When the video-game-based film “Max Payne” was released last week, a critic named Roger Moore said on Rotten Tomatoes that it “suffers from the heartlessness that makes games emotionally inferior to movies. Nobody ever shed a tear over a video-game character’s death.” Naturally, this led to several dozen people posting angry comments talking about the times that they did, in fact, cry over the death of a video-game character. This reinforces the truism that no matter how ridiculous something is, there will always be someone who has not only done it, but is proud to admit it.
I shouldn’t mock, though. I’ve certainly had my share of emotional experiences with video games. I was a wreck the first time Pac-Man got eaten by that ghost. I cried myself to sleep when a car ran over my Frogger. And I still get a little misty-eyed every time I see an Italian plumber harassed by a turtle.
No, sorry, I was kidding before when I said I shouldn’t mock. Of course I should mock. I’m pretty sure the guys who flooded Rotten Tomatoes with angry repudiations of Moore’s assertion were the same guys — it’s always guys — who had Internet aneurysms back in July when some critics had the nerve not to like the Batman movie. And if you can’t make fun of people like that, then whom can you make fun of? (Besides people who say “whom,” I mean.)
When Moore said that “nobody ever shed a tear over a video-game character’s death,” someone called “powerslayer67” responded, “This man obviously has never played Metal Gear Solid 4.” I suspect that is true. But is powerslayer67 saying that if Moore HAD played Metal Gear Solid 4, he definitely WOULD have cried? Is that the effect Metal Gear Solid 4 typically has on people? Is Metal Gear Solid 4 the “Steel Magnolias” of video games? I was going to read up on Metal Gear Solid 4 to see if I could find an answer, but I noticed that the game’s entry at Wikipedia is longer than the entry on Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” and I figured that if the game warranted more discussion and analysis than one of the greatest works of theater ever written, then it’s probably every bit as emotionally potent as powerslayer67 says it is.
Other correspondents writing sweatily from their dorm rooms and parents’ basements offered these examples:
“FF7: Crisis Core is another example of a game that really made you feel connected with the characters. Both games in the Chrono series. Someone already mentioned Shadows of the Colossus.”
“I think one of the most emotional parts in any game that I played was towards the end of Final Fantasy X, when you play back Yuna’s message to the group. Half-Life 2, Ep. 2, another great one.”
“At the end of GTA IV when Niko says he feels empty inside….i teared up.”
“FF10 had one of the most emotional endings ever for a game, Bioshock comes to mind, FFVII comes to mind, MGS4 comes to mind, Lost Odyssey, Mass Effect.”
“Ever played Half-Life 2: Episode Two?”
“Play Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time or Ico and tell me there’s no emotional heft there.”
Or this one:
“It pains me to see individuals so ignorant as yourself, Mr. Moore.”
That’s probably literally true. I mean, if you can be made to weep bitter tears over the death of a video-game character, you probably feel real pain when a stranger on the Internet disagrees with you, too. At this point I have to wonder, what DOESN’T cause you emotional pain?
And my personal favorite response:
“I have only cried twice over the course of my adult life. Once for real life emotional reasons, the other over the death of a videogame character at the conclusion of Final Fantasy X, never over a film. My personal experiences alone disprove your statement, and consequently your integrity as a film reviewer.”
What is probably hard for the film critic Mr. Moore to understand is that video games have gotten a lot more complex than the ones he played in his youth. This is where I’m blocked, too. I don’t play video games anymore. I’m not intimately familiar with Final Fantasy or Half-Life, and I’m certainly not sophisticated enough to appreciate Metal Gear Solid 4. I mean, I can barely understand “Macbeth”! Is it possible that these games, with their complicated plots and characters, really do offer an emotional connection? Or is it that you’re bound to grow attached to ANYTHING that you spend a hundred hours working on, especially if you do it instead of developing mature relationships with other human beings?
The only way to find out would be to play one of these games myself. And that’s exactly what I decided to do!
* * *
Before changing my mind and deciding it wasn’t worth it, I mean.
My relationship with video games began with the Atari 2600 in the early 1980s and more or less ended with Nintendo in the early 1990s. I’ve recently had occasion to play Rock Band, however, and that can be pretty fun. If you’re not familiar, Rock Band is a game which allows you to spend many hours practicing a fake instrument without the burden of developing any actual musical skills. There’s a plastic guitar that has five different colored buttons on it, and whichever color appears on the screen, you press that button on your guitar, and it causes the game to play music. It is an excellent game for teaching people how to recognize different colors and press buttons that correspond to those colors. Don’t think it’s super-easy and that even a mouse in a laboratory can be taught to press a sequence of buttons in order to procure food, though! Sometimes in Rock Band you have to press the buttons really fast.
Musicians are often frustrated playing Rock Band because, as it turns out, being able to play a real instrument is of no use in the game. The only thing that helps is having a sense of rhythm and timing, which I do, not to brag or anything. I favor the drums in Rock Band for that reason, and also because the drums are an instrument that you can play sitting down, and also because I don’t get much opportunity in my regular life to hit things with sticks.
Still, Rock Band isn’t a normal video game because no one dies in it, and there’s not a plot or story, which means there’s no reason to cry when it’s over. It’s no Donkey Kong, in other words. The death of Bambi’s mother does nothing for me, but that little man getting smashed with a barrel thrown by a monkey? Forget it.
Yes, Roger Moore is also the name of one of the actors who used to play James Bond. I'm sure the movie critic Roger Moore is very tired of hearing jokes about it, which is why I didn't make any. That, and I couldn't find a place in the column to do it.
For more on the fanboy uprising against Batman-dissing critics, see this and this.
Alternate titles for this column: "Tears of Joystick," "While My Avatar Gently Weeps," "The Crying Games."
Photos were taken by my friend Cody Gunn, whose birthday was being celebrated via Rock Band.
SnideCast intro: "Pac-Man Fever," by Buckner & Garcia; outro: "Mario Twins," by Group X.