Some video games have stories that affect us deeply, whether it’s because the characters feel the same way you do or they give you a strong dose of nostalgia. The following five games inspire empathy through their carefully written tales and thought-provoking choices of the characters. This video includes spoilers for these games.
Gone Home explores the theme of returning to your childhood home as an adult. The main character is Katie Greenbriar, who is unable to find her family when she comes back home after spending time overseas. At first, it seems that this game is a supernatural horror, but it soon becomes clear that her family’s absence has a natural explanation. Katie’s sister Sam started dating another girl and ran away after her parents refused to accept their relationship. This game will draw you in with its story about the emotional strain of being unaccepted by your family, while providing some home that the characters will find happiness in the end.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
This game probably evokes the strongest emotions of all the ones on this list. It’s about two brothers with a father who has fallen ill. They must adventure together to find a cure for his illness, while developing a strong bond between them. The brother of the main character dies when the pair fight the final boss, which players may find to be an unbearable loss. This ending isn’t a complete surprise, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a bittersweet story that will many players will find heart-wrenching.
Other games on this list allow you to passively empathize with the characters, but Papers Please forces you to take a more active role in their fate. The player’s character is an immigration officer who decides whether to allow visitors to enter the fictional country of Arstotzka. On its surface, Papers Please is a simple puzzle game in which the player makes admittance decisions based on an increasingly complex set of rules. However, it’s really more about the moral dilemma of whether to allow desperate people to enter the country illegally or get bonuses to your paycheck by enforcing the rules.
Night in the Woods
Night in the Woods is about Mae, who has dropped out of college due to her deteriorating mental health. She returns home to discover that her hometown has changed, leaving you with a melancholy feeling that deepens as the story progresses. The narrative-focused gameplay will deeply affect you long after the game ends.
Celeste is about Madeline’s attempt to climb Mount Celeste as a means of escaping the pressures of her life. During this journey, Madeline’s feelings of insecurity and depression begin to manifest as a darker version of herself. Celeste provides a powerful perspective on the struggles of mental health.