Over at Gamesetwatch, in her Aberrant Gamer column, Leigh Alexander writes about the “5 poignant moments” in this year’s games. Moments that evoke a strong emotional response of one kind or another.

One of those five is the Weighted Companion Cube in Portal. I haven’t played the game, of course, as it’s an online product. But I have seen mention of the cube from time to time on various sites, and it does seem that this object has something of a following.

I gathered from the piece that, in order to proceed in the game, you have to destroy the cube at some point. That is the “poignant moment”. Apparently, doing so creates some angst among the players. But this is nothing new.

Those who go back far enough – which is most of us around here – remember Floyd the robot from Infocom’s Planetfall and Stationfall. Floyd had personality (I’m not sure about the cube). He was a sort of cross between a bright six-year-old and an eager-to-please puppy.

Near the end of Planetfall, the robot sacrifices himself, and “dies”. Many players reported a “poignant moment” when that happened (no, I wasn’t one of them). Stationfall was a bit nastier. There Floyd becomes corrupted, and this time, you have to kill him. Another “poignant moment” in gaming.

The interesting part is how Floyd and this Companion Cube are able to evoke emotional responses in players. After all, neither really exists. Whatever they are, however they behave, everything has been programmed in ahead of time.

Yet there are people who cried when Floyd bit the dust in Stationfall. Even being aware of how they were manipulated didn’t help. They really felt some grief and a sense of loss. Poignant, indeed.

At the same time, any number of “human” NPCs can be knocked off in any number of RPGs, and players hardly bat an eye. There is little emotional attachment to them.

The key is personality, of course. Most NPCs are adults, and far too often, they are unpleasant. Floyd, on the other hand, was the “cute kid”: naive, innocent, but smart enough to help when it was necessary. The perfect pet.

About the cube, I can’t say anything. There I’d appreciate some comments from any who have played Portal, and how – if at all – you were affected by the cube’s destruction.

It’s strange about we humans. For whatever mysterious reason, we can become attached in the real world to machines, looking upon them with some degree of affection. And that carries over – once in awhile, at least – to games.

Which may be the strangest thing of all, since everything in a game is virtual, with no reality to it. Then again, with the way so many nowadays pay real money for VRE, items that they don’t really own, maybe it’s true that reality is in the mind of the beholder. Even when it come to machines. Scary.

5 Poignant Game Moments on Gamesetwatch