The other day I was recording the podcast. It’s something that seems like a good idea before I start, and then instantly regret as I get made fun of the next two hours; clearly I don’t mind too much as I come back the next week. Before we started the recording (that’s right, there’s stuff you miss out on), Peter asked me an interesting question, one that prompted a fast chain reaction in memory. We were discussing modern music and whether it was any good when he threw a minor curve ball at me.
“What songs make you feel feelings Kris?” It was an unexpected question to be honest, and a bit of a turn for the conversation; instantly digging up a whole wealth of emotions.
There are a couple of songs that can plunge a knife into my heart like no others, that can have an effect even in simply recalling them. I’m not saying these are good songs, I know one of them really isn’t, but nevertheless these are songs that can get me just about every time, songs that it is physically hard for me to hear.
Autoclave from Heretic Pride effects me like almost nothing else.
I had just been broken up with by someone I was, or at least thought I was, deeply in love with. Someone I had been in various degrees of love with for seven years, someone who had been a constant in my life for longer than just about anyone I knew and someone that, if things had been different, I probably would have settled down with.
I won’t go into why, but she ended it and after getting to a reasonable level of drunk this song was handed over to me.
You know when you’re sixteen, you get dumped for the first time and it’s the end of the world? When you lie in bed listening to the same song for hours on end? This was that song. I was twenty-two at the time, and it wasn’t my first break up; it wasn’t even my break up with that particular girl. However, it hurt like hell and I ended up listening to Autoclave a disconcerting number of times. Even now it’s hard to listen to, and I don’t just mean on an emotional level. My throat closes up and I can’t breath, my eyes fill with tears and I can feel my heart rate change.
The other song I mentioned is, perhaps embarrassingly, Cemetry Drive by My Chemical Romance. My aunt had died (finally giving in to cancer), I was a teenager, I was full of hormones and angry at everything; although it was all internalised and pointing inwards. For some reason I recall it raining a lot, but it was probably no more than normal.
I used to go out in the evenings and walk along the beach in the rain, hurling stones into the sea; my parents were convinced I was going to meet a girl. The song fit my mood, and it can still take me back to that time in an instant. Eventually I made my peace and moved on, but the song still takes me back to a time of unparalleled sadness and uncapped rage.
To be perfectly honest there are other songs that will stir emotions and bring a brief tear to the eye, but nothing like these two. It’s not just songs either, there’s books that make me want to bawl like a baby and films that bring me near to sobbing. Whilst those songs are more permanent, there’s plenty that can draw emotions in most media.
Here’s the important bit though, it rarely happens in games. There’s one moment in Halo: Reach that gets me, and I’ve talked about it before. What brings me back to this topic is Kara, the tech demo that Quantic Dream were showing at GDC this week. I’d written this off without seeing it, and I feel idiotic saying that now.
After curiosity finally getting the better of me I took a look and was underwhelmed. It looked nice enough, but it didn’t seem particularly powerful or interesting; I didn’t get why people were so excited. And then there’s a point where the whole thing suddenly pivots.
Kara's emotive face is amazing to behold.
Kara didn’t make me cry, but it brought me damned close. It had the same effect Autoclave does, my breathing shifted, my heart rate changed. It plucked the right strings perfectly and, quite honestly, amazed me. I hadn’t been interested in Heavy Rain before, now I really think I need to go play it. If Quantic can achieve that much in a seven minute tech demo I want to see what they can do with a full game.
I do wonder why so few games have really grabbed me emotionally though, what it is about the medium. People say games are still young, still finding their footing. It’s hard to say whether that’s true or not, and harder to judge whether or not games are, on average, finding more emotional depth as the industry moves ever onwards. A game can certainly be evocative, can grab you through time and space; Sonic the Hedgehog does it to this day.
A game’s never made me feel like I do when I listen to Autoclave though, and weirdly I’m still waiting for a game to really make me hurt.