Video games can teach us a lot about life. At their best, they can provide entertainment, relaxation, and socialization. They can even be wonderful examples of artful storytelling. They’ve also been shown to improve hand-eye coordination and spatial memory. And perhaps most importantly, they serve as a constant reminder that you are going to die. Probably horrifically.
Sorry if that was brusque. Today we’re going to cover the six most traumatic deaths in video game history, meaning I’ve just spent the past four days watching YouTube videos of heroes getting crushed, beaten, bruised, stabbed, choked, eviscerated, and exploded. I’ve seen the last, best hope of civilization after civilization cut down in the most brutal manners possible. I feel like I’ve been watching the “Shh! Shh! Shh!” scene from Saving Private Ryan on a loop for the past several days, and I’m just crestfallen, and so help me God, nothing is ever going to be okay ever again.
Sigh. Ok. So before we begin, we need to establish a few ground rules:
1) These are strictly death animations. These can’t be members of your party, or inevitable plot points (so, no Aeris). These have to be avoidable deaths that could have been prevented if you JUST HIT X AT THE RIGHT TIME. But no. Kratos’ head is cleaved in half. Lara Croft just got eaten by a dinosaur. And it’s all your lousy fault.
2) No violence porn. Traumatic deaths are expected in, say, Dead Space 2 (the eyeball machine) and Residents Evil 4-6 (basically anyone with a chainsaw). No Mortal Kombat. This list features games that are otherwise normal, with the rare exception that they can make the ending of Requiem for a Dream feel like a church picnic if you’re not careful.
Ok. Whew. Christ. Without further ado...here we go. I don’t think there are any significant spoilers but, you know. Heads up.
Sonic the Hedgehog Drowning
Let’s start off with an oldie but a goodie. Sonic games were always pretty light fare - you’re either a blue hedgehog or an airborne fox, combating mildly scary-looking robots and saving birds and squirrels and shit. They made two different cartoons out of it featuring the vocal talents of Jaleel White. It’s nice. Unfortunately, this all comes crumbling apart when you stay underwater for too long and drown. So what makes it so traumatic? The music. That terrible, panic-inducing music that haunts me to this day. While a counter goes from five down to one, it constantly reminds you: “You’re going to be dead in five seconds if you don’t pop a bubble full of oxygen, even though that’s absolutely not how science works. HurryhurryhurrygogogoGOGOGO dead.” And then in one final gasp, our hero throws his hands in the air in defeat, and falls off screen. Jesus.
Get Torn to Shreds in Isle of the Dead
No no, not Dead Island. We mean Isle of the Dead. If you’ve never heard of this game, you’re in for a treat - it’s routinely featured on “Worst Games Ever” lists, and with good reason. To wit - it’s a first person zombie shooter, released in 1993, whose cover art boasts that it’s the, quote, “best knock-off of Wolfenstein 3-D that anyone has created.” If your highest accolade is that it’s a rip-off of a universally acclaimed classic, guess what? You’re the Vanilla Ice of video games. Congratulations! This poorly designed game requires you to shoot the same four zombie models (lady, buff dude, headless guy, baby) over and over, ad nauseum, and despite the zombies, it feels pretty and cartoony. But then the moment at 6m23s in the above video happens. Yes, that’s the person whose life you were responsible for, getting grabbed from behind, tackled to the ground, and devoured. Your head gets carelessly tossed away, as does your arm. And even worse, the surfer dude crams your intestines into his mouth like spaghetti. That’s where all your poop is! Uh, was.
Batman Gets Eaten By a Shark
Oh Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, I can’t even. He’s Gotham City’s only hope! How did the Penguin get a shark, anyway? Can sharks live in ice-cold water? Why would he be that ferocious without any blood in the water? Why, Mr. Cobblepot...why??
Ryu Hayabusa Meets the Business End of a Buzzsaw. Everyone Watches.
While the Nintendo and Xbox versions of Ninja Gaiden are arguably more recognizable, Ryu Hayabusa actually got his start in an arcade game. This original Ninja Gaiden was closer in scope (and difficulty) to Double Dragon, and despite an intro cartoon showing your deftness with a katana blade, during gameplay, you mostly keep to inefficient kicks and punches. Upon your inevitable death, the “Continue?” screen pops up. Here, you’ll get the pleasure of seeing your protagonist tied to a table, struggling in vain while a buzzsaw gets ever closer to his unprotected chest. Being that it’s a continue screen, the son of a bitch who designed this game made it almost impossible to not part with all your quarters; as the timer goes from nine to zero, the blade gets closer and closer, because there is no sense of justice in this godless universe. Did I mention his eyes are open in terror? Or that he’s constantly shaking his head back and forth in a “no” motion? OR THAT HE’S SURROUNDED BY HIS ENEMIES WHO ARE ABOUT TO WATCH HIM DIE? No? Well, that all happens. We’ve only got a brief clip, and it’s above, and it’s horrible. As a side note, the cherry on top of this soul-crushing sundae is the feeble “noooo” he whimpers as soon as he dies. He can’t even give us a proper Wilhelm scream.
Joel Meets a Bloater in The Last of Us
The Last of Us is the latest entry in the “See? Games can be art!” category. Now, I actually agree with this. I thought the story of Joel and Ellie was touching and thought-provoking. I really felt for these characters and only wanted the best for them. That’s why each death animation felt like a swift, steel-tipped boot kick in the balls of your soul. Now, we’re spoiled for choices of terrible deaths, as far as this game goes. Should we pick the moment when Joel’s throat gets impaled on a shard of glass? Or when they zoom in on Ellie as she gets choked to death, and you can literally see the life draining away from her face? All fine picks. But my vote is for when Joel encounters a bloater. What’s a bloater? It’s a monster with the anger of a drunk stepdad and the strength of 50 drunk stepdads. Here, watch the video above.
Now, mercifully, the game cuts to black before it gets too graphic. But you have to figure, based on the placement of the bloater’s hands, the best-case scenario is that he gouges Joel’s eyes out while giving him the Mandible Claw. The worst-case scenario would be that he just treated Joel’s head like a pistachio shell. When watching this, try not to think about (spoilers) how Joel’s a kind man, whose daughter was killed in his arms, who has been trusted with the life and protection of humanity’s last hope. Try not to think about that while seeing his jaw about to get torn right off his scared little face.
Heavy Rain Features the Worst OB/GYN Visit in History
If you’ve never played it, Heavy Rain plays out more like an interactive movie than a video game. The big feature of this game is that, if any of your four main characters die, the game simply continues on, impacting the plot and ending along the way. With that in mind, know that every character can get offed in a completely crushing way - there are hours of videos available online showing all of your infinite demises. But the award for “worst thing I have ever, ever, ever seen in a video game” goes to Madison Paige, one of the game’s characters. And if you’ve ever experienced hope or joy, ever, at all, even once in your life, then this video will go ahead and erase it. Now, I’ve never been good with these kinds of talks, so I’m going to come right out and say it: She gets drilled in the vagina. With a drill. She’s tied down and struggling, she’s screaming her brains out, and the doctor is maybe the creepiest character in any medium ever. No, they don’t show blood, or the drilling itself. It doesn’t matter. The assholes that made this game put this idea in your head and now you know that this is a thing that happened. It’s above, if you really want to see it.
One final note here: I searched for “Heavy Rain Death Scenes,” and this is the very first thing I saw. THE FIRST THING. Anyway. Everything is awful and I truly regret writing this article. Normally, now I’d ask you to offer some differing opinions in the comments, but I don’t know if I want to know. If anyone needs me, I’ll be playing something safe, like FreeCell.