Sad, Lonely Little Games

edited January 2010 in Story Games
Do you care about the emotional content of a game?

If a game makes you feel sad, lonely and desperate (because the situations it subjects you to are sad, lonely and desperate ones, not because it is a bad game), could you be entertained?
Are happier games better to play because sensations of happiness are easier to correlate with entertainment?

-Mike.

Comments

  • without reservation, i love games that have the potential to make me feel sad, lonely or desperate. extra points for all three. if you're polling because you know something i don't, give up the goods, Mike!

    "better" is contextual. there are a lot of friends that i could play happy games with, who wouldn't enjoy play experiences that trigger other emotions. that i have some friends that i can play games in which we can be moved to sorrow together, even if we play seldom, means that i am rich.
  • Posted By: PotemkinDo you care about the emotional content of a game?
    Yes.
    If a game makes you feel sad, lonely and desperate (because the situations it subjects you to are sad, lonely and desperate ones, not because it is a bad game), could you be entertained?
    Yes.
  • Yes, to both, but I'm probably not going to seek such a game out.
  • edited January 2010
    Posted By: jackson teguwithout reservation, ilovegames that have the potential to make me feel sad, lonely or desperate. extra points for all three. if you're polling because you know something i don't, give up the goods, Mike!
    Mulling over an earlier discussion regarding playing as Russian peasant-women in, as Cedric P ingeniously put it, a reverse Dogs in the Vineyard: a life of marginalization, abuses and secrets, trapped in a tiny village. Then stir in recurrent outsiders who inevitably increase any sense of persecution, alienation and insecurity.
    The game would be an unremitting, soul-crushing experience. I was curious as to whether people would be masochistic enough to want to play a game like that.

    Personally, I get my kicks from good stories, and good stories are slave to emotional content! And, well, a youth of D&D teaches you to be a sadist! Players need to feel: what they feel I care not, so long as they feel in intensely! Ok, hyperbole - but you get my drift.
    Posted By: John PowellYes, to both, but I'm probably not going to seek such a game out.
    I'm curious. If yes to both, why wouldn't you seek one out?
  • Posted By: PotemkinI'm curious. If yes to both, why wouldn't you seek one out?
    I'm also a "yes to both, but I'm probably not going to seek out a sad/lonely/desperate game," and my answer to that question is pretty simple: because I generally get enough downbeat and/or stressful emotional input from other sources already.

    Playing a "downer" game can be entertaining and cathartic, yes, but since I'm already getting the catharsis during the week, I don't feel any particular need to look for it on Saturday when we sit down to game. Now, if our weekly game has a session that takes a turn for the sad, that's fine with me...but if it's going to be an endless parade of sorrow, then I think I would eventually stop being entertained by it. Something happier, on the other hand, is always welcome and will always remain entertaining: my capacity for happiness and joy is greater than my interest in misery, and I hope that this will always be true.
  • I played in a Ribbon Drive game that was pretty much a downer in the end, very emotionally touching for me. But it also tapped into my feelings and thoughts about family and showed me a thing or two. So I wouldn't classify it as "entertainment" any more than watching, say, Requiem for a Dream is entertainment. But it's still something valuable.
  • Posted By: PotemkinMulling over an earlier discussion regarding playing as Russian peasant-women in, as Cedric P ingeniously put it, a reverse Dogs in the Vineyard: a life of marginalization, abuses and secrets, trapped in a tiny village. Then stir in recurrent outsiders who inevitably increase any sense of persecution, alienation and insecurity.
    The game would be an unremitting, soul-crushing experience. I was curious as to whether people would be masochistic enough to want to play a game like that.
    Those last two lines (which I bolded) don't necessarily follow from the above ones.
    They certainly can.
    They don't need to.

    The emotions experienced during play =/= a 100% match with the emotions experienced by the characters.
    Further, the experience of play is different than the experience of the described action.
    I'd feel horrified and dismantled if I ever killed someone. I can have my character kill someone in a game without feeling those feelings directly, myself.

    The idea of playing Russian peasant-women in that situation sounds pretty awesome to me.
    I get to explore marginalization, I get to experience the power of keeping secrets, I get to explore the consequences of exercising that power, I get to immerse in a pretty serious situation that I've never been in.

    These things that I get to do, they're all exciting gifts offered by the game (albeit with the caveat that I treat them respectfully and authentically). That's exciting. That's joyful. I feel good about this game, before even playing it. It'll stir a mix of hella intense emotions in my soul, and I'll like that a lot too!

    It'll make me feel desperate, and hurt, and alienated. And those will be feelings that perhaps I've never felt in the way that I'll feel them.
    I like the idea of feeling these new things in a safe environment, exploring and creating with friends.

    In short, this game would make me feel good, amidst all the pain and struggle.
    Not because I'm masochistic.
    Because I'm interested in people and experiences, and I like learning and feeling.
  • Posted By: PotemkinDo you care about the emotional content of a game?
    Yes!
    If a game makes you feel sad, lonely and desperate (because the situations it subjects you to are sad, lonely and desperate ones, not because it is a bad game), could you be entertained?
    This doesn't seem to have anything to do with the first question? But okay. I really don't usually feel sad, lonely and desperate when a game sets up sad, lonely and desperate situations. I am generally gleeful at the suffering of fictional characters. I cackle at how bad their situation is and think of ways to make it worse.

    "Schadenfreude! Fuck you, lady, that's what stairs are for!"

    But if I were sad, lonely and desperate (somehow), I would not be entertained, no.
  • Mike, you (and Cedric P, too) should print out Nicotine Girls and play it. Then you can hack it to play Russian peasant women.
  • I wouldn't play a 'downer' game for the same reason I don't watch sob story movies: I don't enjoy being depressed. On the other hand if the game used hyperbole to overstate sad, depressing situations and turn it into parody, like the card game 'Gloom', that's something I probably would enjoy.

    For me, the major problem of dim, depressing games is that the very concept seems to encourage players to wallow in self-pity rather than take affirmative action, and if one thing kills a game for me it's Angst.

    -Ash
  • Well, this is interesting. I've decided I like this forum!
    Posted By: joepub
    Those last two lines (which I bolded) don't necessarily follow from the above ones.
    They certainly can.
    They don'tneedto.

    The emotions experienced during play =/= a 100% match with the emotions experienced by the characters.
    Further, the experience of play is different than the experience of the described action.
    I agree with you unreservedly, Joe. I'm guilty of describing the idea superficially (and thinking about it superficially!). You've accurately and succinctly described precisely why you and I enjoy these games. Were I to write such a game, your post would be my mantra.

    However (says the devil's advocate), there are those who cannot find enjoyment (or interest, even) in playing negative roles; the correlation between in-game and real-life emotions is too great. I read criticisms of Nicotine Girls based entirely on this. Do you think this a failing on their part?
  • Posted By: PotemkinHowever (says the devil's advocate), there are those who cannot find enjoyment (or interest, even) in playing negative roles; the correlation between in-game and real-life emotions is too great. I read criticisms of Nicotine Girls based entirely on this. Do you think this a failing on their part?
    Some people don't like to be tied to a post and whipped, while someone tells them they've been a bad student.
    Some people don't like to go to dimly-lit night clubs and try to score emotionally-void sex with strangers.
    Some people don't like to play in the mud.
    Some people don't like to listen to rap music.
    Some people don't like to listen to the stories that old people tell about the war.

    The fact that some people dislike an activity isn't a value judgment of the person or the activity.
    It's just a statement of preference.

    I'm excited that there are people in the world that like stuff I don't even like. That's neat!
  • Emotional immersion via character empathy is a fantastic form of entertainment for me. Responding to a character or situation with only schadenfreude feels like it's limiting the scope of potential entertainment. Yet, on the other hand, the scope is also limited by insincere empathy/angst.
  • edited January 2010
    I like tragic games. I'll go for a good tearjerker movie, too. To expand upon the idea that character emotions don't necessarily match up with player emotion, I'd like to point out that emotion during play does not necessarily result in the same emotion after play ends. For me tragic stories are a reminder to not take for granted the value of life, but that doesn't really hit until there is time to reflect upon the story.

    EDIT: Tragedies can be a powerful form of escapism, too (though not exclusively so). The ability to give messy situations a sense of inner logic is a powerful feature of story games/roleplaying games, making them an effective form of escapism. For more on why I call this escapism, you can check out this entry on my blog.
  • Posted By: PotemkinResponding to a character or situation with only schadenfreude feels like it's limiting the scope of potential entertainment.
    Sure, there are plenty of games I don't like. :)
  • I like playing horror/terror, thriller, and suspense games. They enlist loneliness and desperation. Maybe not loneliness, but alienation for sure. When characters die or another sad event/action happens I often feel sorrow for the character. One of my payouts in gaming is having the emotion that I invest in the game change and be worked with. Grow with the character in the game. I enjoy it, because it is interesting to experience events that you haven't experienced before as a person your not. Kind of like acting. Some people don't enjoy being scared, so their answer would obviously differ.
  • For those who don't like games with sad, lonely little themes: I don't get this. None of you like sad movies? You only watch comedies?
  • I'm assuming some here have seen read or seen THE LORD OF THE RINGS.

    I'm re-watching the movies right now.

    So. Lots of sadness in there. Right?

    Like every eight minutes.

    I understand that's not what everyone wants from an RPG. I get that. But this idea that adventure fiction is at cross-purposes to sadness is, well, wrong.
  • Except that in the "little" department, LotR = epic fail.
  • edited January 2010
    Fair enough.

    I honestly don't see how "emotional" or "sad" equals "soul crushing" or "masochistic." Or even how soul crushing is masochistic (I'd suggest several characters felt like their souls were crushed several times through the course of the tale.)

    Which is why I referenced a blunt counter example to illustrate my confusion.

    But that's just me. Carry on.
  • Posted By: JohnstoneMike, you (and Cedric P, too) should print outNicotine Girlsand play it. Then you can hack it to play Russian peasant women.
    I would prefer, first, to try Nicotine Girls as it is. ;-) (If I ever find two (available) players willing to try it).
  • edited January 2010
    Well, I don't think too many people play games that are endlessly, relentlessly, and constantly happy, joyful, cheerful, laugh-provoking and life-affirming. They play games with a mixture of elements, where the resolutions are generally in favour of the PCs, and the endings are more or less happy ones.

    When you talk about "sad little" games, or even "emotional" games, I figure most people think that means games that are soul crushing and masochistic -- where players deliberately make bad things happen to their characters, deliberately choose bad options, where the characters are all pathetic and unsympathetic and it all ends in tragedy, or some characters are sympathetic and get it even worse in the end.

    And some games are like that, I guess, but I think most sad games aren't. Nicotine Girls gives you a fairly realistic portrayal of impoverished teenagers. They're not gonna fix all their problems by the end of one session. At best, they can make incremental progress, and you have to actually make plans to get it. Certainly, the opportunity is there to really make your character's life super-crappy, but it's not required. I haven't played it that way, and I actually like "soul crushing" in a game.

    Also, rpgs do a curious thing with schadenfreude. You can like it when the GM pwns another player or player character, but when it's your character, it gets a bit wonky. Either you are advocated for your character's eventual triumph, in which case you have the experience of challenging and overcoming adversity, or you are directing your character's suffering (or fully complicit), in which case it crosses the line into vicarious self-destruction. That's when you know things have gotten really bad, and you need to go back to the vicarious genocide of people because they are "monsters" that have "treasure." [/sarcasm]

    I'm very tired, sorry.
  • edited January 2010
    Posted By: JohnstoneAlso, rpgs do a curious thing with schadenfreude. You can like it when the GM pwns another player or player character, but when it's your character, it gets a bit wonky. Either you are advocated for your character's eventual triumph, in which case you have the experience of challenging and overcoming adversity, or you are directing your character's suffering (or fully complicit), in which case it crosses the line into vicarious self-destruction. That's when you know things have gotten really bad, and you need to go back to the vicarious genocide of people because they are "monsters" that have "treasure." [/sarcasm]
    Whether this is actually your view or not, it is an argument I've encountered others put forth quite seriously. It is, however, based upon an assumption, that the character's survival/triumph over whatever threatens to end the character's story in tragedy is the only goal. Take Terribly Beautiful. The characters face a lot of obstacles: sexism, poverty and a deadly disease from which the game provides no escape. Their goal, however, isn't to fix sexism, become rich or survive, it's to be remembered. The game's goal is not directly derived from the major obstacles and conflicts. This is a third way to engage a tragic story in addition to the two I mentioned in a previous post, the reminder of the value of life and the emotional reassurance from escapism, none of which strike me as being schaudenfreude. Catharsis might be a fourth, and there are probably more.
  • edited January 2010
    Posted By: hans ottersonFor those who don't like games with sad, lonely little themes: I don't get this. None of you like sad movies? You only watch comedies?
    No, I like sad movies, but I don't feel sad in them, I feel happy in them - even if I cry, I'm crying because the sad story is emotionally right, highly satisfying. I'm not myself sad, I feel none of the sadness of the characters and I'm usually grinning like a fool the whole time I'm bawling. I'm not sad when I see sad movies. If I was, I wouldn't like them. Similarly, I like games with sad, lonely little themes but I do not myself feel sad and lonely when I play them, not in the least.
  • I don't think I could be entertained by a game that made me feel sad, lonely and desperate. I'd rather play something fun.

    If it's a game that has sad, lonely and desperate themes, then that's different, but I'd want them to be resolved.

    Graham
  • Posted By: madunkiegWhether this is actually your view or not,
    Oh, sorry. It's only the last sentence that is sarcastic. I am absolutely in favour of games about willfully self-destructive behaviour.

    The game you describe is an example of triumph in spite of obstacles, as opposed to triumph over obstacles. There's definitely catharsis there, in both success and failure. And a high failure rate increases the value of success -- as, for example, the overwhelming power of monsters and the crap abilities of investigators in Call of Cthulhu makes it more of an achievement to make it out alive and sane. Although, I suspect a more mundane, less exciting game with a similar attrition rate might be less popular.
  • Posted By: Potemkin
    Posted By: John PowellYes, to both, but I'm probably not going to seek such a game out.
    I'm curious. If yes to both, why wouldn't you seek one out?

    Ditto what Accounting for Taste said.
  • The only things I object to are 1: an overwhelming aura of despair that works, not through melodrama, but through the effects of the world on the characters, and 2: continuous frustration. It can be said that a properly-run game of the old Vampire is very good, but no fun for me. Other than that, I'm ok with a great variety of different things.
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