People play video games for a lot of different reasons. I choose to play them because they’re fun. I mean, only in video games can you be a criminal and get away with it. But, sometimes video games are used as art. They’re different than others, as it's an art form that demands its audience interact with it. If you don’t interact with a video game, then nothing happens. As a result, the developer can force its audience to experience whatever he or she wants them to experience. Sure, open world games like Grand Theft Auto allow the player to do whatever they want, but missions lock a player into the level until its completed. For some players, a game offers a new experience and a new world that the player might've never known.
Developers have taken the idea of video games as a interactive medium and made it into art and self-expression and the games we've listed here are ones that I consider to be art, because they portray a difficult experience in a relatable way. Gamers feel moved by these games, but they are also hard to play. Not because of difficulty, but because these games have subject matter that can be hard to sit through. These are the 15 depressing games that you can only play once.
Warning: There are plenty of SPOILERS ahead!
15 Final Fantasy X
Final Fantasy is an interesting series. It's like a reverse Metal Gear Solid, as it's a series that doesn't take itself too serious and looks like a ton of fun on the surface, but, deep down, Final Fantasy has its heart wrenching moments. At first, Final Fantasy X looks like a fun entry to the series. It's bright and colorful with a diverse cast of characters, it has fun music, and jokes all around, like the Macarena reference mid-game. But, beneath its cheerful exterior, is a world of death and loss. The people of Spira live in fear of the monster Sin. Well, Sin is less of a monster and more of a natural disaster that occurs every once in a while. Sin destroys cities without much of a thought. So, the people long for a summoner with the strength to kill Sin and bring the Calm. But, the monster comes back after a decade and the cycle starts over. And there are a lot more depressing aspects to Final Fantasy X, like racism and the oppressive religion, making this a tough game to play through more than once.
14 Red Dead Redemption
Red Dead Redemption is a game of death and rebirth. It’s a game that signals the end of the Wild West and outlaw cowboys, and heralds in the 20th century and the age of technology. You see death and rebirth everywhere. You see the death of one Mexican government and the rise of another by the revolutionists. You see John Marston leave his criminal life behind and try to start a new life with his family. The desert area is full of people trying to make a living in the harsh environment, while dealing with death on a constant basis. The forested area has a Native American population and we see their numbers dwindle. The Natives are desperately fighting back, but they're starting to lose hope and we already know that the Natives won't recover their numbers. Red Dead ends with John being killed, which is one of the few video game deaths where you're allowed to cry!
13 Gears Of War 2
This one was difficult for me. For those unfamiliar with Gears of War as a series, the games are about humans fighting against a race of mutated humans known as the Locusts for control over the planet Sera. The Locusts commit atrocities to humans, as they kidnap people and torture them via “processing.” Processing is a tactic done by the Locust to torture captured soldiers and people as a way to break down the minds of their enemy. And it worked. One of the main characters, Dom Santiago, looked for his kidnapped wife, Maria, for years until he found her in a cell. Sadly, Maria was gone. Her mind fell apart from the years of torment to the point that she couldn’t recognize her own husband anymore. Dom held her, trying to make her remember, but, ultimately, he had to put Maria out of her misery.
12 Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is an indie game that came out back in 2013 and that’s about, well, brothers. The two boys have to travel to the Tree of Life and obtain its water to cure their sick dad. So, the boys go on a grand journey to get this water, but the boys see life in its glory and ugliness. The boys travel through lush forests and snowy fields, seeing the beauty of wildlife. The brothers even manage to reunite two trolls together. But, the boys also see the dark part of life, like having to save a man from committing suicide and saving a girl from being sacrifice. A lot of the game is centered around facing the world and growing up by seeing the world at its worst and best. For that reason, it can get really depressing at times and it can hard to sit through.
11 Oregon Trail
This is an older game, so we're gonna assume most of the readers haven't played Oregon Trail. To sum it up, Oregon Trail is a game where you play as American settlers going from the East Coast to the West Coast to make a new life for themselves. The thing is that this game takes place during the mid 19th Century, when Oregon isn't a state yet. So your group has to deal with the dangers of the wilderness and life during that time. On top of that, medicine wasn't up to today's standard, so characters can die from snake bites, dysentery, measles, and other diseases. You also have to hunt in the game or risk dying of starvation, while players have to budget wisely or risk wasting money. Sometimes characters will randomly die from exhaustion and nothing can be done. Needless to say, there's a lot of darkness and death in this game...
10 Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
Metal Gear Solid as a series has been pretty critical of governments. However, the message of distrust hits the hardest in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. MGS3 is about the Big Boss' final mission back when he worked for the United States government. Big Boss was sent to Russia to destroy the super weapon Shagohod controlled by a rogue Russian army. Among the rogue Russian army is The Boss, Naked Snake’s former teacher. The two have special connection that’s hard to pin point. In the end, Naked Snake learns the truth of his mission, as The Boss was meant to die as part of an American cover-up to steal the Philosopher’s Legacy, a enormous slush fund. But, Snake had to kill her. Upon returning and looking back at what he did, Snake realized how uncaring the United States government was and how similar it was to the supposed evil Russian government. Both sides were essentially the same in Snake’s eyes. His view of the world crumbled and our hearts completely broke.
9 Mother 3
The Mother/Earthbound series is a really quirky franchise. It has a unique sense of humor that not many games have been able to achieve. And part of the appeal of the Mother series, once you get into it, is the dark nature hidden behind its innocent look. The story is about Lucas going on a quest to prevent an evil army from invading and destroying the rest of the planet. However, Lucas has a tragic start. His mother is killed by a rampaging dinosaur and his brother disappears for the majority of the game. His only family is his father Flint, who spends a lot of time looking for his lost son and his dog. Lucas finds his brother, Claus, turned into an evil cyborg with no humanity, as Claus’ only goal at that point is to destroy the world. The game, despite it's humor and animation-style has a ton of dark undertones that make it tough to play multiple times.
8 To The Moon
To The Moon is an indie game akin to Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. It’s about two scientists who travel through a dying man’s memories and fulfill his dying wish. The dying wish is an artificially created memory for the dying person to have before they die. If you haven't played it yet, we're sure you can see how depressing this game is. Two people are going through a man’s memory, going through his deepest and darkest moments of his life, to create a fake memory for him to enjoy before he dies. A memory that’ll make him happy and ease his regrets. We see the dying man’s memories and see his regrets like his unhappy marriage and the dissolving of it. To The Moon is a game that goes for the heart strings and it totally succeeds.
7 The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild
The Breath of the Wild is beautiful and it's actually somewhat similar to Shadow of the Colossus, as the game is beautifully melancholy. Hyrule was decimated by Calamity Ganon and when Link wakes up, everybody’s gone. Everybody’s dead (sort of). Link woke up alone having failed his mission to protect the princess and the kingdom from the evil monster. Now, he has to save the kingdom again in a somewhat post-apocalyptic world. And even though Hyrule is in a post-apocalyptic state, the world is still vast and beautiful. Even though the people of Hyrule live under the fear of Ganon, they live innocently. It’s a weird juxtaposition like in Final Fantasy X. People are still trading goods, having fun, and enjoying the world, which is beautiful and depressing at the same time.
Limbo is about a boy on a quest to save his sister. At least, that’s what the player is led to believe, as the game is kept vague. It’s difficult to tell what the game is. Limbo is a place between heaven and hell. A place where souls don’t belong to one world or the other. Limbo, the game, gives the player a goal to achieve, but it’s a vague goal that has the player question it. The sister could not even be there, as there is no certainty in Limbo. Everything is in shadows and there is no color. The boy is exploring a world filled with monsters, traps, and featureless people. There’s no dialogue, no text, and no explanation for anything that occurs in the game. You’re just walking through the darkness and it's tough to emotionally process more than once.
5 Heavy Rain
A film noir style of game, Heavy Rain is about four characters trying to stop a serial killer before he strikes. The main character out of the four is Ethan, a single father raising his son. His other son died in an accident and the trauma from the ordeal has left Ethan unable to deal with life. When his second son is kidnapped, Ethan has to face his demons in order to save his son. The challenge of Heavy Rain comes with the reality of the situation. The killer taunts Ethan while he's trying to save his son and he only has a few days before he kills. Suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Ethan has to summon the courage to save his son and forgive himself. While the multiple endings might bring you back, some of the darker endings might make it too difficult for you to do.
4 Silent Hill 2
It’s hard to choose just one Silent Hill game, as they’re all pretty depressing games. The characters are typically dealing with a lot of personal issues and the player is forced on the ride. However, Silent Hill 2 is the most personal in the series. You play as James Sunderland, who has to travel through Silent Hill to meet his wife who called him there. The problem is that his wife is dead and yet she still called him to Silent Hill. The thing about the city of Silent Hill is that it’s not so much a concrete place, but a reflection of a person’s soul and the guilt they’re dealing with. It’s a look into James Sunderland and his pain. What you see in the game, the horror and perversions, are a part of James Sunderland. And Sunderland isn’t anybody special. He’s just a regular joe. It makes you wonder what can be inside any person.
3 Shadow Of The Colossus
Shadow of the Colossus is a legendary game. Games have tried to emulate its style and very few have succeeded. The game has the player wander a vast and void area looking for Colossi to kill in order to resurrect a girl named Mono. There’s 16 of those monsters and, once the game ends, there’s little reason to go back. There’s the time trials, but that’s it. Yet people still remember this game for its grand scale and sadness. In turns out that the Colossi are innocent, as they don’t do much outside of just existing. They don’t eat, breed, or attack each other or humans. They just live by themselves in a vast countryside full of nothing outside of plants, bugs, and lizards. Yet, the goal is to slay each innocent Colossus to fulfill the hero’s selfish desire. Once you figure out the dark plot to this game, it's hard to go back to.
2 Telltale's The Walking Dead: Season One
Telltale's The Walking Dead has been rightfully applauded for its quality. I personally love the depiction of humanity in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. It answers the question of what people would do when the world is in an apocalyptic state and what people are capable of when they're backed into a corner. On the other hand, it also shows what would people do if given a second chance in a new world. That’s what happens in The Walking Dead video games series. Lee Everett is the main character in the Telltale Series and we see Everett try to survive in the new desolate world. Lee becomes close with a little girl named Clementine. As players, we see Everett become a new father to Clementine and Clementine become a sort of moral compass for Everett. It's difficult to see the trials the pair go through, yet you root for them. Then, when Lee dies at the end, it's enough to make even the toughest man shed a tear or two.
1 One Chance
I know this whole list is covered in spoilers, but I want to keep the last entry as spoiler-free as possible. One Chance is an indie game that came out on Newgrounds in 2010. I don't want to give out too much information, as it would ruin the entire experience of this game. Basically the game is about a scientist trying to save the world, but he only has one chance to do it. If the scientist doesn't succeed, then the world is over. The choices made in the game make each play-through unique for every person. You choose what is the right thing to do and the choice will be a reflection of the individual. What would you do if you were the only person who could save the world?