Beyond: Two Souls and the new emotions of gaming

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Beyond Two Souls
Beyond: Two Souls

Since Space Invaders arrived in arcades in the 70s, videogames have been good at soliciting human emotions: namely frustration and joy, usually in that order. You feed in cash, and you get repeatedly killed until your hard-won skill finally leads to victory. As technology has evolved, games have also been able to engender feelings of camaraderie and deliver real suspense along with good old-fashioned bloodlust. But taking advantage of the fact that playing a game makes you a willing accessory to onscreen events, developers are now stirring up more sophisticated emotions in players. Electronic entertainment is provoking responses that music, books and films can't. Here, we've picked out six of the best emotional videogames. And it turns out there's more to it than shooting strangers in the face after all.


Beyond: Two Souls

David Cage, the garrulous and delightfully opinionated French auteur behind Beyond: Two Souls and its predecessor Heavy Rain, wants to create games that make you think and feel. You suspect what he really wants, though, is to make you cry. He also doesn't care whether you've never played a game before, meaning nice, simple interactions, no difficult bits, and the ability to play it with one finger on a smartphone. It doesn't always work, but then most games don't tackle homelessness, bereavement, un-anaesthetised childbirth and the immutable ties of parental love.

GONE HOME PC, Mac & Linux

Gone Home

Set in a 90s world of VHS tapes and Ansaphone messages, you're 20-year-old Kaitlin Greenbriar, flying home from backpacking around Europe. The plan is to visit the new house your parents and younger sister have moved into, but when you arrive, in the midst of a thunderstorm, the house is deserted. Trying to piece together what's happened, you listen to your sister's spoken diary entries, read notes left around the house and rifle through drawers for ephemera. Touching and occasionally spooky, its exploration of life as a teenager provides a rare and beautifully written set of insights that are as much about the experience as resolving the plot.

THE LAST OF US PlayStation 3

The Last Of Us

The apocalypse was never going to be a happy time, but for parents, the opening 20 minutes of The Last Of Us will be about as emotionally traumatic as anything available in any medium, as you are involved in a desperate attempt to save your daughter's life. After such a sledgehammer beginning, the rest of the game conjures a more subtle emotional dilemma on which to impale yourself, with an ending that continues to haunt long after you've forgotten all the seemingly hopeless near-unarmed fights against survivors and the infected.


Shadow Of The Colossus

With the vaguest of introductions you're let loose in a mystical land populated by 16 office-block-sized colossi; some stony and architectural-looking, some that fly or swim, but all inhuman in scale. Your task is to track them down, clamber on to them, and destroy them. Each colossus is its own discrete puzzle and none goes down without a struggle that frequently results in your character's death. The peculiar thing about Shadow Of The Colossus is that you start to feel uneasy about killing these eerie giants. It's a sense of melancholy that's heightened by your participation: to finish the game, you have to kill every last one of them.

PORTAL 2 Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Mac & PC

Portal 2

For a first-person puzzle game set in a huge laboratory, Portal 2's trenchant emotional resonance might come as a surprise. With only three characters to work with, two of which aren't human and one of whom is you, Portal 2 creates an interactive fiction with a touch so light you don't even realise you care until it's all too late. The best case in point is the Weighted Companion Cubes, the objects you need to solve many of the game's devious puzzles. Only after you carelessly vaporise dozens are you granted an unnerving impression of their sentience.


Papers Please

Casting you as a border guard for a fictitious eastern European republic, your job is to decide whether a succession of would-be immigrants have the right paperwork to get through. Presented in charming 8-bit style, it's all good fun to start with, but the longer you play, the more the pleading of those you should be detaining or turning away starts to worry at you, especially when failure to meet daily quotas means the decline and eventual death of family members when you can't afford food, heating and medicine. A game that makes you feel truly guilty.

Source: Tablet Android

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