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These Are the Saddest Deaths in Videogames and I’m Not Crying, YOU’RE Crying

Okay, yes, I'm crying.

I’m crying now, are you happy?

Why are you doing this to me?

Can’t we talk about something that makes me cry a little less? Like these sad character deaths from Game of Thrones? What if we talk about things that aren’t sad in an “ugly cry” but a “lol cringe” way like this sad man’s opinion? Why do you feel the need to make me relive this trauma?

Confession: I’m a hard nut to crack on the crying front. Most sad things don’t make me cry. I really wish they did. Who doesn’t love a good cry? But I really do not cry at movies. I don’t really cry at books. Hell, I didn’t cry when Sirius Black died when I read Order of The Phoenix as a child. But for some reason, videogames just make the waterworks pour from my eyes. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent so long with the characters. Winning. Losing. Fucking around. A character in a video game feels closer to my heart because, in a way, they are me. By controlling the main character of a game, I am inserting myself into a narrative in a way that I can’t in books and movies. I am the character I play as, so when something bad happens to that character, it always cuts a little deeper. So here they are, moments in video games that really jerked my tears. Needless to say, there will be spoilers for several videogames.

The Death Of John Marston – Red Dead Redemption

(image credit: rockstar)

I told myself I could only include one sad moment from the Red Dead series, and so I had to make the grueling decision of picking whose death was sadder: Arthur Morgan or John Marston. Don’t get me wrong, Arthur Morgan’s death in Red Dead 2 broke my heart, but I actually didn’t cry when it happened. Is it because I’m heartless? Yes, but no, not really. To me, Arthur’s death in RDR 2 feels like a beautiful end to his story. Peaceful, perfect.

John isn’t so lucky. John goes through the shit in Red Dead Redemption. He fights through killers and thieves and madmen. He camps out in lonely lands far from home and the people he loves. He has no gang, no comrade, and nowhere safe to lay his head. Red Dead Redemption is a staggeringly lonely tale, not unlike Homer’s Odyssey. It is a man’s quest to return home. And he can only return home after hunting down his old comrades. Men for whom he would have died a decade prior. He is successful in his quest, and he spends some achingly tender moments at home on the farm with his wife and son. He teaches Jack to hunt, he begins to repair his relationship with Abigail, it seems like his life is turning over a new leaf.

And then the army shows up.

Holed up in the bar, he tells his son he loves him and shares one last kiss with his wife, then he sends them away. He opens the door to the barn. The game enters one final slow motion dead eye mode where you can kill as many soldiers as your revolver has bullets. But there are too many. They open fire and tear him to pieces. He gives one last shuddering breath, and falls face down in the dust.

And I lost it.

It was the cruelty. The utter cruelty and injustice of fate. John did so much, traveled so many lonely miles to be reunited with his family, and then it was all taken away from him. There is no resolution. There is no victory. John was on the cusp of becoming what he always wanted to be: a good family man, and his chance was taken away from him. And the worst part? He never wanted Jack to have to turn to a life of thieving and killing, but without John’s guidance, that’s exactly what Jack did. At the end of the game, when Jack finally puts a bullet in the man who betrayed his father, he is the spitting image of John. The cycle of violence is unbroken, and Arthur’s sacrifice was ultimately in vain as well. The sins of the father were passed down after all, and it is the ultimate tragedy.

Killing Your Own Men – Metal Gear Solid 5

(image credit: konami)

Metal Gear is another series that never fails to jerk a tear from my eye. I was ultimately deciding between this sequence and the graveyard salute scene in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. The latter is a thematically beautiful, exceptionally well-crafted moment of tragedy that transforms Big Boss from American patriot to nationless mercenary. Big Boss was forced to kill his former mentor (and arguably his mother-figure) for the “greater good” of his country. When he salutes her grave as one final gesture of honor towards her, I cried. The tears felt good. Cathartic. A hero’s end.

This next scene from Metal Gear Solid 5 was none of those things.

A bizarre virus that infects the victim’s vocal chords breaks out in Big Boss’s base of operations, and the infected soldiers are quarantined in a wing of the base. The disease is terminal, and will spread if the soldiers are not euthanized. The game makes you spend hours of gameplay hand-picking these soldiers to join you at your base, and they become like family. Big Boss volunteers for the job. And it doesn’t happen in a cutscene. The game gives control to the player just before Big Boss enters the quarantine wing, and I realized, with dawning horror, that the game was going to make me pull the trigger myself. Armed with nothing but a pistol and a gas mask, the game puts you face to face with your own men in the throws of a horrifying disease. And the worst part? They don’t beg for their lives. They don’t fight back. They salute you and accept their fate.

When I tell you I sobbed through this entire mission, I’m not exaggerating.

The Death of Joel’s Daughter – The Last of Us

(image credit: naughty dog)

My eyes watered just thinking about this one. Of all the deaths on this list, this is perhaps the most shockingly painful. As a prelude to the main story of The Last Of Us, the game puts you in control of the daughter of its protagonist, a twelve-year-old girl, named Sarah. Sarah is a sweet kid who lives with her father Joel in a suburb of Austin, Texas. She plays soccer. She rides a skateboard. She loves her dad. The story begins with a cutscene of her giving Joel a wristwatch for his birthday, one he wears throughout the rest of the game. Later that night, she wakes up alone in the house, and receives a frantic phone call from Joel’s brother, Tommy, telling her to find her dad. Minutes later, Joel arrives at the house in a panic, telling her that something is wrong and they need to leave the house immediately. A neighbor infected with a strange disease invades their home, and Joel is forced to shoot him in front of his daughter. They flee in Joel’s car, and watch as the city of Austin descends into chaos. Infected people drag terrified passengers out of their cars and devour them. The city is in flames. When the roads become clogged with traffic, the game gives the player control of Joel, who flees from the infected while carrying Sarah in his arms. After escaping from the infected, Joel meets a young soldier wearing a gas mask. The soldier receives an order from his commanding officer to kill any civilian on site, and opens fire on Joel and Sarah. Joel falls to the ground, and the soldier prepares to shoot him, but is instead shot in the head by Tommy. Tommy and Joel then discover that Sarah has been shot in the torso. And here’s where the waterworks start.

The thing that makes choke up, to this day (literally as I write this phrase), is not Sarah’s death, but the moments before it. I will never forget the sound of her ragged, terrified breathing. She doesn’t say anything. She can’t. But the sounds she makes tell the entire story of her experience: “I’m in pain. I’m scared. I don’t understand what is happening”. And then she dies in her father’s arms. It is one of the finest moments in video game voice acting I have ever heard, and one of the most painful fictionalized things I’ve ever had to watch. I think it’s so deeply disturbing because of how real it feels. There is no long goodbye. No “I love you, daddy.” Just confusion, pain, and senseless death. This game didn’t need to reach its conclusion before it was capable of inflicting an emotional wound upon the player, it did it in the first 15 minutes. It’s a triumph of game design and story, and one that makes me still shed a tear as I write an article about it almost a decade later.

Featured image credit: Rockstar/Naughty Dog

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Jack Doyle (they/them) is actually nine choirs of biblically accurate angels in crammed into one pair of $10 overalls. They have been writing articles for nerds on the internet for less than a year now. They really like anime. Like... REALLY like it. Like you know those annoying little kids that will only eat hotdogs and chicken fingers? They're like that... but with anime. It's starting to get sad.