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Aaron Waite Aaron Waite
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Pixelated Guilt

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For the ones we can't save

I already knew going into this that this was about to happen and there was nothing I could do about it.

That really didn't make it any easier.

I was 14 when I first played 'Final Fantasy VII,' in the grand summer of 2002. Not only was it the summer I was introduced to pop punk (which I quickly upgraded to metal short months after), but it was the golden age of playing RPGs on my newly-purchased PS1. Free of the shackles of school for a few brief months, I played through 'The Legend of Dragoon,' 'Final Fantasy VIII' and, of course, 'Final Fantasy VII.'

By this point I had been around the web a few times, and forums were bursting at the seams with spoilers. I knew that at a certain point in 'Final Fantasy VII,' one of my party members was going to die - not only die, but die a horrible, jarring, unexpected death. For the sake of people that haven't played this 15-year-old game, I'll keep this spoiler-free, but if you've spent any time at all on the internet on any gaming site, you know exactly who I'm talking about.

Aeris. I'm talking about Aeris. Screw spoilers, you all know it at this point.

It starts when she wanders into the Forgotten City by herself, leaving you a party member short. Not a big deal to most RPG veterans, seeing as we're used to our parties getting split up and coming back together to fit various plots in the story. You pursue her into the city, and after a brief search, you find her praying under a very conveniently-placed bright light. There's a cutscene of her looking up at you, smiling the tiniest smile and then-


...what the actual flying frak? Where did the...what in Helsinki was that?

This scene, engraved on the psyche of many gamers, highlights an important pull of narration in video games: helplessness followed by guilt.

You can only do so much in games sometimes. Unexpected consequence follows action, and even when we reload a previous save or start the game over, we still carry that guilt with us. This especially hits hard when faced with a case such as Aeris's, where there is literally nothing we can do, but our helplessness still gnaws away at us.

This emotional response to the loss of these characters is one of the reasons I believe that video games should be considered an art form. The ability to be able to elicit a form of connection to a character in gaming parallels the same immersive properties of a book or a movie.

But with gaming it runs deeper than something you just watch. In gaming, that choice (or consequence of choice) is something you have a personal stake in. It's not a plot device that unfolds - you're the one who unfolds it.

So this feeling of guilt that we carry with us goes further than just a game, instead, we become involved in a situation that we feel we should shoulder the blame or the triumph for. We become the characters. We hold the burden of responsibility. We share the joys and sorrows. And that, my readers, is immersion.

That is storytelling at its finest.

Aaron Waite is in the slow, agonizing process of working his way through Dark Souls.' Only one controller has survived its wrath.


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