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Content Type: Gaming News
Date: December 8, 2022

Not every story has a happy ending. Or a happy middle. Or a happy… anything. And the same goes for video games. For some reason, we humans are drawn to tragic stories with bitter endings. Maybe you just want to feel intense sadness from the safety of your couch or gaming chair, or maybe you just need something to relate to when times are tough.

Whatever the case, we’ve compiled a list of the saddest video games ever made. Thirteen of them, since that seems like an especially dour amount. And, to make deciding on your next heart-wrenching experience easier, we’ve even explained what makes each of these games so sad. Just in case you want to tailor the tragedy to what you need right now.


A Treatise on Guilt, Grief, and Depression

Contains: Trauma, Violence, Loss, Depression, Psychosis

silent hill 2 saddest games

Silent Hill 2 is a game with many things on its mind, but at its core, it is about what happens to broken people. You play as one of those broken people, in fact, James, who is still reeling from the mysterious, sudden death of his wife when he receives a letter from her leading him to the nightmarish town of Silent Hill. From there, the game descends down darker and darker roads, as you meet other broken people, all trying to survive the heavily allegorical monsters that roam the inescapable streets. Because this game is so steeped in meaning, of course, these monsters, and the places they inhabit, almost unanimously mean more than they first appear, usually being the manifestations of the worst demons in the characters’ minds.

There is another reason why this game is often considered to be “The Saddest Game of All Time,” though, and that is the hidden mechanic where your actions over the course of the game are judged in order to give you different endings, including one where James commits suicide, succumbing to his demons. To quote my fellow EIP writer, Passion, “In the end, its a game about depression. About the constant terrifying reality of never really feeling like yourself, of having your joy slowly wither and worsen before your eyes and not being able to stop it, until you cant stop yourself from extinguishing that last spark.”


A Reflection on Memory, and Losing It

Contains: Disease, Loss, Abuse, Grief, Loss

to the moon saddest games

In this game, you take control of two scientists who must delve into the mind of an aging, dying Johnny Wyles in order to relive his life in reverse to find out why he has the desire to go to the moon. Their goal at the beginning is to insert artificial memories that will make Johnny happy before he dies, but by the end, their noble goals end up challenged as they uncover more and more of Johnny’s buried memories, showing the suffering that caused the memory loss, and the suffering that it, in turn, caused.

The obvious allusions to degenerative disease are apparent to anyone, and what makes it worse is the string of tragedy, abuse, and grief, all culminating in memory loss. It’s also about the pains that this memory loss can inflict on others, and how it serves as a confusing, upsetting wedge between the person losing their memory, those they love, and the world at large. And, ultimately, it turns out that the scientists’ plans in the game are just providing a band-aid, an attempt to help an old man live out his forgotten fantasies before he dies, with all the futility and falseness that implies.


Brave Enough to Show the True Cost of War

Contains: Loss, Violence, War, Trauma

this war of mine saddest games

War games, even those with powerful anti-war messages, are almost universally shown from the perspective of soldiers in those wars. What This War of Mine does brings it down to a human level, to show the devastating, horrific impact that war has on everyday people and civilians, innocent but nonetheless tormented by the evil of war. It depicts humans whose lives were interrupted by an evil forced upon them, driven to desperation and violence in order to survive.

What makes this even more powerful is that its core gameplay forces the player to confront this brutal reality of war. You must go out to scavenge for supplies, simply in order to survive, and must make hard decisions. When you encounter an elderly couple holed up in their house, do you break into it and kill them in order to steal their remaining food, which you know can feed your starving group of survivors for the next few days? Do you go to the hospital to find medicine for the sick mother in your group or to the police department to find ammo to defend your whole group? Either way, people are going to be hurt, and you have to decide who that is (at least, until the war raging around you decides for you).


A Game About Loss, Desperation, and Hopelessness

Contains: Grief, Isolation, Loss, Addiction, Suicide

what remains of edith finch saddest games

What Remains of Edith Finch is a sobering tale within a fantastical woirld. You take control of titular Edith Finch as she makes her way through her ancestral family home, having inherited it after the last of her family died. The Finches are believed to be cursed, you see, to all suffer an untimely death, a curse which goes back generations, even before the start of the narrative. As you make your way through the house, visiting its many bedrooms, you will relive the memories and final moments of your ancestors. These include her great-great-grandfather who drowned at sea, children who perished in horrible accidents, and several who met their fate while trying to avoid it.

There are all tragic in their own way, with potent surreal imagery giving each of their deaths a kind of whimsy even in their tragedy, but none hit so hard as the ultimate demise of the main character. Near the end of the game, it is revealed that Edith’s narration was not an internal monologue, but rather a letter written to her son, Christopher, who you’ve actually been playing as the whole time. 17-year-old Edith, as it turns out, died in childbirth when Christopher was born, and so the Finch Estate is his inheritance. The letter, and all the stories relayed in it, were written for posterity, in the event that Edith would be unable to tell Christopher herself (which, of course, she wasn’t). The game, then, is a grim reflection on generational trauma, history, and so much loss.


On Facing Inevitable, Cataclysmic Loss

Contains: Disease, Loss, Depression

that dragon cancer saddest games

It’s often said that nothing is worse than losing a child, but That Dragon, Cancer might have something to add to that; it posits that nothing is worse than losing a child slowly. This game is probably the one filled with the rawest emotions, and that is because, unlike all the other games on this list, the story it tells is not fiction. Instead, it is autobiographical, with the two developers using the game as a vehicle to tell the story of their 5-year-old child’s fight with, and ultimate death to, terminal cancer.

And what a masterful tale it is; deep and resonant, with so many iconic and memorable lines that will stick in your mind for years. It isn’t all tragedy, though; instead, That Dragon, Cancer is made all the more heartwrenching because of the beauty and innocence it depicts. The reverence for life, the appreciation of it, and the admiration of Joel’s innocence. It is as devastating as the ending is inevitable, and a sense of woeful dread permeates the short game from start to finish. If art is a reflection of the soul, this is a clearer, more broken reflection than any other game on this list.


The Rawest Depiction of Mental Illness in Games

Contains: Mental Illness, Psychosis, Violence, Gore, Trauma, Self-Harm, Sacrifice

hellblade senuas sacrifice saddest games

Senua has it rough, and the mental, physical, and emotional weight she carries is overwhelming even as a player. It is unclear what is taking place in reality versus what is a delusion created by Senua’s imagination, and her only constant companion is the schizophrenic voices in her head called “Furies”. What’s worse than her troubling grasp on reality, though, is Senua’s trauma.

From abuse and abandonment as a child to witnessing her father burn her mother to death to coming across the corpse of her lover having been sacrificed via blood eagle (don’t look it up if you just ate lunch), Senua’s past is shaped by macabre tragedy, mental illness, and constant struggle. Throw in depictions of suicidal ideation and self-harm, and you are left with a game that feels like a torment to play, and one that will strike a chord with anyone who has struggled with mental health or trauma. This game is not for the faint of heart.


The Toughest Decisions in Gaming

Contains: Trauma, Violence, Gore, Loss, Sacrifice

the walking dead saddest games

The Walking Dead takes place, as one might expect, during a zombie apocalypse. You take control of Lee, who begins said apocalypse alone and without resources. Then he comes across now-iconic Clementine, a little girl whose parents are nowhere to be found, and so Lee has to take her with him in order to protect her. In a game that emphasizes the importance of its choices, what this entails is the player essentially taking the role of a father figure, caregiver, and role model for bright, young Clementine, and your choices have such a clear impact on her that it becomes obvious you are instrumental in who she will become. Most powerful are the moments when the screen flashes “Clementine will remember that” after you’ve made a major, not-always-ethical choice.

But that is the setup. The sadness comes in the final episode of the first season, Lee is bitten by a walker and perishes from his wounds in front of Clementine, the adopted daughter he has been protecting. Depending on the choices made, Clementine even shoots Lee’s corpse to prevent him from returning as a walker. This tear-jerking scene is made all the more effective because of the bond that the two characters developed, and because it leaves a young girl to face a dour, undead-infested wasteland alone, with only the lessons that “she will remember” to make it through.


A Serenely Dying World That You’re Helping to Kill

Contains: Isolation, Violence

shadow of the colossus saddest games

You do not play as the “good guy” in Shadow of the Colossus. You don’t even play as the “bad guy.” No, you play as “the horror that struck the world, ages ago” in the backstory of a much less original story. You play as a tragic hero, naive and desperate, who is manipulated by sinister forces to commit great evil, all in the name of reversing the inevitable.

And, in the end, you do not save the girl whose body you brought to be resurrected (though you do, perhaps, allow her to live on in another, more bizarre way). You succeed only at wiping out the majestic, seemingly-innocent Colossi, who you sought to kill despite their near-unanimous passivity to you. You succeed in making the world a worse place, and the mournful score accents this every time you kill one, as their behemoth bodies slowly fall to the ground. Creatures of nature that stood for unknown ages, fallen in the name of a noble-yet-unobtainable goal. And you, the player, are forced to stew in this, contemplate it to understand since there isn’t a line of actual-language dialog to be found. For slow, contemplative sorrow, look no further.


A Brutal Look at the Price of Revenge

Contains: Violence, Gore, Loss, Trauma

the last of us part ii saddest games 1

No game feels like a descent into depravity quite like the Last of Us Part II, and no game condemns vengeance quite as strongly. The game practically screams “END THE CYCLE OF VIOLENCE” at every turn, and yet nobody swears off, even as more and more of their friends suffer, die, and leave them because of it. The leads of the story, Ellie and Abby, are twin maelstroms of rage and vengeance colliding, and in their wake everyone near them is left worsened, including themselves. Everyone is a victim of the endless, meaningless violence enacted by those two in the name of vengeance.

And, in the end, it’s all for nothing. Ellie, having abandoned her wife and child in fevered pursuit of Abby, finally reaches her, and finds her strung up and on the brink of death herself, having been equally ravaged by the violence. Ellie, resolved to see her revenge come to fruition, fights the emaciated Abby one last time, and nearly kills her, relenting only at the last moment. But Ellie’s realization, that the path to revenge ends in two graves, comes too late. The final scene of the game sees her return to her home to find it empty. She has no one left in the world, all driven away or killed by her needless pursuit. And, in what might be the most heartbreaking last moment of a game, she picks up her guitar to try to find some solace in the instrument she learned to play from her father, only to find that even that was taken from her when she lost her fingers in that final fight against Abby. Melodramatic and blunt? Perhaps. Powerful? Definitely.


A Serene Puzzler Turns Tragic, Impacting Gameplay

Contains: Isolation, Loss, Sacrifice

brothers a tale of two sons saddest games

Near the end of the game, one of the two titular brothers is mortally wounded. He tells the other brother to go on and to get water from the Tree of Life, which might be enough to save not only their father but himself as well. But, by the time the younger brother returns, his older sibling has already died, and there is nothing that can be done to save him.

And the game doesn’t end there. Instead, you now have to travel back home, alone. Without your brother’s aid, obstacles are harder, and the journey is more treacherous. Most notably, your older brother was the only one of the pair able to swim, since the younger brother was frightened of water due to their mother’s drowning. And so, in lieu of his sibling, the younger brother is forced to contend with his fear in order to make it back to his father. Alone.


A Maddening Look at Depression and Suicidality

Contains: Depression, Violence, Gore, Abuse, Self-Harm

the cat lady saddest games

Never has a game more fully turned depression into an aesthetic as The Cat Lady. The game begins with your character attempting to commit suicide by downing a pill bottle of painkillers, only to be saved by her cats and a mysterious, supernatural entity who wishes to use her in order to murder all the most despicable people possible. In order to accomplish this bloody goal, the entity blesses/curses the main character with the inability to die. It does not get better from there.

In addition to being gruesome and horrific (made even more disturbing by the hyper-gothic, desaturated style), the game is deeply reflective of depression, self-harm, suffering, and abuse. You witness cruelty, and depravity, in a narrative that seeks to highlight the depths of awfulness possible in the human condition. And the entire time, you inhabit the body of someone who does not want to live, or who at the very least is battling with the ongoing desire to kill herself (even though, as mentioned before, she never can now, her choice to do so taken from her). It is a harrowing, depressing game, unlike anything else.


Western Heroes at their Era’s End

Contains: Disease, Trauma, Violence, Gore, Loss, Sacrifice

red dead redemption saddest games

Red Dead Redemption, as a franchise, is about the end of the west. And witnessing that slow-motion death of that way of life, with all the tragedies and deaths that implies, is already tragic enough. But worse, even the heroes of each game perish all the same. In Red Dead Redemption II, Arthur Morgan slowly wastes away from tuberculosis, an unstoppable ailment with, at the time, no cure or effective treatment. His fate, like that of the “Wild West,” is sealed, and he is doomed from then on. And yet, he tries to fight, to hang on, to save what he can before he goes. Ultimately, though, it is futile, and he perishes, Dutch’s gang having been split apart, and its surviving members spread like ashes.

Red Dead Redemption takes place many years later, following John Marston. Unlike Arthur, he does not want to hang on to the myth of the West. He spends his time hunting down his old companions and essentially assisting the very people who wanted to tame the West to do so. Unlike Arthur, he seeks to move past the “West,” and so tries to fit in with the ever-changing world. But, ultimately, this is just as futile as Arthur’s quest. In what might be the most emotional final sacrifice in gaming, John Marston, having finished off the last of Dutch’s gang, is betrayed by the government and ambushed at his own house. In a final blaze of glory, he fights off his pursuers to buy his family time to escape but ultimately succumbs to that ever-changing world which he could never be a part of. They say that all stories are allegorical, but some are more so than others.


What Abuse and Bigotry Does to a Family

Contains: Bigotry, Abuse, Depression

gone home saddest games

The other games on this list depict tragedy as it is often seen in art. Large, showy, and dramatic, with a kind of fervent intensity that video games are known for. Even the more narrative-centric games still have bombastic moments and big reveals, the kind of twists that are meant to turn your heart into a pretzel. But Gone Home doesn’t have that. Instead, Gone Home is a quiet, haunting, contemplative experience, where the tragedy is slowly revealed and understated, and all too mundane. The story of Gone Home, revealed just by looking around the lonely, everyday home you find yourself in, is a domestic, personal tale, and that’s what makes it great.

As you wander the house, you slowly uncover the mystery pertaining to why the protagonist is “coming home,” where they went, and why. And the reveal is devastatingly realistic: the main character is a lesbian woman, kicked out of her home by her bigoted parents for her sexuality. The happy memories contained in the objects you interact with are made bitter, and the dread that comes from exploring the titular home — which at first feels like a haunted house — gives way to regret and resignation. This game’s tragedy is understated and small, but that’s part of what makes it hit so powerfully.


Hopefully this list of tearjerkers will be just what you need right now. But what do you think? Are we forgetting about some other devastating games that should be on this list, or are there any here that you thought weren’t that sad? Let us know in the comments below, before you let yourself sink into the despair these games have to offer.

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