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The Top 5 Most Emotionally Damaging Moments in Gaming

These cherished characters in gaming history will forever be in our hearts.

In my many years of playing video games there have been many games that stand out for incredible story telling and emotional writing. I have always been more of a single player campaign gamer because of this and I appreciate a game’s ability to get the player invested in complex characters.

That being said, one of the most controversial and beloved games of all time, ‘The Last of Us’, is no stranger to great writing and emotional moments. In the seven years since it’s debut, this game is finally getting the sequel we have been begging for and it’s had me thinking:

“We’re in for another emotional roller coaster aren’t we?”

There have been many games over the course of my gaming career that have meant something special to me and I’m sure many other people as well. Here are the top five moments that come to mind when I think about characters I truly cared about going through some serious adversity. Needless to say: SPOILERS AHEAD.

5. Gears of War 3

The Gears of War franchise was not kind to Dominic Santiago. He spent some time fighting the Locust horde without his partner Marcus. He spent years searching for his wife and children only to find her in a Locust camp beaten, abused, tortured, and murdered. He also saw the world turn to hell as the new threatening Lambent destroyed everything in it’s path.

During Gears of War 3, the heroes got themselves into a pickle when they had no escape from a converging Lambent horde and the only way out was Dom driving straight into them as a diversion. This was the only way Dom could have died in this series: by fighting until the very end and saving Marcus. This was a terrible moment and one that really struck me hard. It’s difficult to find a better supporting character than Dom; especially one that went out with such a bang.

4. Bioshock Infinite

Time for an extremely unpopular opinion: Bioshock Infinite is the best game of the entire series. I do not want to take anything away from Andrew Ryan, Jack, the underwater-paradise city of Rapture, the Little Sisters, or the Big Daddies but the creation and excellent writing of Booker DeWitt, Elizabeth, Zachary Comstock, and the high-in-the-sky utopia city of Columbia are the gold-standard for how to get players invested in complex characters.

This game was one of the most complex stories that I’ve ever played through and the ending had my jaw on the floor. Throughout the game, Booker has visions of who he really might be and who Elizabeth might be, even though he doesn’t realize it yet. They spend the entirety of the game trying to escape from Comstock’s army and Columbia while Booker learns more about his past as well.

The crazy ending shows Booker that he really was Zachary Comstock the whole time, just in another universe, and the only way to rid themselves of his dictatorship-rule was to stop his birth in the first place. Elizabeth opens a “tear” into another universe and Booker drowns during his baptism before Comstock can ever be reborn.

3. The Last of Us – Ending

Of course the ending of this incredible story was going to make this list at some point. In summary, Joel has transported Ellie across the country in search of a cure for this horrible disease plaguing the Earth only to arrive at the bittersweet conclusion that the cure is within Ellie’s immune brain. The scientists must remove her brain in hope of extracting the solution for a cure and Joel will have nothing to do with it.

He attacks them, killing anyone in his path, to save Ellie who reminds him so much of his long-deceased daughter Sarah. Joel then lies directly to Ellie, telling her there were many other immune people just like her and the scientists could not find a cure. The game ends with Joel reassuring her that his lies are the truth and we have waited ever since to find out what happens next.

2. Halo 2 – Ending

We’ve arrived at my all-time favorite game franchise: Halo. Specifically for myself, Halo 2 will always reign among the very top of truly amazing gaming story-lines. The ending of this game is perhaps the least emotional within the moment, but it holds the most weight for me (tentatively) as I played it as a 13 year-old kid when it first came out. There wasn’t any social media for me to read first, and there wasn’t anyone around to spoil it for me either. This game defined a huge chunk of my childhood and I’ll explain why.

The Covenant prophets have gone completely bonkers. They have reached their last resort in the war against The Flood, a parasitic enemy that feeds and grows off any sentient life. They want to use the ancient Halo rings, a planet-sized weapon capable of murder on a mass-scale, to annihilate all sentient life in the galaxy so the infamous Flood will finally die-off for good. The problem here is humanity and the Covenant species are part of that sentient life which means: we all die too.

After the Master Chief teamed up with exiled Covenant Elite soldier The Arbiter, they had two missions in order to save the galaxy: stop the ignition of the Halo ring and stop the Prophet of Truth from reaching the Ark. The Halo ring would wipe out all nearby life-forms and the Ark would give the Prophet of Truth access to the rest of the rings across the galaxy. The Arbiter goes in one direction to stop the ring activation and Master Chief follows the Prophet of Truth to wherever the Ark may be located. In order to get to where he could follow the Prophet, the Master Chief is forced to upload Cortana, his trusted super-computer AI, into the mainframe of the Covenant ship High Charity so she could access everything.

In conclusion, the Arbiter stops the big-bad Brute soldier Tartarus from activating the Halo ring and Master Chief has successfully followed the Prophet of Truth. There is one gigantic caveat here: Cortana is left alone aboard the ship High Charity which is completely overrun by The Flood and their mastermind Gravemind. This doesn’t seem like that big of a deal but in 2004, we waited an entirety of three years before Halo 3 came out and we learned what happened to the most beloved AI personality around. When those credits rolled my jaw hit the floor and I instantly thought:

“BUT WHAT ABOUT CORTANA?!”

1. The Last of Us – Opening Scene

It wasn’t until I became a father myself and played the remastered version on PS4 that this opening scene took on more meaning for me. When I first played this game, the opening scene was so incredibly stressful, emotional, and we all couldn’t help but think:

“Good lord, that’s how this game starts?”

The core of this story takes place twenty years after the beginning of the infection and this opening scene takes place right at the beginning of it all. Joel and his daughter Sarah are at home one evening when all hell breaks loose and the infection starts to spread. They begin to flee the city with Tommy, Joel’s brother, and get caught up in the pandemonium of people panicking in wake of chaos. Sarah is injured in a car accident and they must leave their car behind. When they finally manage to find some semblance of relative-safety from the massive crowds, Joel and Sarah are caught between a government soldier and the freedom beyond.

The soldier gets orders to kill Joel and Sarah even though her injuries are completely unrelated to the infection. The soldier fires and Sarah dies in Joel’s arms, sparking his costly decision-making with Ellie later on in the game. This is the epitome of shock-and-awe storytelling and that is only how the game BEGINS!

The pain and utter betrayal by another human that Joel is feeling is unimaginable. One can only hope we would handle ourselves differently in that same situation, but I digress.

I hope you have enjoyed reliving these incredibly cherished character’s adversity and I’d love to know which other moments meant a lot to you. What did I miss? What was so incredible that you’re appalled I forgot to add it to this list? Let us know and I’ll leave this sad re-hashing of our beloved characters on a little bit of a lighter note while still showing the shock of the aforementioned opening scene.


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I'm a (mainly) Chicago sports fan, a total gym rat and all-things-geek enthusiast. I cover the Chicago Bears and MMA/UFC for OnTapSportsNet. Gaming, movies, TV shows, books, and bodybuilding/strongman are some of my passions. I'm also an ambassador for Axe and Sledge supplements. Best supplements on the market, use BOADWAY10 for 10% off your purchase.

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