For almost two years now things had been going south for my grandmom. She took a nasty spill shortly after my aunt (her daughter) lost a battle with cancer, and ever since then my mom has been working like a champ to keep my grandmom happy. Eventually grandmom's health started getting worse and worse, and all that mattered was making sure she was comfortable. After my mom called to give me the news of grandmom's passing, I was more upset than I expected to be. Her death was not a surprise but it was still upsetting. Most of that sadness came from the sympathy I felt for my mom and her loss. I soon realized that was the most upsetting feeling, and that I was relieved grandmom was at peace.
Accepting her death was hard, despite its inevitability. It was the same way when my grandpop on my dad's side passed almost 11 years ago. It doesn't seem real until the moments during the funeral. Reflecting back I considered all the deaths I've witnessed in video games, and how unprepared it left me. I'm not talking random enemies, just actual characters. I never really felt enough of a connection to any of the characters. I mean, how could you? Meeting someone for only a few hours of your life, it's hard to create a lasting connection. Most times you can tell when a character is going to die or the scene is directed in such a way that it's not a surprise. Death always felt like watching a movie and never seemed real.
With one exception...
Dogmeat is a longstanding character in the Fallout series. A loyal companion, this pup is found in a scrapyard in the third entry. When I encountered him I was excited for a non-human companion mainly due to the lack of maintenance. Within a brief time I grew accustomed to kicking ass with a wolf hound buddy. Times were good.
Upon returning to the same scrapyard where I found Dogmeat later in the game, we came across a band of raiders. With no time for tactics I set Dogmeat loose and started shooting. Outnumbered and outgunned, I focused on taking out each raider as quickly as possible with melee attacks. Eventually the fight was over, and I started looting the raiders for gear. Equipment scavenged and swapped, I called for Dogmeat to heal him up.
But he was nowhere in sight.
Panicked, I starting racing around the scrapyard. I made my way back around to the scene of the fight, and that's when I saw him. Dogmeat, lying still in the dirt.
I never had a chance to say goodbye, and I felt saddened by potential of our future adventures now lost. It was hard to admit he was gone, and that realistically there was no way to get him back. It was the only time I truly felt a loss in a game. Dogmeat was a good friend, and will not be forgotten.
A final thought: My grandmom was a lot of things, though the greatest surprise was when she played her first video game. Granted, I'm talking about Wii Sports, but that was a big step for the only member of my family to not touch a video game for almost 80 years. During her physical therapy stint a few years ago I called my grandmom to check up on her. My mom had mentioned she played the game as part of the hospital's program, and I was interested in her thoughts. Within minutes I was shocked by how happy my grandmom sounded on the phone. Here she was trying to deal with a shattered ankle (which at her age is no walk in the park), and all she wanted to talk about was her high score in Wii Bowling.
While the passing of the fictional Dogmeat brought me real sadness, I was even more affected my the real happiness a pretend game of bowling brought to my grandmom. I don't think it takes an artsy game or fancy story to artificially generate emotions. Sometimes it's just the right moment to the right person.