Ask someone who's not seen one for several years to describe an average video game and chances are there'll be guns, explosions and non-stop action involved. It's an understandable conclusion to come to: watch any sitcom or movie scene in which someone plays a game and you'll see them frantically jabbing away at a nondescript controller while bleepy-bloopy sound effects from the '80s ring out.
As any regular gamer will tell you, though, whatever their platform of preference or dedication to the cause, the world of video games offers a hell of a lot more than mindless shooty-bang-bang action. For decades this constantly growing medium has also delivered some truly memorable moments that stick with us long after the credits have rolled. Here are some of the most beautiful moments – some visually stunning, some heartwarming – in gaming history.
A complete playthrough of 'Out Run'
'Out Run' – Blue Skies
It's often said that too many games these days tend to be too gritty, too realistic and too grey. While it isn't the case across the board, it has to be agreed that moody concrete environments are so often the order of the day. It wasn't always like this, and Out Run is the perfect example. Every stage in SEGA's immortal arcade racer had a gorgeous landscape all of its own – sandy dunes, snowy roads, you name it – and yes, even its concrete stages were lovely, with massive tunnels made of countless stone archways. But nothing sticks in the mind more than its opening section, with those endless palm trees and deep blue skies that were so iconic people often refer to "SEGA skies" when trying to pinpoint what gaming is missing these days.
'Elite Beat Agents' episode 12: A Christmas Gift
'Elite Beat Agents' – A Christmas Gift
There is nothing more beautiful than the love between a little girl and her dad, and nothing more heartbreaking when that tie is cut short due to the father's death. A rhythm action game starring motivational cheerleaders may be the last place you'd expect evidence of this but the Christmas Gift stage in Nintendo's Elite Beat Agents offers just that, telling the story of young Lucy and her mum trying to cope with their first Christmas alone. Seven-year-old Lucy, too young to understand, is adamant her dad will be back home for Christmas with a present for her, so it's up to the player to use the Elite Beat Agents' power to ensure – get this – his ghost can get to her. Cue a tearful reunion.
'Super Mario Galaxy' – Rosalina's Storybook
Nintendo's outstanding platformer is filled with so many beautiful moments that we could have filled this entire article with them alone, but if pressed for just one then it has to be the storybook that slowly reveals itself as you play through the main game. As you unlock new chapters and read more of the tale, it eventually becomes clear that it's actually Rosalina's backstory, telling how as a young girl she was separated from her mother and was left all alone. The story of how she met Luma and soon gained a new family is one of the loveliest things you'll ever find in gaming.
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'Gitaroo Man', the acoustic "Legendary Theme"
'Gitaroo Man' – The "Legendary Theme"
Long before it gave us Elite Beat Agents, developer iNiS released this fantastic PlayStation 2 rhythm action game about a young lad with a super-powered guitar that can destroy enemies. Each stage has its own musical style and while there are plenty of toe-tapping and head-banging tracks on there it's the gentle "Legendary Theme" that has stayed with every Gitaroo Man player all these years later. Saving the world from elaborately-designed space villains is all well and good, but the greatest achievement our hero pulls off in the game is winning the heart of the girl he loves in this touching moment, set against a seaside sunset and a roaring campfire.
Squall and Rinoa hit the dancefloor
'Final Fantasy VIII' – The Ballroom Scene
Square Enix's epic RPG series certainly isn't lacking in emotional moments, but often they're more depressing than beautiful: that death in Final Fantasy VII being a perfect example. The ballroom scene in FFVIII, however, is one of the loveliest moments in the series, as quiet and moody Squall is charmed by the outgoing Rinoa and dragged onto the dancefloor against his will. What starts off as horribly awkward as the pair bump into other dancers soon becomes a thing of beauty as they adapt to each other and finally connect: not only in terms of their dancing, but emotionally.
A birthday treat, a moment's pause, before everything goes to shit
'The Darkness' – Spending a Night In
It's odd, but one of the most memorable gaming moments of the last generation involved no gaming whatsoever. In fact, you could have easily laid the controller down and still enjoyed a cosy feeling as protagonist Jackie sat on the couch with his girlfriend Jenny watching the telly. There are actually a number of full-length movies tucked away in The Darkness, meaning in theory you could spend the entire night cuddled up to your virtual partner, watching To Kill a Mockingbird instead of progressing with the game's main story. There's something wonderful about a game that lets you experience your character's downtime, and it makes what happens to your girlfriend later in the game even more powerful.
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Meeting the giraffes in 'The Last of Us'
'The Last of Us' – The Giraffes
Us modern folk take an awful lot for granted, and The Last of Us does a cracking job of explaining this by showing us what it would be like if the world suffered a mass epidemic and most of what we knew died out. As Joel and Ellie explore their surroundings in the game, it's explained that since Ellie was born after the outbreak there's so much of the world she never got to see. So when the pair encounters a herd of giraffes in Utah, it's a beautiful thing to see Ellie's reaction to it. The need to fight for survival in the world she lives in has forced her to grow up earlier than she should have, but when she sees the giraffes her childlike wonder returns.
The launch trailer for the PS4 version of 'Journey'
'Journey' – An Unspoken Bond
It goes without saying that Journey is a visually beautiful game: you only need to take one look at it to see that. What isn't immediately clear to those who haven't played it, though, is that there's something even more special hiding underneath. As you play, assuming you do so with an internet connection, you'll eventually encounter another character. This character never speaks to you: all either of you can do is make a musical chime that affects the landscape. It soon becomes clear that this other character isn't some AI bot, it's another Journey player experiencing the same thing as you are. Silently, you both play through the game, helping each other out and ensuring as you do that each player doesn't have to go on this Journey alone. Having previously been a PS3-exclusive title, it's out on PS4 now, so if you haven't enjoyed this one yet there's no better time.
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