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I, Gamer: It Got Game

November 5th, 2012 by

Games that aren’t games are nothing new. Since the noblest of beginnings text adventures and their brand of interactive storytelling have pervaded and fascinated the otherwise twitch happy world of video games.

This year, however, has seen the genre takes its biggest critical leap forward. The Walking Dead series from Telltale Games is already garnering praise outside the sphere of the adventure gamer (as the point-and-click genre has come to be known). Even though it hasn’t finished the run of five episodes in its (surely the) first of many seasons, it is being talked about as a legitimate contender for Game of the Year.

 

Adventure games have always been items of curiosity for the wider gaming audience, languishing with the same criticisms title after title; “the puzzles are too weird and don’t make sense…“; “they are pretty but lacking in any real depth of character…“. All these criticisms were true. So what has changed?

They removed the puzzle aspect as a barrier. Sure, the games still have puzzle elements but they are used to punctuate the gameplay not hinder it. They are checkpoints not roadblocks. So the genre has flourished. When this is coupled with a more sophisticated level of writing and concentration on depth of character, the world of interactive storytelling has taken that monumental leap forward.

It should be noted that the purview of changing this perception does not lie solely at the feet of Sean Vanaman, Jake Rodkin and Gary Whitta (the storied headliners of the Walking Dead writing team). I believe it has been surpassed by Freebird Game’s ‘To the Moon’ this year. The term ‘indie game’ was seen as a derisory term for a game with good ideas and lack of polish that only deserves to be sold at a cheaper price. No longer. As has been discussed 2012 is the year of the indie game. To the Moon delivers storytelling usually reserved for the upper echelons in cinema.

To the Moon tells the story of John, a man on his deathbed who signs up for a service whereby a company can infuse his memory with a dying wish so that the last act you will experience on this earth is your heart’s desire. John’s desire is to go to the moon, however the cannot remember ‘why’ he wants to go to the moon. This memory or motivation is the very device which the scientists utilise to infuse the memory.

So we get taken on a journey through John’s life in reverse from the end to the start. The idiosyncrasies if his life are laid bare and explained as we experience what made John, John. It is a sophisticated  storytelling device which pays off in spectacular fashion. I laughed, cried, had my heart broken and put back together again in the space of the four and a half hours this game took me to experience.

However there is little in the way of game here. Much like The Walking Dead you click on any part of the environment that is deemed interactive. By doing this you progress the game. The only puzzle element is a supremely simplistic grid puzzle that separates each of the memories in the game. So are these games really considered games or are they an fusion of literature and cinema? It is only in the eye of the beholder which side of the coin you fall on in that argument.

More importantly there is evidence that the storytelling in games is moving beyond blowing everything up in sight.

If that is achieved then games will indeed have game.

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2 Responses to “I, Gamer: It Got Game”
  1. avatar Lucien21 says:

    As a HUGE fan of Adventure games there are so many issues with this article.

    Starting off by suggesting that they are not games wasn’t the best start and although I love The Walking Dead as a game. Storytelling was just fine in Adventure Games before it came about.

    Classic Games like Monkey Island, Sam and Max, The Pandora Directive and Grim Fandango all have great depth as well as great characters etc.

    They are also a mix of storytelling, exploration, and puzzle solving a hallmark of the genre that which often involves challenging puzzles that test the mind rather than the reflexes. The puzzles are the gameplay not the narrative. In the same way that running down corridors and shooting stuff is the gameplay in a Halo game and not the flimsy Master Chief narrative that it’s set in.

    To the Moon is certainly more of an electronic novel than a game (It’s a great story and I loved playing it earlier this year). There is little in the way of interaction unlike Walking Dead where interaction with the environment and characters is vital to the direction of the narrative.

    Grrr….

  2. avatar Altered ego says:

    I think you have picked ‘some’ of what I said up wrong. I am a big adventure game tan too and have played and finished Yesterday and Resonance this year as well as those aforementioned in the article.

    I was not personally trying to criticise the genre past or present. I imply depth to mean improved depth of character through storytelling rather than depth of game.
    Consider this. Guybrush, Sam and Max are quirky and interesting rather than deep involving characters (which I can freely admit I’d my opinion and that’s fine). But more importantly I don’t think the engine or method of presenting these characters has leant itself to giving them the room to breathe and grow into deeper characters. This where I believe the difference lies.

    These couple of examples have been ‘all’ about the storytelling and treating the adventure game as an interactive medium. That is not a criticism of adventure games, far from it. A different direction which may lead to many people separating them by labelling it something different.

    It’s just that now they are critically much more accessible to the wider gaming audience.

    The puzzles etc in adventure games can be great (although can be really obtuse – Broken Sword anyone?) and long may it continue but I really like that the adventure game concept is being used to lead the way in improving games as a whole.

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