Looking Back – Games that Taught Gamers to Feel

I’ve wanted to do a post like this for a while… but some of these just eluded me. This post is a little list of the first games that have really done the best job of nailing certain emotions. These games will be older games – from previous generations, and will be  ones that either might contain a single moment that just worked so perfectly for it… or it might be the entire game just did it so well. But below we’ll see proof that videogames always have been art… for what is art if not just a creative expression meant to share and instill emotion. Before clicking on this ‘more’ link – be warned, there will be spoilers in here – but since they’re for 10+ year old games I don’t think anyone will care.

So when thinking about this, it took me a while to really narrow down the emotions to a good list that wasn’t too long but still gave a good representation of the emotional spectrum, so to speak. I ended up with the following: Rage, Joy, Despair, Sorrow, Frustration, Fear and Love. If I missed any that are important to you, feel free to post it in the comments and if I ever do a followup I’ll make sure to include it for you. I’m going to include multiple games per category in cases where I can think of multiple good examples. Given that this is mostly older games – as you can imagine, Final Fantasy will play a pretty prominent role in this list since they were some of the first games to really give us thoroughly developed characters – and good, solid characters help to make emotion that much more relatable.


Rage – that passionate fury and anger that drives one to action without thought. What I’m looking for here are games where they truly make you either feel anger at the game, or sharing some element of that anger with the characters.

BattleToads – This one fits the first one. I don’t know anyone who played this game who didn’t yell at it. This game stirred great anger in everyone. This is an example of making the list unintentionally. This game makes the list because people got so angry at it that in some cases they broke the game. Why? Because it was quite close to impossible. Painfully difficult, in fact.

Super Metroid – Super Metroid didn’t contain a lot of emotional moments of any sort really – Samus Aran wasn’t exactly an emotional character back in those days. But the anger when the Metroid died to Mother Brain saving you… that was pure and rang through clear. I remember being torn between the need for revenge and the need to mourn the cute little metroid who saved me…


We all know Joy, that pure and utter happiness. Nothing can go wrong – everything’s just right.

Xenogears – The ending. Despite all that had happened and all that had been lost, they found each other, and survived together. I remember the feeling as the last few seconds of the cutscene rolled as they’re landing and everyone from the party sees them alive and then Fei and Elly just smile – and it’s always been my high-point for happiness in a game. Just a perfect representation.

Super Mario World – Again, the Ending. It’s silly, the ends of the older mario games were always so simple, and always the same. Mario and the Princess get together, she kisses him, and all is well the world. But really, that’s exactly what Joy is, isn’t it?


Despair is the feeling of complete and utter hopelessness. That ‘lost’ feeling that makes you lose hope for the future. What we’re looking for are games where the game really did a good job of making you feel that hopelessness alongside the characters.

Final Fantasy VI – Right at the halfway point of the game the world ends. If that wasn’t enough, you see the party members you’ve been playing with scattered from the airship and from the floating continent you’re on. Then you wake up and you’re Celes on a tiny island with Cid… the feeling builds. Then Cid dies, and Celes is convinced that everyone else is dead – feeling completely alone in the world. Unable to deal with it she climbs to the highest point of the island – a small hill with a sheer ocean-facing cliff – and casts herself from it – her theme playing the whole while. For anyone who isn’t familiar with Celes theme – it’s a very melancholy and tragic sounding piece. All this combines to what may well be the greatest example of despair in gaming history.


Sorrow is different from despair… sorrow is more of being sad at having lost something or in response to a tragedy. It is akin to grief. What I was looking for in this are cases where the game brought tears to the eyes.

Final Fantasy VII – Aerith’s Death. This moment has been called ‘the scene that taught us to cry’ by several different articles. It is one of gaming’s most influential and emotional moments. The glint in her eye as she looks up and smiles at cloud… then suddenly, unexpectedly… dead. And after all was done… Cloud had the dismal task of committing her body to the lake outside… Nobody saw it coming, and almost nobody was unmoved by it. The internet was full of thousands of cries of ‘Why can’t I bring her back?’ The following image is one of the most moving, and sorrowful moments in all of gaming history – and I’m not ashamed to say I cried.


Ah frustration… the feeling that everything you have just done was for nothing. That some aspect of the game has just negated your efforts. In this category there’s really only one that does it such perfect justice.

Every early Mario game: The following image should say it all –

Do I need to say more? ;)


The sense of danger or worry in response to a threat, or the possibility of a threat. In games, fear is usually only really experienced when uncertainty is there – when you’re not sure if something’s going to happen.

Resident Evil – In the case of ‘fear’ there’s really one game that almost everyone thinks of when asked the question ‘what was the first video game that scared you’ – and that is Resident Evil. The first Resident Evil game was such a deviation from the norm and so surprising that most people who played it experienced that mounting sense of fear over the game. Even right near the start – everyone remembers the hallway. The hallway that looks so threatening… but it’s not until you’ve gone through it a few times and start to get comfortable with it that it surprises you with what exactly what you were expecting the first time you went through. The game played with our fears, and did such a fantastic job of it that it earns our respect for bringing fear into gaming.


Last, but certainly not least, is love. Can you think of any games in your childhood where you were moved by the characters’ love for each other? I can think of quite a few… but when you think about it, there’re really three games and series that moved us all with that.

Super Mario – going right back to the joy one – the end of Super Mario. Mario and Peach are sort of the iconic gaming couple, even if they’ve never really become a couple.

The Legend of Zelda – Link’s epic quest to rescue his princess goes probably beyond even that of Mario’s – and it always starts with a dream. How touching is that?

But for me… the quintessential romance can be found in Final Fantasy IV – There is no love more deep and moving than that of Cecil and Rosa. From the start with Rosa desperate to be with Cecil enough to follow him even though it nearly costs her life – through to the middle with Cecil risking everything – even the entire world – to save Rosa from Golbez, to the end where Rosa absolutely refuses to be separated from her beloved and accompanies him against his wishes on a journey that could cost them all their lives – everything in this huge epic RPG is twinged with hints of this amazing love story. And accompanying it all is the ‘Theme of Love’, a phenomenally touching piece of music that transcends the limitations of the console.


Written by: Sean

  • PCHAN!


    There are plenty of games that provoke emotion for each of us…but I feel like there is one important game that you left out of the fear category.

    Fatal Frame. The trilogy of games scared the bejebus out of me…mostly due to surprise and running from ghosts who would destroy you in one fell swoop.

    Otherwise, great compilation :)

  • I have to say, I don’t think I actually ever played that one – so alas, I couldn’t comment on it ;)