Being a partaker in a game’s narrative journey is one of my favorite types of experiences. Film and TV are great artistic mediums, but they don’t have that level of interaction (or really any interaction at all) that games have. Video games provide the outlet or escape that some people are looking for while some throw reality back at you. Games don’t have to be story heavy to make you think, but those tend to be the ones that make me stop and reevaluate areas in my life.
Linear games, despite the player’s lack of control over the story, put you into characters’ shoes and force you to see through their eyes. This can be uncomfortable and even challenge your beliefs at times. A really masterful video game will change your life in ways you didn’t expect. Here are 6 video games that made me rethink certain aspects of my life; maybe they’ll make you rethink yours.
I had heard a lot of positive things about Journey the year it launched (the game recently celebrated its fifth anniversary). I was surprised that it was even winning a few game of the year awards later on into the next year. I doubted the game was really that good and felt like it was another situation where I would be disappointed if I tried it. As much as I don’t let hype get to me, the hype for Journey took the game off my radar.
I thought about buying it when there was a price drop but the price seemed a little steep even then and I honestly wasn’t sold. I finally got a hold of the game about two years later for some reason and decided to see what the buzz was about. Journey is not a long game; I actually beat the whole thing in one sitting of about three hours.
Journey doesn’t need to be longer or shorter than it is. It’s the perfect length for the story it’s telling; a story without any words. The title of the game perfectly captures what the game is about and that really hit me hard at the end. I love a well told story and I’m used to stories told with words, so this was a rare exception.
Something happened inside of me as I trekked through the desert, making my way to the mountain. It was subtle, but also yelling in my face at the same time. It’s really cliche to me, but the message of Journey was still potent. I reached my destination and left with a satisfaction few games had given me.
If you haven’t played the game, I’m going to spoil the ending in the rest of this section, so skip on to the next entry in the list if that’s something you want to avoid.
The moment that I reached the mountain, I was already satisfied with how the game had played out. The game just kinda ended; credits started and I wasn’t sure what the point was. I then realized that the whole credits sequence was a restarting of the game, to the beginning of your journey.
Journey plays out in an endless loop where the player is constantly setting out to see what’s at the journey’s end. The problem is, there’s nothing there. The journey is the end and the beginning at the same time. It’s the whole process of getting there that matters. I felt a sense of understanding that no other game has given me at completion.
The phrase, “It’s about the journey, not the destination” popped into my head, but didn’t feel cliche to me. This game perfectly captured that simple idea without being cheesy about it. It even made me think about my own life and how I had been focusing on where my goals would have me end up rather than where they were taking me. It was a great moment of self reflection.
5) Final Fantasy X
Final Fantasy X is one of my favorite games for many reasons. It has an amazing soundtrack, great story, amazing graphics for its time, and even engaging gameplay. I’ve played the game twice through and wouldn’t be against playing it again. It’s hard to say which aspect of the game is the most important, as every part is pretty crucial.
Even so, the story really holds a special place in my heart. Naturally, spoilers will be detailed a bit since it’s kind of impossible to talk about the game without hitting on key plot points, so on to the next entry if you haven’t played FFX yet and plan to.
Unlike many people I’ve met, I actually really liked Tidus as a character. I thought he was funny and relatable in many ways. The game is “his story” in many ways, but it becomes clear at the end that Yuna is the real star. Yuna’s conviction to go on with her sacrifice, something which Tidus finds out later, is a jarring revelation.
That’s undermined later when Sin is defeated, but it’s replaced with Tidus’ disappearance. I like to think that Final Fantasy X-2 never happened and Tidus is still nonexistent. It’s a special type of sad when you find out Tidus is just a dream. I enjoy sadness tinged stories because they’re more genuine and down to earth in my perspective.
Sometimes we hold on to beliefs that end up being nothing more than other people’s dreams. I’ve had a few of those in my life, so story was on point.
4) Bioshock Infinite
Bioshock Infinite is pretty insane story wise and I’m actually not sure I fully grasp it yet or ever will. I won’t go into spoilers, cause I’m not really sure about the thing as a whole. But I’d say that this is one of those games that you need to experience in order to make a judgement call for yourself.
I was both shocked and confused at the ending and game in general, but maybe you have or will have more clarity than I did. I know I’m being vague, but it’s one of those mind exploding moments you need to personally experience.
Infinite has one of my favorite openings in any game; it really does a great job of immersing you in its imaginary world. The game may seem unrelated to the first, but you’ll find out you’re wrong if you make it to the end. I recommend making it to the end.
3) The Walking Dead: A Telltale Game Series – Season 1
There are a couple zombie games on this list, yes, but let’s think about them from a narrative perspective. The Walking Dead Game is all about narrative, to the point where there is almost no traditional gameplay. Spoilers ahead, so watch out.
This game was freaking depressing. There are threads of hope woven throughout the story, but by the end, they’re all mostly taken out. Death can be used as a cheap way to advance stories or add shock value. Every death in this game is masterfully done in a way that doesn’t feel cheap or forced.
Some stories feel like they’re throwing death at you as a novelty, but The Walking Dead Game does a great job of making every death count. I thought Duck and Katjaa’s deaths were the most jarring in the game. They come at a moment when you’re barely holding up after Carley’s sudden death and Lilly’s abandonment. They’re handled with a maturity that few mediums get right. Makes you think about whether or not the writers on Telltale’s team went through something similar; minus the zombies, obviously.
2) The Last of Us
This one is a heavy hitter for me. Spoilers all throughout this section, so just skip to the final entry if you’ve not yet played this masterpiece.
The opening alone made me see games differently and made me wonder what it’s like to lose a child as a parent. I don’t even have kids, but I still applied the story to my life. I know the opening has been talked about too much, so I’ll leave that there.
Joel and Ellie just worked as a pair of characters that didn’t want to get along. The tension that you’re left with at the end of the game is something you don’t see much in games. Games are usually more clear cut with their protagonists and antagonists.
There are times when it’s functionally kill to survive, but it’s not as black and white as that. We don’t live in a post apocalyptic world, but if we did, I’d imagine that the people in it would be pretty similar to the ones in The Last of Us. Naughty Dog did a phenomenal job of making the characters feel genuine and human, along with all their flaws.
Seeing the world through both Ellie and Joe’s eyes really got me invested in them and almost made me believe they were real people. I lost it when The Last of Us Part II got announced cause I can’t wait to see what they’re going to do with these two characters next. I had actually been opposed to a sequel because I wanted new characters, but Naughty Dog has sold me with their vision for the next game.
1) Persona 4 Golden
It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with Persona 4 Golden once I booted the game up. The game is so ridiculously heavy with style that it’s hard to ignore. Just the intro to the game let on that it was something special.
The story for Persona 4 is good, but it’s not one of my favorites in a game. What really made the game vibrant were the characters and the level of depth they had. The writers really committed to each one of the main characters and their relationship to you. I played the game twice just so I could max out my social links with each character, since I hadn’t got them the first time around.
I was absolutely obsessed with Persona 4, and the fact that it was on a portable console didn’t help alleviate my obsession. I kind of tuned out life and let Persona 4’s world become my own. The main character’s relationships were my own and his daily routine was mine as well. It wasn’t healthy, but it made me realize that I hadn’t spent enough time doing in my life what I was doing in the game.
Games are great and so are the stories they tell, but they can’t compare with the relationships we can create in real life. Sure, we won’t be fighting dragons or anything like that, but that’s hardly an issue (it might be an improvement). I’ve made some really amazing friends since my Persona days and even though Persona 5 just launched, I’ve come to realize just how important real human relationships are.
That’s not to say I won’t play Persona 5 (I already have it and plan to start it soon) but it does mean that I know where my priorities are. We shouldn’t forget about the world we live in for too long, cause that’s where our choices really matter. All characters in games are based off real humans. You can try to replace the real thing, but there’s not really a way to do that.
So thanks, Persona 4, for showing me that human relationships are at the heart of living a good life. Sure, they may be rocky and even infuriating at times, but nothing in this life is perfect. Next time you’re at home playing games, think about going out and making some friends if you haven’t made many. It really is a great experience and may actually help you appreciate games even more.