It seems that every so often, someone out there thinks we need a little gloom in our games. A dark cloud to go with the silver lining. A touch of tragedy.

This popped up last year, for instance, when, in Move To Black?, we considered the suggestion that developers look to film noir for inspiration. That genre is certainly tragic.

Then, just awhile ago, there was The Flaws That Refreshes?, which looked at character flaws, although from a slightly more positive angle. That is, flaws as dramatic points in a game, weaknesses to be overcome. Of course, in noir, it’s the flaws of the main characters that bring them to a sorry end.

Now, we have Psychochild (and Coyote) pondering tragedy in games. They seem to be looking at it strictly from the main character point of view. The “noirish” type. But is that necessary to have tragedy?

Yeah, if you went through the game making wrong decisions, you could end up with a terrible finale. It would also be terribly disappointing. Who really wants to put in hours of work, and get a slap in the face?

Even worse, what if you made all the right decisions, and ended up badly? Remember Infidel? That was one of the few Infocom games that gave you a “pre-genned” character, and he was a creep. You went through the game, solved all the puzzles, and ended up buried alive. It still upsets me to think about that one.

On the other hand, who says tragedy has to be “big”? There can be painful moments in a game. You could make a wrong decision now, and have it come back to bite you later, without necessarily affecting the ending (at least to the point where the game ends “tragically”).

Suppose there’s a small village that asks for your help. You say sure, and it’s #16 on your “list of dreary side jobs”. So you whizz off, doing this, that, and the other. Finally you get to the village job.

Only there’s no village. The orcs came, the orcs left, and now there’s nothing but burned buildings and bodies. And unless you want to replay a whole bunch (presuming you have a save that far back), you’re stuck. This could also happen if you turn down the job, having already so much to do.

That would certainly be a tragedy. Not just because you missed out on a reward; an entire village was destroyed because you made a bad decision. Incidents like this (not many, I hope) could add tragic elements to a game, and that’s just one way to do it.

This needs to be done with a light hand. Too many “bad things” happening will just turn players off. After all, in the end, we play for fun. Tragedy isn’t fun, especially when it happens to us.

Tragedy in Video Games on Coyote’s blog

Tragedy in Games on Psychochild’s blog