Sunday Thoughts: What Makes You Cry?

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.

[drop]First is Autoclave by The Mountain Goats. This is a band (well an artist really) that a friend of mine got me into, a friend who likes to make playlists and mixtapes for people; that’s just the kind of guy he is.

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.

[drop2]If you’ve watched the video you’ll know the point I mean. If you haven’t you should really go take a look. You can thank me afterwards.

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.



  1. Press X to Kara.

    • More like “Press X to Sexbot” isn’t it? ;)

      Lovely piece, Kris.

  2. Really good Sunday thoughts.
    Nice to see so much emotion and thought put in.

  3. Journey… That is all.

  4. I have so many songs that can bring out so many different emotions in me. Often I don’t realise it until I hear them again and then I suddenly remember things that id thought I had forgotten and relive them (good or bad). In fact today I’ve now played the same song about 15 times because of the thoughts and feelings that I now associate the song with. Music also has the power to change my mood depending on the mood of the song. I’m normally a very reserved sod when it comes to emotions but music can really flip things for me and I’m really grateful for it as a result.

    Games have managed to achieve a watered down version of what I’ve described above. Metal Gear Solid brings me lots of emotional memories from when I first played that game. Vice City also brings me memories of my childhood and because of that always makes me smile when reliving it. The Dead Island trailer is still something that sticks out for me as a moment where I was made to feel sad about a scene in a game/trailer that had no personal attachment to me at all. This can happen a lot on music, books and movies for me but very rarely in games.

    The more games manage to deliver this emotion to me, the better. I think it’s this type of achievement that will help bring games into a more respected and recognised form of media. I still love to pop on a game just for pure fun and see some cool effects, but I still also crave the great storytelling and characters that can be told and created in games and I hope that one day games will reach a level where they can tell a story and connect with the player more than a movie, music or a book can by combining all of these media types together into a game.

    • I’ve watched the Dead Island trailer countless times, amazing. Although as a passive viewing experience it was actually more akin to a movie rather than a game. Bought the track off iTunes too, incredibly sad when that pops on.

  5. There are two songs that I like which I can barely listen to as they can make me cry…Coldplay: The Scientist and Fix You.
    The only game which has prompted emotions from myself is Heavy Rain. The characters and their struggles were perfectly scripted and it was all very engaging. The kara demo brought about the same feelings for me. David Cage and Quantic Dream as a whole have something special at story telling

    • Same here. Heavy Rain really struck a chord with me weeks after finishing it. Just thinking about it now brings back a wealth if emotions

      • Im yet to find a game since which had given the same emotional feelings.

  6. For mem it’s usually something towards the end of anime series, where there’s heroic sacrifice of some sort. I won’t mention any series by name for fear of spoiling for others, but anime seems to get me far more than live-action films.

    And also, when I watch the part of Transformers: The Movie where Prime dies.

  7. Kara seemed like bad sci-fi to me, but I get the point.

  8. This is my first post so be gentle, long time lurker. The only game that makes me feel emotions is flower, no matter whats is getting me down flower helps me relax and centre myself again.

    • Agree on that one, Flower is very powerful. Journey more so, perhaps, but in a different way.

      • Whilst I can’t comment on Journey just yet, I have to agree that flower definitely evokes emotion within me.
        Also, as sad as this may sound, the very end scene of Portal 2 brought a tear to my eye… the reunion I guess you would call it.

  9. Music, movies, tv & books are leagues ahead

    Flower is the game which has come the closest & all without any dialogue or even a character to speak of.
    I’ve completed Journey and it almost reached the emotional height of Flower for me, however I played it signed of PSN so I didn’t go on the journey with anyone else, which on reflection may have been a mistake… Oh well I’ll complete it twice more in the coming week.

  10. Just watched the Kara video, thank you. That was impressive, went chills through me watching that, brilliantly done, thought-provoking and emotional.

    As for games, there are a handful who’ve made me cry, but there’s been a whole lot more inbetween them.

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