This topic is something that has been in my mind for quite a while. I jsut haven't thought of a lot of things to say about it. Let me try, anyway.
Over a year ago, I started playing Metroid Prime. This game has one interesting feature that I hadn't seen much in other games: The ability to scan information about all of the creatures and items that you meet in the game. The scan information is put in the logbook, complete with short description of the creature, and several pictures that look like medical diagrams or like.
But the problem with this was quite simple. It wasn't actually a problem as such, just something that makes me think of things too much during the game play.
Before I go in that detail, let me go to a sidetrack. Yet another thing that had kept me awake recently - though not for quite as long as the Metroid Prime scanning dilemma - was that famous Spielberg quote about games evolve to the level of film when "somebody confesses that they cried at level 17".
As an avid gamer, I almost found the quote funny. Do I need to point out there are zillions of Final Fantasy VII fans who grow teary-eyed about... you know, that thing supposedly sad that has been spoiled so many times that I didn't cry? Do I need to mention the sheer overwhelming brilliance of Ultima VII that, at one point, I found greatly intriguing - some of these sad, perhaps, but not completely tearful? Do I need to mention that I do cry every time I beat Sniper Wolf in Metal Gear Solid? (The Twin Snakes is even sadder. They added sadly whimpering and howling dog-wolves to increase the sadness?)
But then I realised something: The scenes I just listed were narrative in nature. They were scenes that were done in different techniques (pre-rendered FMV, animated simple 3D characters, text and music in FF7, lots of text and some 2D sprite changes and effects in Ultima VII, and realistic, motion-captured 3D scenes with recorded dialogue and music in MGS) - but they all shared one thing: they were not user-controlled. Their purpose was to advance the story.
So, one might argue that games don't really arouse emotions, but rather their narrative elements do. These memorable scenes were all done with tried-and-true movie tricks, or time-tested literary tricks - just translated to appropriate medium. There's not much practical difference between making people cry in "real life" and making people cry in the Internet!, if you catch my drift.
Now, back to Metroid Prime, the place where I did cry. I shot some monsters with the cool sci-fi arsenal I had. They sort of went pop. Ooooo, what ugly little things these are.
Then I scanned some of these ugly little things. The game gave me tons of pictures and text. I was interested. I read the text. Then I started to find the things... interesting.
It's hard to describe what my feelings were after the first "end boss". I had destroyed a huge genetically-engineered lifeform. The ship that was carrying the thing had also been destroyed. And the only detailed data of this creature was in my Logbook.
Okay, so maybe the creature I had destroyed was an eeeevil mutant beast. I don't care. I had destroyed something unique. I was sad and depressed. For a while, at least.
So, I think the games indeed have made me cry in parts - both using "traditional", noninteractive means of achieving that, and less traditional, more subtle, interactive means of doing that.
Personally, I rather don't define what is and isn't art - I consider all human creativity equally valuable, at least in some senses (in simpler terms, "one man's trash is another's treasure"). If you, however, define art as a product of human creativity that is intended to provoke sentimental response, games seem to be doing that fairly well.
Most games, for example, are rather good at setting certain kinds of moods, in various interesting ways. I always remember Quake as the creepy castle thing. I always remember the first parts of Half-Life as the definitive "whoops, looks like something went really wrong with this experiment" case, as well as the "guess what's behind of this corner" case.
Sometimes games go deeper with the responses. Sometimes this is unintentional, but works well. In Ultima VII, I was exploring the dark mines, and my eyes actually hurt when I returned to bright daylight. Another day, I was driving horse cart through Britain. I got stuck in traffic, as a guard and a legless beggar blocked my way, but then I thought that shouting at less lucky members of society might be quite un-Avatarlike. My rage erupted finally when the path was clear, and due to Exult bug or something like that, the sign of Wayfarer's Inn got stuck to the face of the person sitting next to me on the driver's seat. I could almost imagine Dupré's response: "I would have rather hoped it was the Blue Boar's sign - in that case, we could have at least got something to drink... or pictures of... nevermind, bad joke..."
Well, this wasn't as bad as I expected it would be. After only 100 lines of text, I finally get to the article that inspired me to write this thing.
Specifically, I was inspired by Niko Nirvi's column in Pelit 11/2004. Nirvi's suggestion was simple: Games need content that also has empathical value. Game violence isn't realistic enough; people are just mowing down targets. I think the only game that has had any kind of "war-like" effect on me was Operation Flashpoint, and even that was kind of strangely done: If you died, your body was shown from above and the game gave you some random quote from a famous person that told how mindless the war was. Maybe war games need "horrors of war". Maybe war games are too clinical what comes to violence and destruction. I think there's a niche for both kinds of games - just like there is a niche for grimly realistic war movies from soldier's point of view, and clinical war movies that detail the thing at "strategic level". Or books. I've been coerced to read two books about World War II recently. Väinö Linna's The Unknown Solider has dirty woods and trenches, death in the front line, and foul-mouthed soldiers; Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon is mostly about high-ranked people in strategic positions, pushing around numbers and like. Oh, and a couple of pages of actual gunfire scenes. And it's not a short book. But I digress...
One thing is sure: Games are a form of art that is comparable to other forms of art, both as a narrative medium and as an interactive medium. There is still a question: Should games make you cry or have any kind of emotional response? Maybe - but like not all movies are meant to make you cry, not all games are meant to make you cry, either. Both have their unique kinds of emotions they may raise.