Am I Biased Against RomComs?

Evan Gittler

After watching To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, I couldn’t particularly give a rave-review. I thought the dialogue wasn’t great, the setting was a bit weird, and overall was just a bit hard-to-get-through. However, after watching the film, I proceeded to read a piece about Romantic-Comedies by Tamar Jeffers McDonald. In it, she talks about general responses to the genre as a whole, writing, “Romcoms are viewed as ‘guilty pleasures’ which should be below one’s notice but, Jo Berry and Angie Errigo suggest, which satisfy because they provide easy, uncomplicated pleasures”. Nevertheless, she goes on to argue that the appeal which romcoms provide to their audience is more complex that that. Having read this argument, and having thought about it in relation to my own reactions to the movie, it left me wondering: “Were my feelings on the movie biased in some way by the general sentiments towards the Romantic-Comedy genre?” “Did my distaste for the movie stem from some elitist viewpoint?” I wouldn’t particularly describe myself as a romcom-hater, but maybe it was forming under the surface…

Overall, I just wanted to understand my own reactions to the movie in order to, maybe, get a better understanding of where they were coming from. Were they due to bias, or was the movie really not that good? So, I thought it would be best to talk with other people who had watched the film. Interestingly, most of the reactions to the film were positive. Most people liked it. But, perhaps more interestingly, no one gave their review praising the individual aspects of the movie, like the characters, the plot, or the dialogue, but spoke more about the overall enjoyable viewing-experience. They seemed to like how the movie overall made them feel, rather than specific aspects of the movie, which hurt my feelings towards the movie. Perhaps I was too bogged down with the different parts of the film that I didn’t appreciate it as a whole… However, one person’s review of the movie made me rethink this. It was their second time watching, and they recounted really enjoying it on their first-watch. But, on their second-watch, they became increasingly frustrated with the dialogue and the plot. Aside from feeling somewhat justified on my opinion of the movie, it prompted another question: “Is, let’s say, second-watch-fatigue symptomatic of the genre as a whole, or specific to this movie?”

Part of the appeal of the romcom genre is, possibly, the foregone conclusion. Usually, when watching such films, it is quite obvious who will get together, and indeed that they will get together. So, I wouldn’t assume that knowing the ending is the source of a less-enjoyable second-watch. Thinking about this, my attention went to a common theme brought up when I was discussing the movie with other people who had watched it, namely cliché. Even amongst the people who enjoyed the movie, a common sentiment was along the lines of, “even though it was pretty clichéd, I still liked it”. So, possibly, a commonly-used cliché can be somewhat charming on first-viewing, but feels played-out when seen again. I still wondered, though, about the tendency to describe the aspects of romcoms as clichés, rather than tropes. Again, I think this goes full circle back to the beginning of the post, when I talked about McDonald’s paper about the genre. I still feel that the general view on romcoms is somehow that they are “lesser” or just pure entertainment, and thus are described with “lesser” vocabulary, even amongst people who enjoy the genre.

In conclusion, after both watching the movie and reading the paper, I feel that I will be much more conscious about my reactions towards romcoms, and what I get out of watching them. If you ever get around to watching the film, try to think about what I wrote in my post, and see whether how much the specific aspects, i.e. dialogue, plot, shape your feelings about the movie!

Return of the Obra Dinn: Clues & Revelations

By: Dace Eaton

Return of the Obra Dinn, created by Lucas Pope and released in 2018, is a game primarily about clues. This makes sense, as Obra Dinn is ostensibly a detective game and clues are a necessary part of the detective genre in any medium. The way Return of the Obra Dinn presents its clues though, and how the player interacts with and makes sense of them, is unique in a way that makes most of the gameplay experience extremely satisfying. It also heavily relies on, while also subtly subverting, many of the tropes of detective genre fiction as a whole to similarly satisfying ends.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is obradinn-2_23_2021-5_51_34-pm.png

The plot of the game revolves around the central mystery of its title ship. The Obra Dinn was lost at sea in 1803, but has now returned to port with all 60 of its crew and passengers seemingly missing. You play as an insurance claims adjuster for the British East India company who has been tasked with finding out what befell each person aboard the Obra Dinn in order to award or charge their respective estates. The specific backstory of your player character and the greater context for the narrative is fairly unimportant to the game itself though. What is important is that there is now a case to solve. Instead of just one or two bodies though, as in more standard detective literature, there are sixty fates (the game specifically uses this term, as several people who were aboard the Obra Dinn are still alive) to solve the who, what, where, when, and hopefully why of. Already the game is both playing into and playing with genre tropes, and the actual gameplay hasn’t even started.

Once aboard the ship you are presented with the two objects which you will actually use to solve these fates, which also represent the two major gameplay mechanics: a book containing all the information you’ll need about the Obra Dinna and its shipmates, and a magical stopwatch. The book provides you with lots of information from the start, including the names, nationalities, and jobs of everyone on board the Obra Dinn, a map of the ship itself, and an illustration of everyone who was on board. It is also where you fill in the outcomes of every person’s fate as you discover them. The provides the game with its most unique and memorable mechanic though. When you find a corpse aboard the ship (and you will find a lot of corpses) you can use the stopwatch to see a frozen, three-dimensional tableau of the moment of that person’s death, as well as hear a short audio clip of the seconds leading up to it. These tableaus are where the game provides the vast majority of the clues you will use to deduce all of the fates. Virtually everything in them can be used as clues to help you, from the character models, to the dialogue heard, to the accents used, to the objects seen on board, to how people stand in relation to one another. Everything presented in these vignettes can then be compared with the information you’re given in the book and used to put down the identity of the person who died, what their cause of death was, and who, if anyone, was responsible for killing them. The only restriction on making these guesses is that the game only confirms them in sets of three, so as to discourage random, brute-force guesswork.

All of these gameplay elements and mechanics add up to make Return of the Obra Dinn a game that does fit squarely within the rules of classic detective fiction. The clues presented to pretty much all fall in line with how detective stories are ‘supposed’ to present their clues, as outlined by Marie Rodell or in the compilations by Howard Haycraft. No clues are explicitly hidden from the player, even the most obscure ones. Once you see all of the tableaus, and there are much fewer tableaus than there are individual fates to solve, you have everything you need to solve every one of the fates, even if it might not seem like it at first. The true fun of the game comes from exploring all of the tableaus in-depth, and finding pieces of information that lock together some identity, be it a tag on a hammock, or a hand cupped to someone’s ear, or line of dialogue in Russian. This aspect of gameplay is where Obra Dinn gets to play with the genre tropes of detective fiction. Here, the main aspects of the murders that are most compelling to figure out aren’t usually the cause of death or even what the killer looks like, as those are typically pieces of information directly presented to you in as the main focus of each tableau. Instead, the unknowns come in the form of specific identities, character relations, and personal details. Furthermore, a lot of the fun of standard detective stories is the so-called ‘library scene’, where the detective gathers the relevant parties in a library and goes about explaining the solutions to whole mystery of the story; who’s guilty of committing the murder, how they did it, and how they tried to get away with it. A good detective story should build to a satisfying library scene for the reader or viewer, either because they have figured out the mystery along with the detective, or because everything the detective says makes total sense and fits into seemingly obvious place. In Return of the Obra Dinn, there is no big ‘library scene’ reveal at the end of the game. Sure, there is an epilogue that explains some of the unknown details of the plot, but not in a way that radically changes what the player already knows by that point. There are however, lots and lots of miniature library scenes baked in throughout the game. They happen whenever you finally realize that the tags on hammocks correspond to the numbers on the crew log, or when you see the accident with the rigging that killed someone’s brother mentioned in another scene, or when you narrow down who actually shot the man through the wall amidst the chaos of monster crabs attacking. These little moments of revelation and piecing-together of small stories are the core of what makes Obra Dinn engaging to play, and provide the same type of satisfaction that’s found at the end of a good detective story sprinkled all throughout the game’s playthrough. Obra Dinn also seems to lean into this feeling of lots of ‘library scenes’ with how it actually confirms the fates for you. Every time you get three fates correct the game stops and opens the book to the pages of the fates you solved correctly, typesetting the information of each person’s demise or survival into the book one at a time with a satisfactory music cue punctuating each one. These moments highlight the personal moments of revelation that you have by providing textual confirmation, almost in a “Clue”-like way that, “yes you were right, it was Henry Brennan on the Gun Deck with a club that killed that man”.

The plot of the game itself does not appear to be the most important thing to its experience. It involves mutiny, magical shells, sea monsters, and many unfortunate accidents, but is not particularly unique in its tale. The way you discover that story though, via bits and pieces spread throughout smaller vignettes of death and betrayal, all wrapped up in clues, satisfying gameplay, and design that incorporates and subverts many aspects of classic detective fiction, is what make Return of the Obra Dinn highly successful both as an engaging game and a piece of the detective genre.

What’s in a RomCom?

By Jorge Sanchez

Bringing Up Baby - Wikipedia

Howard Hawk’s classic Bringing Up Baby is a prime example of the screwball comedy at the height of its popularity in the 1930s. It has quick dialogue, zany characters and an ultimately light hearted story filled with comedic moments. The story does however deal with the romance, albeit maybe one sided, between its two protagonists Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant. With elements of both comedy and romance, the next logical question would be to ask if Bringing Up Baby could be labeled as a RomCom? I’ll use this blog post to go over the narrative of the film, then using definitions of the narrative structure of RomComs  by Geoff King and Tamar Jeffers McDonald, try to identify the elements in Bringing Up Baby that mirror tropes of the modern RomCom. In doing so, I hope to paint Bringing Up Baby, not as a definitive RomCom, but as a precursor to what would become the modern version of the genre.

The story follows David Huxley (Grant), a mild mannered paleontologist looking to secure a million dollar donation for his museum from a woman who is giving away money. When going to play a golf game with the woman’s attorney, he runs into Susan Vance, a free spirited upper class woman who quickly falls in love with David. Unbeknownst to him, however, Susan is the niece of the older woman. She introduces to a leopard, drags him across state lines and the two get entangled in hijinks through a number of comedic situations. Throughout the movie, Susan tries to get her and David together, but he constantly tries to get rid of her and denies her advances. Eventually however, David tells Susan that he has enjoyed spending all that time with her and the film ends on a happy note.

Does it RomCom?

The film has elements of comedy, along with at least one character with a romantic motivations toward another character, so is that enough to call it a RomCom by today’s standards?  To answer this question, we will use the work of authors Geoff King and Tamar Jeffers McDonald to learn about the defining features of the narrative structure of the RomCom and how we can trace them to what we see in Bringing Up Baby. 

First we start with King, who in his book Film Comedy, mentions that the first element of the RomCom is that “romance is the main and foregrounded element of the narrative, rather than occupying a secondary position” and the romance portrayed in the film is “treated lightly, as a matter of comedy rather than of more ‘seriously’ dramatic or melodramatic relationships” (King, 51). Finally, he mentions that what separates the RomCom from other films involving romance, such as the melodrama, is that the film concludes with a happy ending. 

Next we turn to McDonald, author of the book Romantic Comedy, in which she offers a master definition of the RomCom genre. “The romantic comedy”, she says “is a film which has as its central narrative motor a quest for love, which portrays this quest in a lighthearted way”, and similar to what we have already seen, “…almost always to a successful conclusion” (MacDonald, 9). 

The RomCom Checklist

Taking both of these definitions into account, it seems clear that the narrative structure Bringing Up Baby follows these definitions. But can we do better? Is there a more comprehensive way that we can classify what we see in  Bringing Up Baby to what we would see in the modern RomCom? Well for that, we can return to McDonald, who has at the end of her book an appendix which includes common tropes found in romantic comedies. Out of the 10 tropes most commonly found in romantic comedies, we can identify 3 which are in Bringing Up Baby: Falling Over/Slapstick, The Adversarial relationship turning to love and the Meet Cute. Let’s take a look at how we see this developed within the narrative of the film.

McDonald defines the Meet Cute as the meeting where “… the lovers-to-be first encounter each other in a way which forecasts their eventual union” (MacDonald, 8). In Bringing Up Baby, Susan and David meet when they bump into each other while playing golf, and Susan ends up distracting David from his meeting with the attorney.

This plays into our next identified trope, which is the adversarial relationship turned to love. King states “The protagonists of romantic comedies are often established at the start as adversaries – either directly in conflict or as embodiments of different qualities, or both – whose differences are eventually reconciled”(King, 53). As we have noted, Susan and David continuously butt heads throughout the film, owing to their contrasting attitudes and the fact that they are carried by different motivations. 

Bring Up Baby, 1938 - Album on Imgur

Finally looking at the slapstick comedy trope, gags such as characters falling over, misdirections through a mixup of identities and exaggerations in dialogue are all used to get laughs out of the audience. This also serves to reinforce that the romance is presented in a light hearted manner, differentiating it from how romance is presented in melodramas.

After reviewing the materials, checking in with two separate definitions for the narrative structure of the RomCom genre, and trying to match common tropes with elements found in the film, can we definitively call Bringing Up Baby a RomCom? I think the answer is not as straightforward. While the narrative structure as described by King and McDonald for RomComs fits Bringing Up Baby, more than half the tropes usually found in romantic comedies are absent from Howard Hawks’s film. I think the film is better thought of as a precursor to the genre, a step in the right direction towards the development of the tropes associated with the modern RomCom.

Why 'Bringing Up Baby,' a secretly dirty movie about crazy people, is a  work of genius

Works Cited:

King, Geoff. Film Comedy. London: Wallflower Press, 2002. http://pi.lib.uchicago.edu/1001/cat/bib/8356632.

McDonald, Tamar Jeffers. Romantic Comedy: Boy Meets Girl Meets Genre. Vol. 34. Short Cuts. London: Wallflower, 2007. http://pi.lib.uchicago.edu/1001/cat/bib/6418002.

A Hand With Many Fingers: A Detective’s Journey

by Nico Giunta

One of my favorite experiences playing a tabletop role playing game is one called Monster of the Week. It puts a more modern spin on the typical fantasy genre, with characters using computers, guns, cell phones, and more to take down monsters in the present day. Character archetypes include tech savvy scientists, mysterious cultists, and my personal favorite: the hard-boiled detective. You get lots of cool detective abilities, like the ability to avoid lethal damage while you have a case on your hands, and the ability to detect when a criminal is lying. The character archetype is all about uncovering information, and sleuthing out the truth. This driving motivation is a common character trait detectives have across different forms of media, and games are no exception.

Enter A Hand With Many Fingers.

The player’s office

A Hand With Many Fingers is a “first person investigative thriller” according to Colestia, the developers, on their itch.io page. At first glance, this holds up; the game is in a first person perspective, and the main point of the game is to investigate a real world Cold War conspiracy using documents uncovered in a CIA archive. However, I believe that a more informative description of the game is “corkboard simulator.” This is because the main gameplay loop in this game involves updating two massive corkboards with information you uncover in the archive. Managing these corkboards is one of the best gameplay mechanics I’ve ever seen. It allows for so much freedom and creativity in the investigative process, and really makes you feel like you’re one of those hard boiled detectives uncovering a case bit by bit. And yet, with all the detective-y vibes that the main character gives off, we know almost nothing about the character you play as. There are neither mirrors nor reflections in the game that show us who we are controlling. No voice acting or inner monologue either; the main character is very much a silent protagonist. It’s assumed that the main character has some connection with the conspiracy they are trying to uncover, but there is nothing concrete we can pin down. 

No reflections!

And honestly, that’s ok.

Who you play as in A Hand With Many Fingers isn’t important, what’s important is the actions that the character (and therefore the player) is able to take. It gives the player the ability to project whatever traits they want onto the main character, and leaves the story in the hands of the articles and photographs you find in the archive. The documents the player finds are created by the developers, who stitched together real world information to create them. There really was a bank called the Nugan Hand Bank in Australia. John Nugan, one of the two co-founders of the bank, was found dead in his car in 1980. There is a lot of shady, under the table dealings regarding this bank, and it’s up to the player to uncover what’s really going on here.

The first article the player gets from the game.

So… how does this game work?

There’s a simple gameplay loop that the player is able to follow. First, you have to find a person, place, and time you want to research. For example, when you start the game, you are given a newspaper clipping with the following details highlighted: John Nugan, Sydney, Australia, and 1980. Each important piece of information is highlighted a different color, red for names, yellow for locations, and blue for dates. Once you have all the information, check the card catalog for any possible connections. Any documents that connect all three pieces of information will have a reference number attached to them. Go into the archives to find the box that is labeled with said reference number. Bring the box up to your office, and unpack any articles, pictures, or other important pieces of paper. Then, you can place these documents on the corkboards in your office, to better organize your thoughts, and piece information together. You will derive new people, places, and time periods over the course of your archiving adventure, and will be able to repeat this process over and over to discover as much information about the conspiracy as you can. The game does not stray from this gameplay loop at all. There are no combat encounters, or chase sequences, just methodical archiving and studying. This is not a bad thing at all; the gameplay is extremely compelling by itself, especially the corkboard mechanic.

My final corkboard looked like this!

There are two big corkboards in your office, one blank one, and one with a map. The map automatically updates with any locations mentioned in any documents you find, and serves as an easy way for a player whose geography skills are somewhat lackluster (like me) to find locations easier. You can stick papers anywhere on either board, and connect related documents with red string. Any pictures of important people are affixed to the board with red push pins instead of normal blue ones. The boards do not allow for players to overlap or discard any documents you find. This makes it almost impossible for the player to lose, forget, or misplace information. Real archival work does not have a self-updating map, color-coded, pre-highlighted information you need, or pieces of evidence that refuse to be discarded. All of these serve to make this process more enjoyable, and less frustrating. They can make anybody feel like they have hard-boiled detective skills. You really are uncovering a conspiracy here, all by yourself…

…and there might be some people who don’t like that very much. 

Are you being watched?

This is where the “thriller” aspect of “first-person investigative thriller” comes in. The archives are quite large, with tons of locked rooms the player can’t enter and a multitude of boxes that the player will never even touch. There are hundreds of names, each with their own reference numbers and documents attached to them. Over the course of the game, you will only follow 5 of these names. This helps convey a sense of scale, and makes the emptiness of the archives feel oppressive. There are other ways they conveyed this emptiness; one particularly memorable one was a small radio playing serene classical music on loop. I turned it off after a little bit because it started to annoy me, but then I realized the silence of the archives was much too unnerving for me to continue. This emptiness is carefully crafted, and when something breaks it, it can feel even scarier. A phone rings while the player is in the basement, but when they pick it up, the line is dead. A car idles outside the archives for a little while, and then leaves once the player stares at them for too long. You are being watched, and it’s incredibly unsettling. 

The nice thing about A Hand With Many Fingers as a detective game is that despite all of the spooky atmosphere, the game is designed to make the experience of discovering information extremely palatable. The driving force behind detective stories in other media is a search for the truth. As stated earlier, this drive for truth is an important motivating factor most detectives have as an important character trait. However, in A Hand With Many Fingers, it doesn’t matter what the truth actually is, what matters is the journey to uncover it. If the truth did matter, the developers would not have designed each piece of evidence themselves, they would have simply used real world documents and designed the game around them. Chaining together pieces of evidence is extremely satisfying, and they wanted to ensure that this journey to uncover the truth was well paced and designed. It was always about journey, not the destination, and this is exemplified in the game’s ending

“MARKED FOR DISPOSAL”

As the player progresses through the game, they start to find reference numbers stored in boxes that state that some boxes are marked for destruction. If they look in one of these boxes, they find a key to an unused annex of the building, where one final box awaits them. When they return to their office, they are greeted with a nasty surprise. The car from earlier has crashed into the office, and no one is sitting behind the wheel. Just like the phone call, there’s no one who responds to the player… 

CRASH!

…and then the game ends! There’s no confirmation that what you’ve been working on all this time is correct. We aren’t given any information regarding the player character’s relationship to the Nugan Bank scandal. Just a fade to black when the player puts the final documents on the corkboard. This hammers home that the most important part of this story is not the conspiracy itself, but the journey that the player undergoes to find all of the information about it. While this does differ from most other detective stories in media, where the story is tied up with a pretty bow and the wrongdoer is caught, I believe that the experience A Hand With Many Fingers creates shows the joy of simply finding the truth.

Dream Daddy: The Intersection of Fatherhood and Romance

By: Joseph Wiltzer

         Game Grump’s 2017 surprise indie darling Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator was not only an unexpected hit, but also a major step for diversity and inclusion within an established genre. I vividly remember the overwhelming influx of memes and discourse Dream Daddy spawned in the LGBTQ+ gaming spaces I frequent. Screencaps of irresistibly cute, dateable dads having meaningful discussions with each other were certainly enticing, but dating sims were never really my genre, so I only first played the game for the class. I am glad I finally did.

         On the surface, Dream Daddy looks and plays a lot like many other dating simulators. You begin by designing your self-insert daddy and are then immediately informed of your backstory. A single father who recently lost their partner, you and your daughter Amanda are moving across town and starting new. Once you arrive at the Cul-de-Sac where you now live, you begin to meet the cast. Attractive, archetypical dads welcome you to the neighborhood where you can get to know them better by going on dates.

The “Dad-Builder”

Gamified Romance

         After a meet-and-greet BBQ where you are introduced to the neighbourhood, your daughter helps you sign up for “Dadbook”, a social media platform for dads and the game’s primary structural system. Every day begins the same; either by messaging one of the seven dateable dads yourself or answering a message you received. Answering messages is a minor mechanic which leads you to scenes involving multiple dads purely for your entertainment as they do not directly affect your relationships.

Craig’s Dadbook Profile

The crux of the game lies in who you reach out to yourself. Your character has the option to go on up to two dates with each dad before you are prompted to commit to an important, third date with one of them. There are no requirements regarding how many you can date, but once you embark on a third date with one of the men, the game will end.

Focusing in on the dates themselves, each one ends with you receiving a letter-grade from C up to S. Your grade is a result of how many points you accrue over the course of the date based on your answers. The dad you are with or others in the scenes will prompt you to select an option from a list possible things to say, and each selection has the option of providing no points, some points or a lot of points. The point system is quite opaque, and is instead represented with emojis; good answers elicit heart emojis from the dad, while great answers elicit eggplant and star emojis.

This system does a great job of maintain immersion and cultivating romance, while still providing players with benchmarks of how they are doing. If numerical points were displayed and highlighted, players might focus too much on the points, obscuring their attention on the date itself. The use of visual symbols in this case still let players know when they make the right choices without distracting them from the date itself. Once the date ends and the grade is displayed, players have enough concrete evidence in combination with the emojis to know what they did well. In my opinion, this is an elegant system which prioritizes the dates themselves, while still gamifying them in a way which only adds to our enjoyment.

One last mechanic within the romance of the game I want to address are “bad dates”. This isn’t the case will all the dads, but there are certain options on particularly dates which, if selected, ruin your chance at pursuing a meaningful romance with the given dad. For example, on my first date with Robert, I agreed when he invited back to his place. After hooking up, Robert was never able to see my dad avatar as anything, but a sexual object and we couldn’t date further. Personally, I like this mechanic because it adds a weight to all decisions moving forward in the game once you know this is a possibility. Good relationships felt more rewarding knowing how badly they could have gone.

Those Quirky Kids

         Despite all this discussion of dating, don’t think that romantic relationships are the only ones which require cultivation in Dream Daddy. Your daughter, Amanda, also has her own storyline throughout the game, and you as a father are responsible for helping her navigate the issues of a high-school senior. Between every date, the player-character returns home and interacts with Amanda using the same text option system for the dates, however, you never receive a letter grade for your parenting.

         Instead, the results of your interactions with Amanda are only displayed during the epilogue, where you receive either her “good” or “bad” ending based on how well you interacted with her though the game. In both endings she is going off to college, but in the “bad” ending she looks like she was crying recently and seems quite worries, while in the “good” ending she seems much more excited and happier about her future prospects. Even if you do a wonderful job on all your dates, this ending system is a reminder that being neglectful or unsupportive of your child is incredibly important, regardless of how well your love life is going.

Amanda, your daughter

         Apart from Amanda, all the game’s dateable dads have a child (or children) of their own. Some of them are quite close with their dads while others have strained relationships but meeting and getting to know these children is another important aspect of building relationships with the men in this game. For example, Hugo and his son Earnest have an incredibly tense relationship at first and it seems like his child is a total brat, but as you get to know Hugo better you also learn how his recent divorce significantly effected his son. If you end up with Hugo at the end and scored well on these dates, earnest stops being as hostile towards you, and actually says something quite nice in the epilogue as well.

Daddy’s Favourite Archetypes   

The last area of this game I want to focus on are the dateable dads themselves. Each of the 7 dads adheres closely to a classic archetype – jock, bad boy, the hipster, etc.. As you get to know these men better you do have the chance to learn more about them, and while they aren’t completely one-dimensional characters, it often feels like you are dating a type rather than an individual. That being said, I don’t think this takes too much away from the game because these archetypes are executed incredibly well. Even if Craig and Robert – the jock and bad boy respectively – are incredibly predictable characters, I still really liked getting to know them better. The game leans on its incredible writing in this area by keeping the characters likeable and interesting even if they are familiar

Another interesting aspect of how these men are characterized is, even though they are quite different in most ways, being a dad is a major part of all of them in two ways. First, their children are all incredibly important to them, even to the a “bad” dad who clearly cares for his daughter a lot. Second, they all love telling dad jokes, which in this game are basically just puns. There’s a scene early on at the BBQ where the dads start riffing off of each other and making back-to-back puns about classic cookout foods, and it’s interesting to see these otherwise incredibly different men joining together in this way. At the end of the day, no matter how they come off or dress, the game is sending the message that they are dads before they are archetypes. Dream Daddies for life ❤

Katawa Shoujo, Romantic Comedy/Tragedy, and the “Top of the Knowledge Hierarchy”

by Oren

            Katawa Shoujo is defined by its official website as a “bishoujo-style visual novel set in the fictional Yamaku High School for disabled children, located somewhere in modern Japan.”[1]There are a couple of translations of the title circulating around the web, but the one that’s on the official website is “Disability Girls.”[2] While the game credits its development to a company named “Four Leaf Studios,” that’s actually a name for a coalition of 4chan forum users, who created this game over the course of five years based on an illustration posted there in 2007.[3] Even the game’s opening credits use the usernames of the 4chan users as opposed to full names.[4]

           Before I continue, I want to acknowledge a few points. Firstly, this discussion will contain some major spoilers for Katawa Shoujo. Given how the game’s narrative is so tightly wound up with its mechanics, as I’ll discuss soon, it’s not really possible to meaningfully talk about Katawa Shoujo as a romance, comedy, tragedy, or even a game without spoiling things. Secondly, I am not an expert on portrayals of disability in media and fiction and can’t speak with any sort of proficiency to whether or not Katawa Shoujo’s portrayals of disabilities are realistic or not, or sensitive or not. (Or a mix of all of those, depending on which character and scene in the game.) Lastly, this game does contain adult content and sex scenes, although all subsequent content and screenshots below are safe for work.

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The Imaginary World of Rom-Coms

By David Naples

The world of You’ve Got Mail, directed by Nora Ephron, at first appears much like our own.  That is until you realize you are watching a romantic comedy.  Now this is not to say that the genre makes the film any less good, as is sometimes associated with the notorious rom-com.  As I watched the film, I found myself genuinely feeling either sad or happy for the characters and either laughing with or at them.  What is it about the rom-com genre that just works?  I am no stranger to the genre, in fact, I have seen so many of the Hallmark Channel’s low budget holiday rom-coms.  However, whether the film is produced by Hallmark or being played on the big screen, the format of the rom-com remains fairly consistent.  There is almost always the budding love, followed by conflict, ending in a resolution of forgiveness and love.  There are also other themes and tropes sprinkled throughout, some relating to the main love story, others not so much, however these themes can sometimes add extra conflicts, or other ideas, that end up not resolved in the end.  These contradictions between the real word and movie world can in some cases pull the audience out of the main story, yet in the rom-com, this seems not to matter.  

While I watched You’ve Got Mail, I seemed to keep asking myself why the two main characters, Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) and Joe Fox (Tom Hanks), even ended up together.  After the two meet anonymously online, they develop a relationship entirely based on emails, meanwhile in the real world, those same two are clashing business owners.  As the plot progresses, we learn that Joe’s new business ruins a lot of things that were a normal part of Kathleen’s life.  Most predominantly, her bookstore, once owned by her passed mother, is run out of business.  For Kathleen, the bookstore was everything, it was a place to bring joy to children, spread the love of reading, and a place to share time with friends and family.  Eventually Joe learns that his digital beloved is Kathleen Kelly, and to summarize, he eventually feels bad for hurting her, realizing this is the same woman he had that anonymous connection with, and befriends her before revealing who he actually is.  As the audience watches the movie, or at least in my case, this final segment of Joe befriending Kathleen is very sweet and kind.  I’ve begun to believe that this is partly due to the fact that the story does not truly come back to the idea of Kathleen being out of business.  I understand partly why the plot left it alone: that specific part of the story had ended, the store was now closed, and it provided themes of the benefits of moving on and the idea of things being gone and not forgotten.  However, in a way, I feel like this sets up an unrealistic expectation of Kathleen to forgive Joe for everything.  Even if she is able to come to terms with the closing of her store, a real scenario could likely show the two not being so amicable to each other if one had ruined the other’s profession.  

This is part of what makes a romantic comedy so special.   As they watch, the audience is gradually filled with more and more emotions, some good, some bad, yet the comedy throughout keeps spirits light.  The genre uses this to its advantage.  Romance can often be an emotional rollercoaster, so when we watch a romantic comedy, we may want to feel a similar sense of emotions to emulate the real thing.  The film mimics those emotions by giving the viewer real life topics to have an emotional response to, and in this case, that role is filled by the bookstore struggle.  I imagine this is why many rom-coms are centered around conflict as well.  In the case of You’ve Got Mail, we are introduced to our character’s relationship before the conflict.  The result has the audience rooting for the relationship early on, so when problems arise, a sort of sympathy develops in the viewer, as they ultimately assume the two belong together.  In the end, this makes the bookstore feel more like a passing problem than anything, especially after the two are presented as “soulmates” of sorts.  

The use of many emotions in a romantic comedy sets up the potential to easily influence its audience.   By creating that emotional response or investment in a viewer, the rom-com can  successfully set up it’s final act to be a smooth-sailing experience of happiness and romance.  I say it like this because I believe by the end of the movie, after having had it’s emotions repeatedly toyed with, the thing the audience wants to see most is a happy ending.  There are some common devices used by rom-coms to help make this outcome happen.  

Reconciliation is a big turning point in a lot of romantic comedies.  In You’ve Got Mail, it takes a center stage as Joe attempts to rebuild his real world relationship with Kathy.  Geoff King’s interpretation of reconciliation in rom-coms becomes very relevant here, describing it as utopian, as well as “sidestepping the reconciliation of broader thematic issues (55).”  The film shows the audience the kindness that Joe is capable of, connecting him more to his internet personality, implying that he has a good heart.  The following scenes primarily show this, causing past conflicts to feel less important.  As King describes, the impli­cation is that real world factors, such as money, class and power, are essentially secondary and can be stripped away to reveal an essential common humanity underneath (55).  This relates back to Kathleen’s lost business.  The bookstore conflict is stripped away as the film shifts its focus onto humanity and kindness.  At this point the rom-com, whether intentionally or unintentionally, emphasizes the relationships rather than modern material world struggles.  I believe in a way that the reason for the audiences being so accepting of this shift is because of the emotions produced throughout the movie.  When the audience is made emotional maybe they are more willing to take what they can when it comes to resolving the story.

Wish fulfillment also benefits a lot from the emotions created within a rom-com, and You’ve Got Mail seems to embrace this when it can.   Wish fulfillment is sort of the requirement of a happy ending in a film.  This becomes common and easy to obtain in rom-coms because of the nature of comedy in the film, as well as reconciliation.  Comedy is capable of maintaining a whimsical fantasy world, not to be taken seriously (King 55).  When this is paired with a story of romance, the audience may soon expect only happy results, due to the light hearted aura of past scenes or sequences.  When it comes to reconciliation, the audience may also be less likely to question reasoning due to comedy, since the world’s sense of unimportance has already been established.  The use of wish fulfillment may also determine how a director presents emotions and tear jerkers in the rom-com.  For example, this could have been in mind while writing You’ve Got Mail, and maybe this is why so much of the movie is dedicated to conflicts, and why Joe’s reconciliation takes up a much smaller portion of the film (approx. less than 20 minutes).  I think the director may want to allot more time toward the conflict if they already know they’ve got the audience captivated with the hope of a happy ending, especially given the opportunity to bring more emotion and influence to the audience.  

In an effort to tell a fun story of love, the romantic comedy draws influence from many themes to create a well oiled world of emotion, inevitably ending in a satisfied audience.  While perhaps leveling the importance of real life responsibility in comparison to love, movies like You’ve Got Mail are very successful using a variety of techniques such as emotion, comedy, wish fulfillment, and reconciliation to make the audience not see this as a flaw.  While rom-coms are not often considered the best of films, there is a lot that can be understood about the presentation of a story and its audience.

Citations

King, Geoff. Comedy and Narrative, Film Comedy. pg 50-62

McDonald, Tamar Jeffers Romantic Comedy and Genre, Romantic Comedy, Boy Meets Girl Genre. pg 7-13

Her Story: Do We Really Know What it Is?

By Brooke Werdlow

Her Story (video game) - Wikipedia

Her Story is a 2015 FMV detective mystery game by Sam Barlow. Throughout the game, the player acts as an unidentified investigator of sorts, gleaning through a police database of video clips from seven interrogations of a woman, Hannah Smith, to solve the murder case of her husband Simon (initially presumed missing) in 1994. The only information on the game’s objective right off the bat comes in the form of saved files on the desktop that explain the premise of searching through clips and compiling the story behind the murder case. As a player, you type keywords into the database’s search bar to unlock clips that include the words you searched, but only have access to the first five clips that appear from the interrogations chronologically. The game begins with the word “MURDER” already typed into the search bar, which primes the player for perceiving the game as a murder mystery. Other functions accessible as a player are the tagging function, which allow you to add tags to video clips to sort them into related categories, and the add to session function, which saves video clips in a bar at the bottom of the database to return to later. The Database Checker on the home screen indicates how many clips out of 271 available, varying in length and content, the player has already viewed. The ChitChat app, a messenger program, appears on the screen after unlocking most of the story, at which point the player can finish the game without having viewed all of the interrogation clips.

On Her Story's 5th birthday, Sam Barlow looks back at his breakout game—and  talks about what's next | PC Gamer

The game’s lack of chronology emphasizes the self-directedness of the player unravelling the narrative. Beyond the initial keyword given, “MURDER,” it’s entirely possible for players to find clips in arbitrary orders as there’s no set approach to uncovering the mystery. Where one player might decide to search “Simon” after watching a few clips, another may opt to look up “Dead,” which would result in an entirely different set of search outcomes. This feature ensures the game doesn’t feel simply like a passive movie-watching experience, but instead like a proactive deep-dive hunt into a tangled web of secrets, searching for discrepancies in the story. The player never hears the questions asked to Hannah Smith, only the responses she gives to the questions, although the game’s dialogue does well to suggest what might have been asked.

As the player progresses through the database of clips, getting bits and pieces of the full, convoluted story based on seemingly important phrases uttered by Hannah Smith in her tapes, it quickly becomes clear that the narrative isn’t as simple as a vengeful wife murdering her husband. Through various keywords that are casually dropped into the dialogue, like “blonde,” or “mirror,” the player soon realizes that Hannah Smith might not be just Hannah Smith. Or that, perhaps Hannah isn’t the only one involved in Simon’s death.

Her Story Review - GameSpot

Her Story as a Detective Game

Marie Rodell in Mystery Fiction, Theory and Technique explains that clues in the detective fiction genre come in two varieties: tangible and intangible. Of the tangible variety, those pertaining to the five senses, clues must be adequately described in words such that they are recognizable to the reader (50). For intangible clues, such as the appearance of an item whose function or origin is unknown, the reader must be given a realistic opportunity to determine its significance in the plot (51-52). Because of Her Story‘s FMV video game format, most tangible clues in the game are not presented to the players themselves, but instead to the detectives within the game who investigated the diegetic crime scene; clues like fingerprints, fibers from a wig, a guitar, and a broken watch all appear as key clues within the game, but are revealed to the player through Hannah’s acknowledgment that the detectives discovered that evidence, not the player’s own discovery. The few tangible clues given to the player in the game come through the form of visual observation, things like a tattoo, hairstyles, and a bruise. Intangible clues on the other hand, which are important to deciphering the mystery of twins at the heart of the game, result from close observation of the dialogue. Once the player has discerned that Hannah could also be Eve, a secret twin sister, the way the two sisters talk about subjects as mundane as coffee versus tea or as personal as sex is potentially the only way to rule out who is who. Additionally, some of the clips to uncover during the investigation process are essentially duplicates of the same question or scenario answered in slightly different ways, such as clips on separate interrogation dates regarding Hannah and Simon’s wedding, answered from what seems like different perspectives, or two “blink and you’ll miss it” clips of both Hannah and Eve staring into the camera and asking if it’s recording. Rodell argues, “It is from the actions and words of such suspects, and their behavior toward other characters in the story, that the detective and the reader deduce the probability of motive in the suspect,” (56). Actions and words are at the core of uncovering what “her story” is.

Actions on behalf of Hannah and Eve, such as theories regarding which twin uses her left hand as the dominant one and which uses her right, or attempts to decipher the “knock-code” that Hannah and Eve use to communicate to each other in the interrogation, are of great importance. Words, however, are potentially even more important than actions. Because of the twin mystery at play, Eve and Hannah’s attempt to line up their stories occasionally fall short, their details not adding up to one coherent story. While one accidentally claims infertility before correcting herself, the other mentions being pregnant at the time of the interrogation. Where one, as mentioned previously, seems to prefer coffee and talking openly about sex, the other prefers tea and keeping intimate affairs private. The player’s ability to keep track of these minute details affects the ultimate interpretation of the game’s ending, considering there is arguably some ambiguity regarding who truly killed Simon in the end, and who is subsequently sent to jail for committing the crime. One of Her Story’s major strengths is that its subtlety allows for several interpretations to the ending. Have these interrogations clips been Eve pretending to be Hannah the whole time? Did Hannah and Eve collaborate in covering up the murder and from then on been tag-teaming the interrogation and struggling to keep their stories straight? Did Eve kill Hannah in an attempt to lead her own life for once? These, among other theories, are all plausible.

Rodell also argues, however, that, “If the criminal is caught in the end because he forgets at some moment to be alert, praise for the solution of the mystery cannot fairly go to detective or reader: the solution has depended on a weakness of the murderer’s, not on a talent of the detective’s,” (57). Slip-ups in the twins’ narratives are pretty crucial in realizing that they are, in fact, twins. While this may be considered a weakness in detective fiction, because the ability to pick up on the discrepancies or failure to be “alert” on Hannah/Eve’s behalf is dependent upon the player’s listening ability amongst a large number of clips found on their own rather than being guided toward specific details by an author, Her Story never comes across as a disappointment in terms of discovering its myster/y/ies.

Her Story Review: Full Emotion Video - Paste

The nonlinear format combined with the ability to only view five chronological clips at a time delays the revelation of mystery over time, since the majority of the story is revealed in the seventh and final interrogation, which is likely to be hidden from the player in the first five clips accessible on any search. The game’s dialogue drops heavy-handed hints, however, that lead the player down a trail that early on suggests where the story is going. For instance, the repetition of words and themes like “mirror,” “reflection,” and “symmetry,” even in the protagonists’ names–palindromes Eve and Hannah–as well as the Easter egg of a mini game called “mirror tiles” hidden in the trash on the desktop clues the player in to the fact that twins are a possibility. Additionally, clips that reiterate the fantasy-like narrative by mentioning fairy tales such as Rapunzel thematically manifest the game’s plot: the storybook tale of twins separated at birth, one bound to the other by the fact that her identity is intrinsically linked to the other’s existence, share a life together and fall for the same Prince Charming.

Her Story’s mystery comes not only through deciphering how exactly Simon was murdered, who committed the crime, and why they did it, but also who exactly you as a player are embodying. Because the player isn’t sure who they are, the motivation behind wanting to explore this mystery is also unknown, and isn’t revealed until the very end. Before suggesting via the ChitChat function that you are done investigating, which prompts the ending sequence of the game, the only clues to suggest the player’s identity are flashes of a reflection on the computer monitor which only appear whenever a key video clip to the story has been viewed. The layered mysteries presented in Her Story add not only intrigue to the experience of playing the game, but also push back against complacency in its completion. Will finding all 271 clips result in a more fleshed-out understanding of the plot than ending the game? In terms of the ultimate ending that every player receives, no. But, the player’s individual opinion on the story is likely to be determined by the clips that they found and what they gleaned from each individual clip.

Works Cited:

Rodell, Marie. “Clues.” Mystery Fiction, Theory and Technique, Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, 1943, pp. 49-60. 

Sandbox Games and Mechanic-based Storytelling in Minecraft

By: Daniel Stein

Minecraft is a lot of things. Its best description is an open-world sandbox survival game first published by Mojang in alpha version 1.0 in 2010. Although the type of game can be narrowed down in this way, approaching the particular genre of story Minecraft provides is a bit more difficult. In the original (and most well-known) game mode, “Survival Mode,” The player spawns into a randomly generated world of colorful blocks representing the materials that the world is constructed out of. The player can immediately begin exploring and collecting resources to craft tools and to build structures within this natural world. Throughout a single playthrough in Alpha 1.1 the player can traverse plains, hills, mountains, rivers, oceans, and caves. The only things the player will never find in this world is a hint of an existing story.

Although each world of Minecraft is essentially infinite as they generate new biomes as the player explores farther from spawn, the Alpha version was completely devoid of generated structures. The player can travel as far as they desire, but they will never encounter any objects, terrains, or structures hinting at a sign of “civilization” nor will they find any type of story or objective to follow. The world is open for exploration and change driven solely by the player. In this way, the world exists for the player to do with it whatever they wish to do. The state of Minecraft remained relatively static for over a year, except for the addition of The Nether, an alternate realm only accessible by constructing a portal. The Nether also lacked structures, goals, and story elements, but it provided several new materials to be acquired, opening the door for new possibilities for the player to build.

The “story” of these versions of the game becomes the individual experience of each new world. Rather than being told a story through the experience of playing a game, Minecraft acts as a canvas on which the players can write their own narrative. As they shape the world by chopping logs from trees, mining for stone and ore, and building whatever they like, the player is simultaneously creating the story of that world. Although Survival Mode includes monsters that will attack the player (including creepers that can explode and destroy blocks), once the player has accrued strong enough armor, tools, and weapons to overcome these obstacles they can then spend as much time as they like building whatever they want to. It is possible to build immense castles or even entire villages complete with irrigated wheat farms. If the player chooses to mine enough, they could find and mine enough gold ore to build a golden throne or even a much rarer diamond throne. The possibilities are (nearly) endless. The only limitations of the end state of a Minecraft world is the player’s imagination, their determination to harvest natural resources, and the finite types of blocks and items obtainable and craftable in any given version of the game.

Here we get into the ways in which the game’s design drives and potentially limits the player’s control over the narrative. Every sandbox comes with rules. The basic mechanics and the engine of Minecraft are not very limiting factors; there is only a single type of block that is absolutely unbreakable, called bedrock, and it only exists as a lower barrier to prevent players from falling out of the bounds of the world. At the upper limit there is an invisible building barrier beyond which no blocks can be placed. In later release versions, the horizontal border of the world is incredibly large, and players are unlikely to reach it in a survival world. These are relatively minor constraints on the freedom to mine, build, and explore as they are necessary to enforce the bounds of the world generation.

The other limits manifest in the inherent world generation and design. There are a finite number of types of blocks and obtainable items. Despite the addition of hundreds of different types of items in subsequent versions, there is an inherent limit on creativity based on the functionality of each block and item, especially in the Alpha release in which blocks are exclusively decorative when placed. Functional blocks and items in later versions, such as redstone and noteblocks, allow players to get more creative with their worlds and have more freedom in building structures that can act as storytelling devices.

Full release versions of Minecraft began in 2011 with the “Adventure Update” which included the major area of the game called The End. The End, as its name suggests, is the “final area” of each Minecraft world, accessible through a special generated portal that must be found and unlocked by the player using crafted items called eyes of ender. The End was originally a limited, small floating island made of a unique block, dotted with large obsidian pillars each of which holding a single End Crystal. The End functioned as a boss fight, spawning in the Ender Dragon, a monster that only spawns once in each world with a health bar UI. When a player depletes the dragon’s health bar the bedrock “fountain” at the center of The End spawns a portal that loads the “ending” and credits of Minecraft before respawning the player in the overworld.

The addition of The End was a major change for Minecraft. Now the game had a clear goal as well as intermediate steps to accomplish that goal. In order to find and open the End portal, players first have to craft eyes of ender, whose components require a certain amount of exploration and resource collection. The “Adventure Update” also added many structures that generate with the world. These included the End portal and the stronghold that contains it, Nether fortresses where a component of an eye of ender is exclusively found, mineshafts that can be found underground, and villages populated with humanoid creatures. This update ushered in the first full release version of Minecraft and transformed the game from an objective-less sandbox into a goal-oriented exploration and survival game.

Although there was a shift in Minecraft’s overarching checklist, most of the game’s implied “narrative” remained the same. When the player first spawns into a new world, the only information provided to them is the interface at the bottom of the screen and their view of the world. In Alpha, the interface only contains a line of hearts and a bar of empty squares representing the item hot bar. This is very little information for beginning a new game. The player is expected to experiment with the world on their own in order to discover the basic mechanics. In the current version (1.16) there is a prompt to open the inventory and an achievement for doing so, but the older versions have no hints towards the existence of an inventory outside of the control menu. Alpha Minecraft relies so heavily on the player to explore and experiment with all aspects of the game due to its lack of information and no expectation of a knowledgeable new player base.

The “story” experienced in a Minecraft playthrough reflects the mechanics included in the game. As explained earlier, each playthrough’s “narrative” is entirely driven by the player’s choices and experiences in the sandbox world. The minimalist world of Alpha restricts this narrative to a simplistic survival tale: the player appears in a strange new world with no information about its resources or terrain and must find a way to survive each night as monsters spawn and attack them. In the first full release of the game, this narrative can have more complexity. Instead of being completely alone in this world (ignoring the existence of multiplayer in both versions) the player can stumble upon a village while exploring and can interact with the villagers there. Even later updates allow the player to trade with the villagers who gained specialized professions. These updates also introduced illagers, an evil counterpart to villagers who inhabit the world either in specific generated structures or randomly spawned near the player in the overworld. The inclusion of villagers and illagers create an implied story for the world that would seemingly occur without the presence of the player.

New structures such as desert temples and mineshafts also contribute to the idea of a generated world with its own implied story. The player is confirmed as an outsider arriving to a world that is (or once was) inhabited by entire societies that could harvest and create just as the player can. The player loses a little bit of their status as the only being who can manipulate the world as they do. Of course, none of the structures come close to the destructive and constructive capabilities of the player. Nonetheless, Minecraft has shifted over time from a focus on pure resource extraction and environmental destruction towards more exploration and discovery as more biomes, structures, and creatures have been introduced to be discovered.

However, the game remains static in respect towards the player’s relationship towards all of these new discoverable elements. Although the villagers can be viewed narratively as a self-sufficient society, in practice they become tools for the player to manipulate. By understanding the core mechanics behind villager trading and breeding, players can create faux villages and grow their own manipulatable populations to produce optimal trades for the resources they desire. The same manipulation of game mechanics can occur with other structures. Monster spawners that are randomly generated in dungeons or Nether fortresses can be manipulated into monster loot and experience farms to simplify the survival and resource gathering aspects of the game. In the end, the player remains the dominant force of the world who destroys and creates as it benefits themselves at any expense to the natural environment or the world’s natural “inhabitants.” At its core, Minecraft is about ones own survival and gain in a world that exists solely for them to manipulate into their own personal narrative.

References:

“Java Edition version history,” Minecraft Wiki, last modified February 19, 2021, https://minecraft.gamepedia.com/Java_Edition_version_history.

The Forest: Robinsonade and Meta-Robinsonade

by Andi Taylor

The Forest is a first person open-world survival game with a horror twist. In the opening sequence your character, survivalist Eric Leblanc, experiences a plane crash while traveling with his young son Timmy. The crash disorients your character, and one of the last things you see before falling unconscious is a human figure picking up Timmy and carrying him away. Once you regain consciousness, the game truly begins. Armed with a survival guide, a small axe, and whatever small items you pick up around in the plane, you step out into the forest to begin your adventure.

The Forest as a Robinsonade: Cannibals

In The Forest, your character is given a few meters to determine how urgently basic things like food, water, and rest are needed. Without securing food and clean water multiple times a day, you will become weak and possibly die. Those aren’t the only dangers; if you fall into a body of water or it rains at night, you must build a fire or otherwise die of hypothermia. If you’re wandering around in the dark you’ll need a small light to navigate, and that light may lead cannibals directly to you.

In Robinson Crusoe, the titular character is stranded on a seemingly uninhabited island, the lone survivor of a shipwreck. While Crusoe spends his days in solitude at first, he comes to realize that he is not completely alone after all; there are “savage” cannibals who visit the island, and his interactions with them spark violent confrontations. Those plot points feel especially familiar in the context of The Forest, signaling the game’s ties to the genre of the Robinsonade. It is up to the player to take up the role of the industrious and resourceful explorer, learning about the environment and trying to build towards a life while fighting or avoiding these dangerous adversaries.

As the game continues from the first day, you slowly begin to find different kinds of evidence and information about the cannibals. Early on, you may just see a few figures off in the distance. Then you start to notice scary effigies around the forest, tall poles with heads or strange markers made of human skin on top, which seem to mark the territory cannibals frequent. Continuing on, you find a pond full of fresh water, but across the pond you see a few huts situated around a bonfire. In this way, the setting builds to imply the danger of the inhabitants of the island before you even inspect close enough to find human body parts strewn around their little camp. All of these things are enough to put you on edge, but it’s even scarier to hear them calling to each other in the forest as they approach and prepare to attack. Unlike in Robinson Crusoe, you’re much more likely to wind up hanging upside down in a cannibal cave than to find a friend in their crowd.

The Forest as a Robinsonade: Using and Exploring the Environment

One thing that set Robinson Crusoe apart as a character in the eyes of his readers was his perseverance; while on the island, he learns what resources are available for him to use on this island, and he works to create a more stable life for himself, taking up subsistence gardening and hunting. Over the course of decades he not only maintained a decent life but continuously tried to improve his conditions. This game maintains that aspect of the Robinsonade with a variety of possible things to construct and parts of the peninsula to explore.

Shelter is one of the first things you’re instructed to find or build in the game. You may start with temporary shelters until you acquire enough logs to build a proper cabin, but ultimately, something permanent is ideal, as a permanent shelter gives you the opportunity to save your game progress and rest for the night without being attacked by the cannibals. Larger cabins require at least 80 logs, which means cutting down at least 20 trees, or potentially even more if you choose to build a custom home or furniture. You can also build gardens to grow edible plants, and make animal traps to catch rabbits for food. Once you have shelter established, you can begin to spend more time exploring the woods, discovering new plants, animals, and mushrooms that will be added to your survival guide. However, some plants and mushrooms are poisonous, so as you explore you will need to be careful choosing which ones to eat. The more knowledge you gain about your environment and how to interact with it, the safer you’ll be and the more potential you will have for surviving in stability and even comfort.

Best Location To Set Up A Base - The Forest Game

Mystery and Isolation in the Forest

The incorporation of mystery into the Robinsonade was likely popularized by the publication of The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne. In that novel, the protagonists land on a presumably uninhabited island and over time begin to see signs that someone else lives there, a helpful stranger who quietly interferes any time the protagonists are in trouble. The Forest incorporates the ideas of mystery and isolation with the previously mentioned tension of seeing hints of the cannibals around the peninsula, particularly because the cannibals seem to live and work in groups and thus have a way of organizing together that is inaccessible to you as a single person. Even more than that, this game has an optional plot that ties back to the very first sequence.

As mentioned, in the opening scene your son is carried away by a human-looking figure. When your character wakes up, “Find Timmy” is the first item on the to-do list located near the back of the survival guide. Finding Timmy involves entering a number of caves in the area and poking around for clues. Those clues will eventually lead you to a secret underground laboratory  where, up until recently, researchers worked on creating mutants and studying obelisks before they all fled or died. Rather than the mysterious benefactor described by Verne, at the heart of all this you will discover the story of a mad scientist, Timmy’s location, and an explanation for how you ended up crash-landing on this specific peninsula. Once you uncover the most important pieces of information, you have a choice to make that will determine if you get rescued at great cost or learn to accept your circumstances and remain alone, trying to survive indefinitely.

Early Access and Survival

This game was originally released on early access for PC in the spring of 2014, with regular updates, both major and minor, over the course of a few years, before the full version was released in May of 2018. The PlayStation4 version debuted in November of 2018. Early access releases lend themselves well to survival games such as this one because they provide a sort of meta-exploration experience for players. Not only were players able to venture out into this virtual world and log new plants and animals, but they also got the experience of seeing a landscape change and watching their relationships with certain items become different over time. For example, in earlier versions of the game, poisonous mushrooms produced hallucinogenic effects in the character when consumed. Over time, the game developers updated the game to remove the hallucination potential, trading it out for another cool trick: the ability to use poisonous mushrooms to craft poison arrows. Even the safe mushrooms got a boost with an update that allowed players to grow them in cave gardens.

The game developers even added updates with different modes for different playing experiences. About a year after the initial early access release, a multiplayer function was added, with players now able to collaborate on all the projects involved with surviving, such as building shelters, collecting materials, and fighting cannibals. Additionally, early on there was a cheat called “vegan mode” that allowed you to play the open world part of the game without ever encountering cannibals. Their belongings and camps would still be around, but the cannibals never appear. Similarly, a “vegetarian mode” cheat was established, where cannibals still existed but only ever came out at night. Vegetarian mode was never made official, but Vegan mode was renamed “Peaceful Mode” and added as an official difficulty mode for players to select when starting the game. Not only were early access players exploring a new landscape within the confines of the game, they were also on the frontier of new modes of experiencing this game, testing the limits with cheat codes and then playing the official game modes. As they played each new update, they could find possible glitches or provide feedback through reviews on what kinds of new additions they would like to see in future updates. The developers of early access games therefore used feedback from players, including popular cheat codes, to decide what to do to make the game more appealing to its users. A survival game, therefore, is a particularly appropriate medium for experimenting with early access releases, because the game asks the players to alter the environment to suit their wants and needs. Players can change the environment within the game by cutting down trees, building new structures, and more, and then they can exit the game and have a dialogue with developers about how to shape the environment even further to suit them. For that reason, this method of game development helped tremendously in making The Forest a successful game with a vibrant online community.

Works Used

Jones, Ian. “The Robinsonade.” MAAD 25630 Videogames and Genre Storytelling, 7 May 2020, Prezi presentation.

“The Forest Wiki.” Accessed February 21, 2021. https://theforest.gamepedia.com/The_Forest_Wiki.