Crying can be extremely cathartic and relieving. Really letting the waterworks flow and acknowledging an emotion instead of bottling it up is an extremely healthy activity. Movies, songs and art can bring out an emotional state like this, but what about videogames? Are there any sad videogames that can really tug at the heartstrings?
Yes, absolutely. From AAA developers to completely unknown Indie titles, there are video games that will make you sniffle and videogames that will make you sob. Here are our picks for the Top 10 Saddest Video Game Moments. Hopefully it goes without saying, but just in case…
Reaching the Mountain – Journey
Journey is an artful game through and through. There’s minimal story, and no dialogue. Driving players through by a sense of emotion, feel and an absolutely gorgeous soundtrack. Emotion is quite literally the driving force of this game, and all you know is that you must reach the end.
No explanation why, no reason to get there. Players speculate that Journey is meant to be a metaphor and interpretation of life. We let our emotions and fears drive us forward, only knowing that we all have to reach something at the end. Question is, do we die at the base of the mountain or make it all the way up to the top?
“He turned us into f***ing killers!” – Spec Ops: The Line
If you find essays about morality, warfare and shocking content interesting, then you’ve probably heard this game’s name thrown around a bit. Spec Ops is the poster child for good storytelling inside of a shooter, and how to properly convey PTSD with a psychological element.
Throughout the game’s runtime, you are trying to find a high value colonel inside of a derelict and wrecked Dubai. The further and longer that you’re there, the more drastic and violent your methods become. Until, at one point, you decide to use white phosphorus on a crowd of soldiers. An actual war crime plays out right in front of players eyes, as the burning hot material melts flesh and concrete.
Then, you walk through the carnage, witnessing the death and horror that you brought on these people, and discover that you bombed civilians. Mothers clutching children, families clinging to each other. It’s a heart wrenching and stomach churning moment, made all the worse by your comrades really starting to lose their emotional core. Accusing you of being a murderer and forcing them to do horrible things. Spec ops: The Line is a masterpiece in emotional manipulation and payoff.
Objective… Survive – Halo: Reach
Halo has always been an emotional battering ram in gaming. Even though the entire series is predicated on this long running narrative of alien domination and SciFi nonsense, it held an emotional center. You were invested in characters like Master Chief, Cortana and the Arbiter. Even if you didn’t really know why, maybe it was the music, maybe it was the pacing or maybe Bungie just knows cinematic manipulation.
Where Halo: Reach differed, was that you loved everyone. Emile, Jorge, Carter, Kat, Jun and Noble 6. All of them made players emotionally invested in their fight against the Covenant and the protection of the planet Reach. Inevitably, Reach would fall to the Covenant. And we watch as each member of Noble team dies heroically and tragically, giving their lives so that they can save as many people as possible. Where the game really kicked us in the emotional nuts, was the death and final stand of Noble 6.
Standing on the lone platform, watching the Covenant destroy Reach, you grasp the dog tags of your fallen comrades and prepare for what comes next. The screen goes black, you find yourself in an open area with minimal cover, and only one objective; survive. No matter how hard you fight, no matter how courageous and hard, you will die.
Martin O’Donnel’s piano music kicks in, Noble 6 is overwhelmed and the tears come hard.
Dom’s Wife – Gears of War 2
For a series about machismo spouting, steroid abusing hulks of men battling an alien race with chainsaws attached to assault rifles, Gears could be surprisingly emotional. Ripping the carpet out from underneath you in a heart wrenching display of pure, depressing sadness in a world dominated by a genocidal alien race.
During the play time of Gears of War 2, you’re trying to stop the alien invasion while also trying to find Dom’s wife. After being taken by the Locust, Dom has never given up the hope of finding his love before she dies. Players never really expected to find her, and then at one point, you actually do.
Dom dances with joy, holding Maria in his arms as they spin around, dance and laugh with tears in their eyes. Before the camera peels back and reveals that Dom is holding the emaciated body of his wife. After being tortured and forced into labor for months, Maria is a shell of who she was. And as players are forced to bear witness and walk away, we hear the startling sound of a pistol shot, and a depressed Dom walks out, alone.
The Wolf and the Swallow – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
After spending hours and hours trying to piece together the timeline of Witcher 3 and track down Ciri, players are finally within arms reach. You’ve tracked her across continents, battled epic monsters, played games with demons and now she’s right there in front of you.
Ciri is laying down, not moving and apparently wasting away. Dying right in front of you. As Geralt walks into the room, the music swells, the violin’s string and players have to choke up as Geralt reacts to failing. Believing Ciri to be dead and all of his effort in vain.
Yes, it ends on a happy note because Ciri is alive, but seeing Geralt break down and choke up really messed us up. He’s supposed to be the stoic badass who never lets emotion trump his logic and sarcasm. Yet, here he is, reduced to tears and unable to stand, believing that he failed his surrogate daughter.
“Get up!” – The Last of Us Part II
Even though we’re pretty divided on TLOU II here at Scoophash (I wasn’t the biggest fan of it) there were some really emotional moments. Nowhere was that more obvious and distressing then watching our favorite character, Joel, get tortured and beaten to death.
Less than two hours into the game, we watch as Joel gets his leg blown nearly clean off by a shotgun. Then, we watch in agony as he’s mercilessly beat. Brutally, savagely and disgustingly. By the time the deed is done and Joel is laying in a pool of his own blood and brains, you hardly even recognize him.
Made all the worse by Ellie’s distressed cries and pleading for Joel to fight back and get up. Backgrounded by the horrible squelching and smashing of the gold club into Joel’s head and body. Over, and over and over again.
Likely you weren’t a fan of how this scene played out, wishing that Joel had lived and not died so horribly. While I’m still not sure what to think, I do know that this scene damn near broke me. Had to set the controller down and just walk away for a little bit, it was too much.
“Cortana… Please.” – Halo 4
343i’s first foray into Halo was the excellent and underrated game, Halo 4. Featuring a hell of a lot more emotion, stronger storytelling, incredible music and a compelling narrative. After bonding with Chief and Cortana over the span of more than a decade, players were treated to something different in Halo 4. Chief is becoming more sociopathic, bringing his previous victories into question, and Cortana is turning rampant.
It’s both a fight for survival against the Forerunner Didact as well as trying to keep each other alive and save. Cortana is losing control, and it’s prompting Chief to slide further and further into irrational behaviour. He starts jeopardizing people and missions for the sake of not letting Cortana go.
Then, we finally get to the finale and Chief seemingly sacrifices himself to kill the Didact. Setting off a nuke inside of his ship and the screen fades to white. Turns out that Cortana was able to pull you out, but not without sacrificing herself in the process. As reality sets in for the pair, we watch one final interaction between the two.
Master Chief is unable to even look up, completely broken by the fact that he has to leave Cortana behind. And Cortana tries to comfort him as the world caves in around you. It was a truly heartbreaking moment, and will stand the test of time as one of Halo’s greatest story moments.
John Marston’s Last Stand – Red Dead Redemption
God this hits so much harder after playing through Red Dead Redemption II. In Rockstar’s ode to the Old West, players took on the role of former outlaw, John Marston. An honest man who made his name dishonestly, trying to be the best that he can for his wife and child.
As he gets forced into hunting down the last members of the former gang that he ran with, Marston has to question who he is as a man. Facing down his lifelong demons and morality.
But, in the end, he succeeds and kills off the former members of the Van Der Linde gang, and returns home to his wife and son. Then, Rockstar completely pulls the rug out from underneath you, seeing the gang isn’t entirely dead and gone, there’s one more; John Marston.
Pinkertons and hired guns line up outside your house, facing down the former outlaw, and bringing reality to crashing a halt to players. Music quiets, John tells his wife and son to ride and not look back. He walks to his front door, opens it, walks outside and takes as many of the Pinkertons with him as he can. Sadly, there’s only one outcome for Marston, and as he’s brutally gunned down, all you can do is drop the controller in shock and cry.
A man who tried his damnedest to improve and fix himself is rewarded the only way that life will, unfairly and cruelly. We all get what we deserve in the end, but in Red Dead Redemption, it felt unfair. After trying his best, John Marston is killed the same way as every other outlaw.
Joel Lies to Ellie – The Last of Us
In the first Last of Us, there’s not really any major moment of happiness or bliss. Maybe outside of the giraffe scene, besides that moment though, The Last of Us is a depressing moral character study. From the very beginning when you witness your young daughter’s death, the game doesn’t hold your hand.
People die, good people and bad people alike. Either to other people or the rampaging cordyceps virus. There’s one small hope though, a young girl named Ellie may have a natural immunity to the virus that can be synthesized into a vaccine. Resulting in her death, but guaranteeing a chance for humanity. After spending hours with Ellie, Joel decides that he can’t let it happen.
Breaking into the hospital, Joel savagely murders the entire staff. Ripping out throats with scalpels, beating others senseless into walls and gurneys. Joel’s savagery gets him the opportunity to get Ellie out of the hospital, but also dooms mankind’s one chance.
Ellie does wake up eventually, and as she stands on a cliff overlooking the hospital, she asks Joel if he’s telling the truth. Was there really no chance that she could’ve saved people, and were the Fireflies really evil? Players watch on the edge of their seats as they wait to hear Joel come clean. And then, he never does. Lying to Ellie’s face that he’s telling her the truth, and we angry cried.
Arthur Morgan’s Last Ride – Red Dead Redemption II
Rockstar must just pent up all of their emotion for the Red Dead series, because both games managed to reduce us to crying children.
After spending, lord knows how many, hours with Arthur Morgan, players became very attached to the character. Depending on how you play obviously, Arthur proves himself to be a good man who understands morality. Even if he also thinks that he’s unworthy of being considered good or just. Surpassing every other game character we can think of, Arthur is the most well rounded and explored character in a video game so far.
After enduring hardships and tribulations, Arthur ends up getting diagnosed with Tuberculosis. At the time of 1899, this was a deadly disease that progressively killed anyone it infected. Arthur clings to life by a thread, constantly hacking and coughing his lungs out but pushing forward nonetheless.
And then, Dutch and the gang turn their backs on Arthur when he decides to try and rescue Abigail. Refusing to stop doing the morally right thing, Arthur goes through hell to try and get Abigail back, and when he succeeds players know something is coming. As Arthur gives a tearful goodbye to Sadie and Abigail, he decides on one course of action; going out on his terms.
Mounting his horse, donning his original hat and galloping off towards the last camp that Dutch and the gang were at. Knowing that he needs to end things, once and for all. Daniel Lanois’ soulful and tear jerking song “That’s the Way it is” starts playing. As he rides closer and closer to his fate, Arthur is reminded of the life that he lived, and players around the world sobbed.
Morgan’s death and last ride in Red Dead Redemption II is not just perfect storytelling, but our choice for the saddest moment in a videogame. You grow such a connection to Arthur, and knowing the fate that awaits John Marston and Abigail, makes it all the worse.
So, hopefully you’re not too depressed after reading this list. Like we said, there is something extremely cathartic and healthy about having a good cry. Doesn’t mean that you start uncontrollably sobbing and curl up into a fetal position ever time.
Journey was a happy sad, The Last of Us was an angry sad and Red Dead Redemption is a depressing sad. All sorts of sadness exists inside of gaming, and in our opinion, these are the best representations of it.