'Heavy Rain' Video Game Taps Into Primal Parental Emotions : All Tech Considered The thematically dark video game Heavy Rain packs an emotional wallop, especially for a parent reviewer. The new PlayStation 3 game focuses on catching a serial killer who preys on young boys.
NPR logo 'Heavy Rain' Video Game Taps Into Primal Parental Emotions

'Heavy Rain' Video Game Taps Into Primal Parental Emotions

The story of the new video game 'Heavy Rain' involves tracking down a serial killer who targets young boys. Sony Computer Entertainment America, Inc./) hide caption

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Sony Computer Entertainment America, Inc./)

For many gamers, the question of whether a video game could make you cry was answered back in 1997 by Final Fantasy VII.

But many of those who were carried away by that game's tragedies have had few titles in the interim to get emotionally involved with.

As it happens, many of us have also started families in that time. It's late at night, after I've put my two daughters to bed, that I have been playing Heavy Rain, a new PlayStation 3 game that focuses on catching a serial killer who preys on young boys.

In the game, you play as four characters including a private detective, an FBI agent, a journalist and, most interestingly, a father who is beset by multiple tragedies in the opening hours of the game.

You begin the game controlling this character, an architect named Ethan Mars, and, in what you could either call engaging storytelling or manipulation, you spend some time playing in the back yard with your two sons, and in a later section, trying to entertain your kid at a park by pushing him on a swing or spinning a merry-go-round.

Things get dark very, very quickly. So much so that despite imperfect voice acting and a control scheme that is more distracting than organic to the game, Heavy Rain has rattled me. The game features very polished environments and near-photorealistic characters and as the clock ticks and the life of a young boy is at risk, it's hard not to find yourself invested.

Mike Krahulik, who draws the popular Penny Arcade Web comic (and who is the father of a young son), wrote on the site recently:

If you're a parent, (especially a Dad) this game can be pretty difficult to play at times. In fact I'm curious if people who don't have kids will end up getting as much out of it. I don't know if it's an 89.85%, or a 9.7 out of 10. What I do know is that after a late night playing it, I sneak into my son's room and hug him before I go to bed.

What's remarkable to me is that while the controversial airport massacre scene in last year's Modern Warfare 2 left me cold and unimpressed, Heavy Rain, as a story, at least, is tapping into my worst fears as a parent. Somehow, it manages to do that with a strong amount of artistry that manages not to feel exploitative.

How amazing is it that in the same year when we saw a big-budget breasts-and-sword-hacking action game made out of Dante's Inferno that we would also see one of the most mature, emotionally resonant pieces of interactive entertainment yet?