Sunday Thoughts: Emotional Hooks

The following statement may annoy some of you. I certainly know it will annoy Peter but I try to make that a daily occurrence, so I’m just fulfilling my quota really.

Outside my window there is snow. Not a lot of it, I’m not suddenly mistaking the quiet street I live on for Canada, but enough that pretty much everything is white and certainly enough that one of the buses near my house isn’t running (although that takes almost nothing to achieve). It really was very pretty when I looked outside last night, the strangely orange street lights making the snow glow oddly and highlighting the footprints from the few souls that had sullied the fresh powder.

That was when I had an odd moment, a reminder of the truly bizarre way in which our memory can work. I was looking out of the window and thinking about games, pondering what I could write about in this very article today. The snow and the footprints suddenly gave me flashes of Uncharted 2, the point where Drake is struggling in the wake of the train crash. That was certainly a defining moment of the game, but there were other points that were equally as important right? I mean surely the game wasn’t just that segment for ten hours?

[drop]However, try as I might I could only remember very vague recollections of the rest of the game. It wasn’t even like I’d played this a long time ago, it was only at the tail end of last year. Something to do with with eternal life? There was definitely exploding tree-sap at the end, and after a moments effort I can recall how frustrated I was with that final boss fight.

The snow though? That’s very vivid, a fixed memory in my mind. Perhaps it was the sheer pain you felt Drake was enduring, the hopelessness of his situation at that point. Naughty Dog excel at getting across the emotion of their characters, and Drake staggering through the snow as he bled out really took that up to the next level. That’s what made me wonder though, is it just these emotionally charged moments that stick with us, does the rest of the game simply slip by and float out of your head as soon as it’s completed?

It’s certainly true of Halo: Reach. My memories of Bungie’s final Halo title are clearer than those of Uncharted 2, but there’ still a single moment of the game that sticks in my head, a point that seems to fix the rest of my memories of the game in place. If you still want to play the game you might want to skip the next paragraph for fear of spoilers.

Although by the end of Halo: Reach your entire squad, and ultimately your character, has been slaughtered by Covenant forces there’s one death that sticks out, one that I’ve talked about in the past. Although most of your squad seems to be playing a game of “Who can die in the noblest way?”, Kat’s completely sudden and unexpected death sticks with me like no other. I’m not sure there’s even another character’s death in any game that effected me as strongly as her untimely demise at the hands of a sniper. It nearly made me cry, and even now I can feel it stirring my emotions.

There, spoilers over. That single moment in the game underpins everything else I can recall about the game, it’s the point upon which everything else is anchored. I wonder if Bungie were trying to achieve that, if they knew that a single cutscene would be the point at which the game sunk its hooks into my brain. Did Naughty Dog know that with Drake’s snowbound struggle? They clearly recognised it afterwards, the exceptionally similar moment in Uncharted 3 makes that clear.

[drop2]Games that don’t have this moment are harder to recall. The original Assassin’s Creed? I loved that game at the time but it’s pretty much a blur now. I guess I killed people? There was the weird hologram thingy at the end, but I’m not quite sure why it was there now. In fact the second Assassin’s Creed has exactly the same issue, all I can remember is the game’s ending. I love Ezio and Altair, but Ubisoft never quite gave me the emotional hook that my memory clearly needs to hang the details upon.

I’m willing to accept that my memory works in a weird way though, that it might just be me that needs these high points to anchor down any other memories of a game (or film, or book). I’d be interested to hear if you have a similar experience though, do you have a specific moment of a story that suddenly jumps to mind when you think about it? Is there a point that all of your other memories revolve around, or do you have a more perfect recall?

With all of that said it’s time to go make my own footprints in the snow. I may be some time.



  1. Great article. I feel games like MGS4 and (to an extent) ACR hook me emotionally. Though not a long time follower of the MGS series, in MGS4 I could feel Snakes constant struggle, and him slowly passing on. It was a brilliant game, in so many ways, but that underlying feeling that it’s snakes final mission is always there. This is where ACR comes in, as an avid fan of the AC series I knew this was Ezios last game, and whilst it’s good their moving on it was sad for me as AC2 was one of my favourite games of all time. Regardless, as a keen fan I myself developed the emotion of Ezios swansong in ACR, something the actual game didn’t really do. Literally one of the only things Ezio says to show his age is ‘i’m too old for this’. That’s it really. Still, his story was concluded well for me in Embers, but i’d have liked the actual game to show his age and struggle more.

    • The microwave tunnel and final fight of MGS4 did all that for me. God, I really need to shut up about Metal Gear.

  2. you and my step-brother are of a kind, that same death is all he remembers vividly about Reach.
    I think your not alone on the hook thing, its vital, i may get some flack but when i cast my mind back to the Ocarina of Time all i remember is a dim sense of rage over the water temple and a faint trace of irritation of Navi.
    i believe a game Must have one scene that truly grabs you in order for it to properly register with the often desensitized minds of our generation ;), Dead Space 2`s baby in the washing machine, The WYK moment in Bioshock and when Jools and Jops end up dying in cannon fodder are probably my most memorable moments in gaming…..along with the adventure on the von Braun of course ;)

    • *emotionally memorable i mean :D

  3. I love those kind of games. Getting emotionally attached to characters and caring about the mission and what’s going to happen next. Makes the investment of money and time in the game worthwhile. The Metal Gear and Uncharted series will always be the games that come to mind reading articles like this. Not just one scene though, I remember almost all of each of those great games. Shame there’s few games that can draw you in like that.

  4. IMO, The Metal Gear Solid series is best at doing emotional scenes. From Sniper Wolf’s death to Snake’s struggle through the corridor of Mircowave. It helps to engage the player into the story. Snake has had a hard life and he goes through a lot of punishment in MGS4. The way it’s done reflect’s it very well.

    Another example and probably the most famous example is Aeris(th)’s death in FF7. It was so unexpected and tragic at the same time. Everytime i see that scene, i shed tears. Even listening to the music brings a tear to my eye.

    I believe the gaming industry needs to use more emotional scenes as it will help the story. Prehaps in a FPS, one of your squad mates die, the screen could simulate tears. I could give a million and 2 examples. I’m big sucker for emotional stories as well as good ones. :)

    • Emo .

    • I couldn’t care less for Aeris. She was probably the biggest con i saw in VII (only finished the first disc), the character was empty, useless in combat and just boring to me. I thought Cait Sith’s death was also terribly played. Why bring a second one straight after? Find it pointless, kills all the thrill.

      • What fucked me off about aeris is that i spent a lot of time with her in my squad. what a waste.

  5. Great article :) That point in uncharted 2 was fantastic, even though he would have died in real life!
    Only a few games have really grasped me in an emotional way. Heavy Rain for starters is one which sticks in my mind. Ethan’s journey and ultimate end as he saves Shaun (my ending) was portrayed brilliantly.
    Funnily enough the other two games are Killzone 2 and Resistance 2. The first moment when I land at Helghan and the level following is one of my favourite gaming missions. Also in Resistance 2 there is a point where you emerge to see a destroyed California, every skyscraper burns and the Chimeran ships float past. These points have kept in my mind as they have left a lasting impression.

    • Oh, Ethan’s trials were SO engaging. Wow. When i killed that man… I felt utterly terrible. And the finger?

      • With the depressing soundtrack on top it was great stuff! Learning who the Origami Killer was was a shock too!

      • You?


      • haha, I found it really strange typing Origami Killer in then :P

  6. Oh i remember the jokes from U2. “in like Flynn”, “you brought a hooker to church”, priceless. Guess that’s what makes it for me.

    • its like trying to find a bride in a brothel

  7. Probably the most emotionally engaging game of last year for me (and my definite GOTY) was inFAMOUS 2. There were only two media objects i’ve cried over, and this is one of them. Both endings are infinitely sad, i guess it’s just cause the characters really click with me as they are being developed throughout the game, you really get used to them and when the time comes to bid farewell it’s a bit of a shame already, but what the game does to them takes it to a new level. Find it a fantastic game.

  8. The Legend of Zelda: Links Awakening. The revelation that is revealed to you halfway through the game was very emotional for me. Almost to the point where i didn’t want to complete the game. Not sure if i’m allowed to post the spoiler here but i will say to anyone that owns a 3DS to pick up the game on the e-shop channel or whatever its called.

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