose. Dom losing his Wife Maria in Gears 2 was just heartbreaking, while there wasn’t much reference while playing through the game to Dom actively searching for her when you see her in a prison tomb and see his grief all for show it is one great big swift kick in the crotch. While you play as Marcus as the main character in a band of 4, the others being Baird, Cole Train and Dom there is the passion, teamwork, humour and emotional attachment. You are left playing thinking how would we feel as Dom in that situation and as Marcus who is the leader of the Squad seeing his bestie go through it and how to keep Dom going forward. It isn’t until Gears of War 3 where this pays off for better or ultimately worse when there is a battle and clear that there is no hope unless a sacrifice is made. Yup Dom decides to take a vehicle and smash it into a bomb to blow the whole area up and kill all of the Locust. All with the plan to see his Wife Maria again in the after life. Once Marcus realises he doesn’t want to lose his friend and the game playing the instrumental of “Mad World” while Dom blows himself up and the rest of the squad hurry to avoid the blast is one of pure genius. Yes we feel grief but also I think a sense of relief that Dom can now be at piece albeit now we feel what Marcus is feeling losing his best friend.
These are just a few examples of games that hit hard, games that make us feel in scenarios where we have invested in the characters and feel the grief as the developers have wanted us to feel. Make no mistake they can hit you in ways you may have experienced yourself or can relate to but never feel alone in it, talk openly and honestly with family, friends and the community.
Guest Blogger: @BeardedGreen1/Beard's Blog
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