As you can tell from the title above, this article will deal exclusively with those games in which suicide is a major plot point. If you are having thoughts of suicide or self-harm, please do not hesitate to take advantage of free and confidential resources available to you. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.
There was a time when video games were about keeping a ball inside the playing field and destroying faceless hordes of alien invaders. At some point, though, we started toward a place where video games had meaning and depth. Developers began to design shocking games about suicide, murder, and betrayal, and video games shifted from child’s play into something that children needed protecting from.
The emphasis on story-driven gameplay is not a bad thing, by any means. We’ve gotten to experience the gripping narratives of Final Fantasy, Halo, BioShock, and The Last of Us, all because we turned away from basic objectives, and began to focus on the characters’ reasons for accomplishing their goals. But, in return, video games are now fitting vehicles to tell stories about the human experience in general, and marginalized experiences in particular.
Although some of the games below use characters’ self-inflicted wounds to shock players, others make genuine criticisms of our attitudes toward mental-health issues and kinship with our fellow human beings. We’ve reached the point when video games can be social commentary, even as many revel in their brutality. Here’s a brief sampling of the shocking games out there that deal with suicide.
15 Gears Of War 2
The Gears of War franchise is no stranger to suicide, but one instance stands out from the rest. In Gears of War 2, the Locust High Priest Skorge interrupts Delta Squad’s attempt to drill into the Hollow, engaging and eventually overpowering Corporal Tai Kaliso, who becomes his prisoner. Marcus Fenix and crew find and free Tai from imprisonment, but although they know he has been tortured extensively by his captors, they neglect to notice the impact that torture has had on Tai’s mind. Marcus expects his comrade-in-arms to return to the battlefield, but Tai is not prepared to do so.
Epic Games’ chainsaw-happy series takes a lot of — not undeserved — flak for being a bro-fest, but Tai’s death by suicide in Gears of War 2 touches upon the trials all soldiers face when returning from war.
14 Life Is Strange
Life Is Strange centers on Max, a high-school student and amateur photographer who discovers that she can rewind time. One of her close friends is Kate, a devout girl who doesn’t have many friends because of her beliefs. When Kate is assaulted, and a video of her engaging in seemingly promiscuous behavior is posted online, she finds herself even more isolated from her family and classmates.
As Max, the player can help to shield Kate from the vile bullying, and can be a good friend by answering her calls and making time for her. Unless players have invested in their in-game friend, they will likely be unable to say the things she needs to hear in order to remain alive. Because of how it handles Kate’s suicidal thoughts and behaviors, Life Is Strange makes you rethink your interactions with others.
13 Metal Gear Solid 4
At the close of Metal Gear Solid 4, with his brother defeated for good, it appears that Solid Snake has completed his life’s work. Unfortunately, at what should be a time for well-earned rest, relaxation, and reflection, the super-soldier believes himself to be responsible for the fate of the world. Infected with a mutating virus that has the potential to wipe out civilization as we know it, Snake attempts suicide. Thankfully, he isn't ready to die just yet.
This isn’t the first time Metal Gear Solid has tackled suicide, but it's certainly the series’ most significant dealing in the subject. Even though he knows his life will soon end, due to another virus and a genetic foul-up in the cloning process, Snake finds something to live out the rest of his life for. It’s a happy ending to an otherwise dour situation.
For a cheery, relatively non-violent RPG, Undertale has a pretty significant suicide problem. Many of the game’s NPCs have either attempted suicide in the past or will do so over the course of the game, depending on the player’s choices. The protagonist’s predecessor, a human child named Chara, also died by suicide before the game began.
As is the case in several of the games above, at least one suicide in Undertale can be avoided, provided that the player does not kill someone Dr. Alphys cares for. Some gamers have theorized that her suicide attempt may be interrupted if the player pays close attention and acts in the right moment, but this is unproven. Because Dr. Alphys cannot be fought directly, forcing her to kill herself is the only way to destroy her, but is often an unintentional byproduct of careless play.
11 Silent Hill 2
Sometime after his wife’s death, James Sunderland receives a letter in her handwriting, summoning him to their old vacation haunt, Silent Hill. Throughout the game, James, who has already lost his grip on reality, wrestles with his very identity. He believes that Mary has been dead for three years, but it’s actually been only a few hours since he killed her. The murder seems to have triggered his identity crisis, and James, wracked with guilt, returns to Silent Hill to end his life.
As is the case in many other games, James’ outcome in Silent Hill 2 depends entirely on the decisions players make throughout the story. There is an ending in which he kills himself, but there are many more in which he survives, and James’ suicide is not the easiest ending to obtain, nor is it considered the canon option.
10 Mass Effect 3
The denouement of Commander Shepherd’s story arc, Mass Effect 3 finds the long-suffering crew of the SSV Normandy split apart and struggling to understand the direction in which their world is headed. Over the course of the game, players must make agonizing decisions that will ultimately kill or lose the loyalty of their favorite companions, such as Legion, Mordin, Tali, and Wrex. Granting the geth their freedom puts the quarians at risk, and curing the krogan genophage will require Mordin to sacrifice himself in order to set things right. Mass Effect 3 is not a game for the indecisive, but it’s difficult to come away feeling confident in the choices you make, especially when they have led to the suicides of virtual people you’ve come to know and love.
9 Yume Nikki
Created in RPG Maker 2003 by Japanese indie game-maker Kikiyama, Yume Nikki puts players in control of Matsudoki, a young girl who, like Thomas, is plagued by disturbing dreams. But unlike most of the other games on this list, Yume Nikki does not allow players to save its protagonist from suicide. First-time players won’t know it, but the game forces them to contribute to Matsudoki’s ultimate demise by completing random tasks.
In terms of sheer shock value, Yume Nikki could easily top this list. There is little to no indication that the game will conclude with Matsudoki’s death, and the final revelations will chill you to the bone, but the game's body-horror surrealism betrays the surprise of its conclusion. Yume Nikki is a weird indie title that is at turns creepy and terrifying, so it’s difficult to say the ending is entirely unexpected.
8 This War Of Mine
One of the worst experiences I ever had while gaming came early on in This War of Mine, when one of my survivors needed someone to talk to, and I was too anxious about the upcoming scavenge to bother giving them a conversation partner. When I returned from gathering supplies, I was informed that the depressed roommate had died by suicide during the night.
Set during a fictional war in Eastern Europe, This War of Mine puts players in charge of a small group of survivors who have holed up in a relatively large house. As the game’s manager, you are responsible for making sure there are enough beds, food, medicine, fuel, and other supplies to go around. But This War of Mine also forces players to consider their survivors’ mental health, and to administer to it as well: an important factor that's sorely lacking in many war-themed games.
7 BioShock Infinite
Like its predecessors, BioShock Infinite gives players a wide array of stat boosts and special abilities to wreak havoc on the almost unbelievable society between them and their way home. But with the upgraded Possession Vigor, the 2013 title grants its protagonist the opportunity to drive his opponents to suicide. Possessed combatants will fight for Booker until the Vigor ended, at which point they will kill themselves. It is a gruesome, unnecessary effect that goes unexplained throughout the game. The best theory out there hinges on the fact that Columbia — the steampunk city in the clouds that provides the setting for BioShock Infinite — is an intensely religious society that vilifies Booker as an interloping harbinger of doom. Ultimately, the reasons why don’t matter, and BioShock Infinite is left with some of the most gratuitous suicides on this list.
6 The Suffering
The Suffering throws players into the heart of an evil prison that has been turned into a portal to Hell by a terrible earthquake, and it employs a dusty old fallback trope by having many of its side characters kill themselves in order to avoid confronting the demonspawn who now stalk the halls. Other side characters die by suicide after long-term exposure to the prison, which seems to have a way of driving people to the brink.
No matter how much the game explains it away, The Suffering uses suicide as a cheap narrative tool to show players just how bad things are in the prison. Not like we could have figured that one out on our own or anything, given the fact that there are literal demons running amok around every corner.
5 Dead Space
The Dead Space franchise may have taken a wrong turn with its third installment, but the first game was survival horror at its finest. Developer Visceral Games managed to convey the psychological horrors of Isaac Clarke’s predicament without following in The Suffering’s footsteps. Suicides occasionally pop up over the course of the game, as Isaac meets USG Ishimura crew who have either been driven mad by the Marker or have decided to kill themselves before the necromorphs do, but the game has far too many shocking tricks up its sleeve to turn a suicide into schlock.
Even so, the narrative of Dead Space hinges on suicide. As is revealed in one of the best plot twists in recent memory, Isaac’s girlfriend Nicole, whose messages he has been watching throughout the game, has been dead the entire time, having killed herself in the earliest moments of the necromorph takeover.
4 Neverending Nightmares
You know that thing where you wake up from a nightmare, only to find out you’re still dreaming, and are having a different nightmare? Someone made a game about that. Creator Matt Gilgenbach based Neverending Nightmares on personal experiences with OCD and depression, and the game’s most disturbing scenes are recreations of actual, intrusive hallucinations he had during a very dark period in his life. Those scenes include moments in which the protagonist takes his own life, only to wake up in yet another nightmare.
Players control Thomas as he navigates his terrible nightmares, exploring his home, a cemetery, and other locations. His sole “companion” on these journeys is Gabrielle, a mysterious woman who takes on varying roles in his dreams, sometimes even playing the villain from whom the player must escape.
Andrew Ryan founded Rapture with one purpose: to allow the creative and scientific growth of mankind, free from any governmental or religious restraints. Less than two decades later, the city is overrun by gangs of its genetically spliced denizens. In the midst of the havoc, Ryan’s son, the very product of his father’s belief in lax regulations, returns to the place of his birth.
Programmed as a sleeper agent by Ryan’s enemies, "Jack" responds to the activation phrase "Would you kindly?" by doing whatever the speaker asks of him next. When confronted with his son, Ryan hands Jack a weapon and instructs him to kill. Ryan dies screaming, "A man chooses, a slave obeys," in an attempt to force his son to fight against his conditioning. Jack cannot rebel, however, and bears some responsibility for his father’s death, which weighs heavily on every player who touches BioShock.
2 The Static Speaks My Name
This disturbing indie horror game walks you through the last ten minutes of a man’s life. The Static Speaks My Name doesn’t rely on jumpscares or shrieks to elicit a reaction. Instead, the game prods around the last moments in the life of Jacob Emholtz, a 31-year-old man who is getting his affairs in order before he kills himself. It’s gut-wrenching to watch, and grows more terrible as you realize that, not only does Jacob plan to kill himself, but you, as the player, will be the one commanding him to do so. Rarely does a game put you in such an awful situation, and, although all of the other titles on this have suicide-related plots, none of them is so singly focused on self-harm as The Static Speaks My Name.
1 Indigo Prophecy
Indigo Prophecy puts players in control of Lucas, a young man who goes on the run from the police after he murders a man in a diner bathroom. As in This War of Mine, players must manage Lucas’ mental health over the course of the game, and not allow him to sink into a deep depression. Left uncared for, Lucas’ depression will drive him to suicide, leading to an early end for the game.
Lucas’ self-harm is graphic, and his attitude about taking his own life flippant, but his actions don't feel out of place in Indigo Prophecy. He is, after all, a man who has just discovered that he is capable of killing another human being, whether by his own will or someone else’s. Although Lucas’ suicidal thoughts should not be allowed to end his life, Indigo Prophecy makes it possible to understand why he has those thoughts in the first place.