The Revolutionary Power of Clues in Return of the Obra Dinn

Group project video essay and summary blog post, created/written by co-leader Kellie Lu

Warning: contains spoilers.

Return of the Obra Dinn is a distillation of the mystery genre that manages to make a player a true detective while adding its own intimate flair. Unlike many detective games that give the player god-like powers or modes to highlight clues and select the correct choice from a pre-written plot, the player must investigate environments without hand-holding. And it does this well. Many players comment on the way that the game makes them feel empowered, and this is the key to which Obra Dinn revolutionizes the mystery game genre.

How does the game do this? Roger Caillois states that the pleasure of reading a mystery novel is “not that of listening to a story, but rather that of watching a “magic” trick which the magician immediately explains. The author has set everything up in advance. The story opens on a rigged set; we do not even see the main event, but only its disturbing consequences” (4).

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Get a Clue: Clues and Obra Dinn

Co-group leader and resident anxiety machine Albert Aboaf

“The contradiction? Elementary.” I say, before submitting every possible piece of evidence from the court record in a pathetic attempt to convince Ace Attorney I’ve been paying attention.

The difference between the puzzle of a traditional detective story, and the puzzle of a game floating loosely in that genre, is fundamentally set around the question of the audience’s relationship to the method of solution; the clue. In the traditional form of the puzzling story, the primary work expected of the audience is in interpretation. This is of course, because the story medium doesn’t allow the reader to discover things on their own. You can never truly see the scene of the crime as Holmes does.

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Minecraft: The Robinsonade of Creativity or Colonialism?

Group project summary, by leader Adayan Munsuarrieta

Minecraft (2009) is a sandbox survival game that was developed by Mojang and has evolved into a household staple across the United States. The initial premise of Minecraft is similar to that of the genesis of the robinsonade genre; the story of Robinson Crusoe in its survival and resource building mechanics. Robinsonade stories have existed for centuries which means their popularity and colonialist themes have stood the test of time. However, through its incorporation of multiplayer features and creative mode, Minecraft has had a split between being a robinsonade survival game and a creative outlet for people to construct their own worlds. Nearly eleven years since the release of Minecraft, how has it reproduced stereotypes within its genre and how has its new modes influenced the perception of the game?

Daniel Defoe’s novel, Robinson Crusoe, set the norm for many of its successors through its colonialist origins and themes such as survival, the exploitation of natural resources, and otherness. Throughout the novel, the protagonist is faced with numerous challenges from being taken hostage by Moroccan pirates to being shipwrecked on an island alone; his one goal remains the same: to survive and benefit himself. During his shipwreck, Crusoe made his own settlement and claimed ownership of the land and its resources like the diamond mine. He finds ways to not only survive on the island but also sees things through an industrial lens. Similarly, during his journey we see him make companions such as Xury and Friday and make enemies out of indigenous people he defines as cannibalistic monsters. Despite this distinction between ally and foe that Crusoe made, he devalues the lives of people of color as he makes Xury an indentured slave for ten years and reduces Friday to being his slave. Therefore, Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe creates a generic category that reproduces the colonialist experience.

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The Forest: Spatial Narratives in a Subversive Robinsonade

Group presentation summary by Peter Forberg. This post will contain small spoilers for survival horror game The Forest.

The history of the Robinsonade is the history of shipwrecks: by boat, by plane, or by spacecraft, hapless travelers find themselves stranded on the shores, hidden beneath the canopies, or lost in the sands of some remote island or labyrinthian forest or sprawling desert. In this sense, The Forest (2013) begins much like any other transit disaster, sending the player crashing down into the trees of a mountain-lined peninsula with no other survivors—no other survivors except the player’s adolescent son, who is immediately pulled from the wreckage by a looming, naked mutant. And so, at the outset, The Forest announces that it is not merely a sandbox for enterprising colonizers, nor does it hide the fact that this brave new world is filled with dangerous mystery and lush with stories. Understanding that The Forest emerged during the survival-crafting game boom of the early 2010s, the developers needed a way to differentiate their game from the endless explore-mine-build games that followed Minecraft’s (2009) massive success. Thus, they took a different approach to the genre, with the director of the game Ben Falcone stating, “Our focus is much more on a survival horror experience, letting players experience being in the world of ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ or an 80’s Italian cannibal film” (Savage 2013). Seven years out of the initial alpha release, Falcone’s vision has been realized (with a sequel in the works), so what exactly does The Forest accomplish within this generic category; more specifically, how does it apply and subvert the tropes players will associate with popular survival games such as Minecraft or Terraria (2011)?

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Gone Home and Spatial Storytelling

Group project summary, by leader Guadalupe Godinez

Gone Home is a first-person exploration video game, or interactive exploration simulator as described on Steam, developed and published by The Fullbright Company. The game opens up to you standing in front of the doorway of your house, having just arrived from a trip abroad to a dark and empty home on a rainy night. The beginning of the game introduces exploration and looking for clues as its main mechanics to enter the house and progress further into it and figure out where everyone has gone. As the character, you can interact with objects, pick them up and inspect them, walk around, basically everything you should be allowed to do in your own home. The main story in the game is you should look around the house and figure out where your family has gone. Meanwhile, the atmosphere stays uneasy with tension throughout your journey.

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Gone Home as Melodrama and Gothic Fiction

Group project summary, by leader Counti McCutchen

Gone Home utilizes several of the themes that serve in melodramas and gothic fiction. The staples of melodramas include, well, drama—exciting characters and events that play on the viewer’s emotions. Gone Home delivers on that perfectly. The characters have secrets, even characters other than Sam. The mother is showing concern about Sam and might be getting too close to her coworker, Rick. The father is struggling with his books and potentially alcohol. Both parents are struggling in their marriage. These are familiar tropes in drama that Gone Home makes its own through the lens of the player and how Sam reacts. Historically, melodramas also have interspliced songs, which Gone Home has with cassette tapes that can be played throughout the house. Unlike most melodramas, however, there is not hammy or unrealistic acting. Since no actual actors are present, this would be hard to deliver on anyway. Sam’s diary readings come off as sincere and realistic, hinting more toward drama rather than melodrama. However, they are emotional, especially with their culmination at the end.

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