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Split Screen: In defence of anger

Journey's initial bright daylight gradually becomes darkness.

Journey's initial bright daylight gradually becomes darkness.

"Anybody can become angry, that is easy; but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way, that is not within everybody's power and is not easy." - Aristotle

Anger gets a bad rap.

Anger is portrayed in popular media as a destructive force, irredeemably bad. It makes people blind, makes them do stupid things. After all, as everyone knows, a Jedi keeps control on his feelings. Anger leads to the dark side, right Yoda?

It is too rarely mentioned that anger can make good things happen. Anger at unjust treatment can drive people to protest and rally and prompt major changes for the better that benefit all of society. Justified, righteous anger can bring out the best in people, as individuals and as groups.

If you mention anger and video games in the same breath, we will all tend to think of the same things: a frustrated gamer smashing a controller, or a hate-filled teenager screaming obscenities at strangers down a headset.

What we never hear about is that righteous anger I talked about earlier. It's a difficult thing to capture in a game. Heartfelt, constructive anger is usually felt in reaction to something in the real world that is important and worthwhile. While we here on Screen Play love our games, few in-game events carry the kind of weight that could generate that kind of emotional response.

When I felt angry at an in-game character while playing Jenova Chen's Journey, it was a remarkably novel experience.

Journey is, for the most part, a very gentle and safe experience, involving flight, exploration, and discovery. To begin with, surfing down steep sand dunes and flying around deserted ruins is a lot of fun, but as the game progresses the landscapes become progressively darker and more melancholy.

Your only constant companions along the way are strips of magical fabric, flying around as if alive, "swimming" through the air and moving in fish-like schools. They are joyous little creatures, and it's a pleasure to interact with them. Less pleasant are the game's darker denizens, terrifying giants that resemble huge flying millipedes.

During one of this latter creature's first appearances in the game, it attacks one of the schools of flying "fabric fish" with a beam of destructive energy, "killing" them and burning them to ash. I was shocked for a moment, staring open-mouthed at the screen, but then the fury took over. That such innocent and loveable creatures could have been so casually murdered filled me righteous rage.

I didn't know how I was going to do it, but I was determined I was going to avenge those poor little scraps of cloth.

Strange as it may seem, I loved that Journey elicited such a strong reaction from me, along with large doses of fear and sadness, as well as great joy. In the mechanical, results-driven world of video games, it is a relief to know that some people have dedicated themselves to creating quieter, slower games that trigger strong emotional responses in players.

How about you, readers? Do you like a game that plays with your emotions? Tell us all about in the comments section below.

- James "DexX" Dominguez

 twitter If you want more DexX, you can listen to the GameTaco podcast or follow him on Twitter: @jamesjdominguez

14 comments so far

  • The G-man in the Half-Life series has always made me angry. I mostly play the games to find a way to stop him from getting anything that he wants, ever.

    Date and time
    April 25, 2012, 11:12AM
    • Most of my anger is frustration, but I must admit that a number of characters in the Mass Effect series (1&2, haven't gotten to 3) did rub me the wrong way. But I did like that because it made me immerse myself into Shepard to prove them wrong in their ignorance and/or arrogance (e.g. the stupid Council of the Citadel).

      I do want it in some games, others I just want to play without having to engage myself fully.

      Date and time
      April 25, 2012, 12:04PM
      • I enjoy a game that is well designed enough to elicit genuine emotional response. I would say it is my favourite type of game.

        I don't enjoy games that elicit a genuine emotional response thru developer incompetence, ignorance or just plain deceit. Example, Casey Hudson, Bioware and ME3.

        Date and time
        April 25, 2012, 5:14PM
        • I definitely enjoy a game that plays with my emotions - for me it helps create a story worth seeing through to the end...

          Specifically - I've been playing a LOT of fallout:new vegas lately (still only about halfway though), and I've noticed that the Legion have been drawing a reaction from me that i didn't expect.

          They make me angry - not frustrated - but actually angry. They're slavers who are difficult to kill and are extremely egotistical... Just makes me want to stop them all!

          (Even Benny, the guy who shoots you in the head at the start of the game didn't make me angry like this...)

          Date and time
          April 26, 2012, 8:57AM
          • Last year I played The Witcher 2 - I chose a certain decision at the end of the second chapter because I was angry at a certain character's abuse of one of the game's female characters. You'll know it when you get to it.

            This week I finished Zelda Skyward Sword - I was mad as hell at Ghirahim the entire game and his boss fights are very very personal. Damn fine game, proof the Zelda games can learn new tricks. He's directly antagonising you and Link simultaneously.

            Date and time
            April 26, 2012, 9:58AM
            • First time I can remember a game triggering an emotional response such as this was the death of Aeris and the ensuing boss fight with Sephiroth in FF7. She was my healer dammit!!! >.<

              Date and time
              April 26, 2012, 10:50AM
              • Oh man - FF7... I didn't care that aeris died, but i did care that i'd bothered to level her up... I could have used Tifa more if i knew dammit!!!

                Date and time
                April 26, 2012, 11:55AM
              • Ooh.. i know the feeling. I really missed having her Fury Brand limit break. Fury + Cover = Insta Limit Break for the party!@beatdan: Actually the problem was Aeris had the best support Limit Breaks in the entire game.. i lvl'ed her up once so she could use Great Gospel. Full Heal and Invincibility for the next few rounds and Fury Brand was still one of the best Limit Breaks IMHO even though it was only a Level 2 Limit. So frustrating to loose all those buffs >.< Oh yeah and that I actually liked her character at the time =P

                I want chinese take-away!
                Date and time
                April 26, 2012, 3:35PM
            • trying to get more than bronze medals on trials evolution hard levels def makes me angry

              Date and time
              April 26, 2012, 11:49AM
              • I'm not sure if I've felt angry in a game, but I've felt sad a few times. One of those times was in Valkyria Chronicles, the death of Isara, made my feel like tearing up, gives you this feeling in the pit of your stomach that tells you "that shouldn't have just happened!"
                Anime elicits a stronger response than any game has though.

                Date and time
                April 26, 2012, 12:47PM

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