Life Is Strange

Video games have changed. Gone are the days where gaming meant plopping that butt down in a beanbag situated four inches from your CRT TV, flying your nondescript little green thingy around and shooting the nondescript little yellow thingies. Bosses are no longer amorphous globs of pixels — and narratives transcend the rudimentary "save the princess, beat the bad guy" archetype (usually).

With the advent of near-photorealistic graphics, video games are more like cinematic experiences than ever before, and they evoke some of the same emotions as a heart-wrenching drama or pulse-pounding blockbuster. Players are meant to connect with the characters in their favorite video games. They live them. They love them. They mourn them. These days, video games are the interactive equivalent of holding a mirror up to humanity — but if there’s one thing that humans are very, very good at, it’s making complete fools of themselves.

Hop into that comfy computer chair, because reliving these gaming moments is going to mean a lot of pushing the keyboard away, wincing, and going, "Eeesh." These are some of the cringiest moments in video games.

I laugh because I must not cry – Final Fantasy 10

Final Fantasy 10

The release of Final Fantasy 10 was a crowning achievement for developer and publisher Square. Not only did the entry in the legendary roleplaying game franchise mark the series’ first major foray into voiced characters, it also marked the Final Fantasy series’ jump to the PS2. The title was critically praised, and while its battle system, cutscenes, and the main cast’s acting were arguably top-notch, one stand-out sequence became iconic — for all of the wrong reasons.

FF10‘s main protagonist, Tidus, is adept at many things. He’s a blitzball whiz kid, he knows his way around a sword, and he can be a real charmer when he wants to be. One skill he hasn’t exactly mastered, however, is laughing. At one point in the game, summoner — and Tidus’ love interest — Yuna tries to cheer up a dispirited Tidus by forcing him to laugh. He… well, does his best.

Examining the scene in context reveals a heartbreaking truth: that Tidus has sunken into a deep sadness following the revelation that his father, Jecht, was responsible for destroying his home city of Zanarkand (it’s a long story), and that his laughter is an obvious coping mechanism. But out of context, the scene is meme-level cringe.

Fail to the king, baby – Duke Nukem Forever

The ’90s were a weird time. Pogs were all the rage, lunch was basically charcuterie boards (Lunchables!), and people seemed to really, really like antiheroes. For whatever reason, Gen X was obsessed with apathetic d-bags. With the advent of graphically glitzy 2D gaming tech, it wouldn’t be long until video games got their very own a-hole extraordinaire. His name? Duke Nukem. Hail to the king, baby.

For a while, being a jerk was cool. Jumping into Duke’s boots meant kicking alien hiney, dropping one-liners like nobody’s business, and hanging out with pixelated pole-dancers. Then something crazy happened: being a decent dude or dudette became cool again — and Duke got tossed out on his tooshie. It didn’t help that his last stint, 2011’s Duke Nukem Forever, spent years languishing in development hell. When it finally dropped, gaming had changed — but good ol’ Nukie had not.

Being a bad game is one thing — but, as many critics and players pointed out, being a cringe-fest steeped in misogyny, intentional political incorrectness, and the ability to fling human poop chimp-style is a whole ‘nother beast. These days, the name of Duke’s game might be more applicable than ever: Duke? Nuke him.

I bless the rains down on Mother Base – Metal Gear Solid 5

Hideo Kojima is a man of extremes. On one hand, the legendary video game auteur messes with some heady concepts, like ludonarrative dissonance — or the conflict between gameplay and said mechanics’ narrative context — and the literal weaponization of language. On the other hand, dude freaking named one of his main characters in 2019’s Death Stranding Die-Hardman. The man has his quirks.

All that said, Koji’s obsession with casual buck-nakedness seems to be the most recurring quirk found throughout his games, with the most gratuitous examples being the appearance of Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain‘s Quiet. Forced to breathe out of her skin because … parasites, Quiet can’t wear clothing lest she suffocate to death.

That’s all well and good. So is Kojima tweeting that gamers will feel "ashamed of [their] words & deeds" once they "recognize the secret reason for her exposure." What doesn’t exactly jive with Quiet’s whole shtick, though, is why she’s constantly placed in the most … let’s say "sensual" situations throughout the course of the game, as is the case when she straight-up strips off her fishnets and goes dancing in the rain. It’s 100% undiluted Kojima — and it’s the cringe de la cringe.

It started out with a kiss … – Sonic the Hedgehog

There’s no sensation quite like watching one’s childhood swirl down the metaphorical shower drain like so much post-pubescent body hair. To bring this back to the topic at hand: Nothing could have prepared gamers for the interspecies romance that sprang up in 2006’s lazily titled Sonic the Hedgehog. As attested to by critics and players, it ruined Sega fans’ youths. It made a mockery of the beloved Blue Blur. And it was just totally icky.

Let’s get this one sorted as quickly and painlessly as possible, as it might be the cringiest gaming cringe moment of the lot: 2006’s Sonic was a big pile of narrative dookie. Not only did it open with the most traumatizing terrorist attack ever showcased in a game for actual children, but it nearly brutally killed off its main character — and beloved Sega icon — the eponymous Sonic.

Obviously, the only way to bring the Blue Blur back to life is with love’s eternal kiss courtesy of Princess Elise, right? Well, not really. It’s actually the Chaos Emeralds that revive him — so it’s never clear why Elise plants a big wet one on the blue cartoon animal. All gamers do know is that it gave them fatal cases of the heebies and the jeebies.

Shlooop … Shlooop … Splat! – Shadow Hearts

Gamers scratching their heads at this one can be forgiven. After all, JRPGs without spiky-haired mercenaries swinging around swords the size of pickup trucks just don’t get the attention they deserve in the West. Shadow Hearts, on that note, deserves quite a bit of attention. The underrated PS2 gem from Nautilus (then Sacnoth) combined some truly gruesome elements of horror with a refreshingly intuitive battle system that relied on a mechanic called the "Judgment Ring." It also featured some of the cringiest, so-bad-it’s-fan-freaking-tastic voice acting of its console generation.

If bad voice acting is a sundae, then an in-game story called "The Sea Mother’s Tale" is the cherry on top. At one point in Shadow Hearts, protagonist Yuri and co. meet a woman named the Sea Mother who tells them the story of a cursed girl named Li Li. The tale involves plenty of nasty gods and cursed daggers — but none of that is important. What is important, however, is… well, this. Equal parts surprisingly terrifying and laugh-your-butt-off hysterical, the Sea Mother’s tale hits like one of those notoriously cringe-inducing American Idol auditions. It ain’t winning any awards, but damn if it isn’t the best (worst?) thing you’ve heard all day.

Finished him – Mortal Kombat 4

Mortal Kombat 11 is a spectacularly blood-soaked achievement in brutality. So much so, in fact, that the 2019 fighting gem might make it hard for some fans to remember the growing pains the franchise had to suffer through. Remember when it transitioned from 2D digitized actors and pre-rendered backgrounds to fully three-dimensional fighters and environments? Amateur gaming historians recall that very transition as a janky little 1997 game called Mortal Kombat 4.

Don’t get it twisted: Mortal Kombat 4 did a lot of things right. It sped up its combat, meaning fights were more frantic than ever. It introduced a game-changing weapons system. And most notably, it marked the Mortal Kombat series departure from 2D — and its embrace of full 3D. Said 3D worked excellent in combat. In cutscenes … not so much.

Jax’s ending cutscene is a fan-favorite. In the short sequence, he seeks revenge against fellow Kombatant Jarek for killing Sonya in cold blood only seconds earlier. While the implications of the cutscene are dire, the overly ominous music, mumble-mouth dialogue, and awful animations — particularly the physics-defying way that Jarek kind of just wiggles in Jax’s grip — are over the top enough to have gamers laughing to an early Fatality.

Why don’t Yu(suke) take a seat right over there … – Persona 5

The critically lauded Persona 5 hit North American shores in 2016, and gamers everywhere were introduced to protagonist Joker’s team of heart-stealing Robin Hood-types: The Phantom Thieves. Like its predecessors, Persona 5 mashed up high school social simulation with a demon battle and collecting system. The game pushes its M rating pretty far, but it never crosses over into truly risque territory — although it gets pretty close at one point.

Yusuke Kitagawa isn’t a part of the Phantom Thieves’ core social circle at first. While most of the teens attend Shujin Academy, Yusuke, an art student, is enrolled in Kosei High. The reserved artist eventually joins the Phantom Thieves following their mission to expose the renowned painter Madarame — Yusuke’s mentor — as the con man that he is. But prior to that, the young artist approaches Joker’s friend and fellow Phantom Thief Ann and asks her to model for him. The catch? He’s got an outfit picked out for her. It’s her birthday suit.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with going au naturale for a tasteful portrait — but keep in mind: both Ann and Yusuke are 16-year-old high-schoolers. Yeah. Let that sink in for a moment. Yusuke ’bout to find himself on a list.

Life Is hella Strange – Life is Strange

Episodic coming-of-age title Life Is Strange is an odd duck. Developed by Dontnod and published by Square Enix in 2015, the scifi-tinged walking sim was more visual novel than video game. It lacked combat of any kind, it encouraged long stretches of in-game inactivity, and it threw around players’ feelings like those poor cows in Twister. Its hero, Max, was every awkward teenaged nerd who hated crowds and lost herself in her journal. But the real star of the game was Max’s best friend — and potential love interest — Chloe Price.

Punk AF and down for whatever, Chloe is the proverbial manic pixie riot grrrl. She’s tough as nails, she’s got rad taste in music, and she moves the game’s twisty, time-jump-y story along. She also has one of the most aggressively annoying linguistic quirks that has ever — and likely will ever — curse an otherwise hella beloved video game. Enjoy.

One of Life Is Strange‘s writers, Christian Divine, actually defended Chloe’s ear-achingly constant use of the word "hella," calling it "probably one of the most indigenous expressions you’ll hear" in the Pacific Northwest. That might be so — but it doesn’t make it any less hella cringe-inducing.

All’s fair in love and Advanced Warfare – Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

Call of Duty is one of those franchises that has something for everybody. Multiplayer mayhem float your boat? Jump into 2019’s Modern Warfare and hit that shipment map, running and gunning. Prefer something a little more grounded in historical accuracy? Then Call of Duty: WWII is the game for you. Or maybe you’ve always wanted to command swarms of nanobots with the flick of your wrist? Hit up Black Ops 3 and get to firefly swarming those fools like nobody’s business.

Hey, shooting dudes with big freaking guns is never not going to be fun as heck. And, sometimes, it’s the quiet moments between the whizzing bullets that make the battles that much more memorable … is what someone who’s never had to go through the funeral sequence of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare might say. Sure, maybe Kevin Spacey is the worst part of the campaign — but that cringey forced quicktime event with your fallen friend’s coffin is a close second.

"Press F to pay respects" gained meme status immediately after the release of Advanced Warfare — and for good reason. It signified everything wrong with attempting to force an emotional moment in a game about fragging fools to high hell.

Have your Jill sandwich and eat it too – Resident Evil

In an alternate reality, the first game in the legendary Resident Evil franchise is a masterpiece. With gorgeously realized graphics, intuitive controls, and emotionally evocative voice acting, Resident Evil for the PlayStation is a technical tour de force — again, in an alternate reality. Yes, the Resident Evil remake (originally for GameCube and later ported to basically every next gen machine ever) hits a lot of those high notes … but let’s be real: the first Resident Evil game is kind of an unmitigated mess. But it’s a charming unmitigated mess. It’s the big, unmitigated mess that tried.

In the pantheon of cringe-worthy gaming moments, nothing will ever top the sheer ridiculousness — the god-tier, b-movie beauty — of Resident Evil‘s crappy, kitsch dialogue. From Barry’s "Jill sandwich" comment to Barry’s "Master of unlocking" speech (OK, so a lot of these are Barry-isms), there’s a nostalgic comfort to be found in awful, terrible, no-good dialogue. It calls to mind a simpler time of video games before the Hollywood blockbuster bombast, when gaming was like playing one’s favorite Saturday morning cartoons.

One day, when the stars are aligned, maybe we’ll get another game as endearing as Resident Evil. Until then, well … there’s always Bugsnax.