This post contains spoilers for Fallout: New Vegas and the Last of Us.
The interactivity of video games sets the stage for them to have a deep psychological impact. Typically, this potential is discussed in negative terms. We talk about how games can become an addiction or how some titles glorify violence. As much as the industry dislikes this criticism, we have to admit that at some level it’s fair.
On the same token, however, video games need to be recognized for their ability to foster deeply emotional experiences and in some cases to inspire self-reflection. Unlike other forms of media—books, film, art—the active role of the player adds a compelling dynamic. You aren’t just watching a story playout. You are responsible for moving it forward. You participate. You become a character and feel what he or she feels.
This emotional potential has a number of implications. Before we dig into them, let’s explore a few examples of what I mean.
In the Mojave
Fallout: New Vegas drops the player into a post-apocalyptic Las Vegas wasteland. The game’s tone has it meandering from dark humor to outright darkness. Along the way, you have the option to travel with companions. Having a non-player character at your side makes combat a bit easier and helps you carry more loot. Of these companions, my favorite is Boone.
Boone is a grizzled sniper, a stereotypical brooding loner. At first, his character seems pretty flat. His wife died in the wasteland and he has quite a chip on his shoulder about it. As you continue to travel together, he shares more tidbits of his story. He tells you that a gang that calls itself The Legion is responsible for his wife’s death and that he suspects somebody he trusted betrayed him, ultimately triggering the kidnapping that lead to her demise.