“Attention. Hull failure imminent. All personnel abandon ship.” Heavy breathing as we climb into the escape pod. “Launch in 3…2…1”. The pod falls apart as a panel hits us in the head and renders us unconscious. Everything is black. We open our eyes to see fire and need to put it out and leave the escape pod. Our ship is in the distance, but we are completely and totally alone. We look out into the infinite ocean and as survival seems a daunting prospect, we know that is the only option.
CONTENT WARNING This game contains representations of psychosis. People with experience of psychosis as well as professionals in psychiatry have assisted in these depictions.
Hello, who are you? …It doesn’t matter. Welcome. You are safe with me. I’ll be right here, nice and close so I can speak without alerting the others. Let me tell you about Senua. Her story has already come to an end but now, it begins anew. This is a journey deep into darkness. There will be no more stories after this one.
Last Day of June begins with a happy couple, June and Carl, enjoying a romantic evening by the lake. On their way home, however, they get into a car crash which Carl survives, but June does not. Carl struggles with the death of his wife, but he finds a potential solution to his grief in her art studio. Carl can rewind time by interacting with her portraits and change the actions of a specific neighbor. Using this power, he attempts to prevent the car crash from happening over and over again until it is eventually caused by severe weather. Knowing that he cannot prevent the storm or the date, Carl decides to take June’s place in the passenger seat, sacrificing himself so that June and their unborn baby can live. There are some aspects of the game that suggest June never died and was instead imagining this scenario in her grief (one such example being June’s sketchbook, which shows the player’s failed attempts at stopping the crash), but the story in which the player enacts is what I’ve described. For the entire game, we’re led to believe that we’re controlling Carl, and I don’t think either story changes the successes or shortcomings of the game. The June reading is an interesting interpretation, but it is a separate conversation and so I’m going to set that aside for this analysis. If you’d like to read more about it, here is a link to Nate Hohl’s article that proposes the theory: https://ag.hyperxgaming.com/article/3202/last-day-of-june-ndash-figuring-out-the-games-ending.
At its most simplistic description, Elsinore is a click-and-point adventure game where the player embodies Hamlet’s Ophelia. As the game unfolds, your abilities as a player expand. At the start, you learn that you are living through Shakespeare’s tragedy but you are able to interact with it by clicking on the characters around you and either following them or talking to them. You can only talk to people about information that you gather from others, stored in your electronic journal as “hearsay.” You also gain hearsay by following characters and listening in on their conversations. One of your main sources of agency in the game comes from your ability to distribute information to characters that might change their course of action— something we often long for as viewers of tragedy, when we want to warn Romeo that Juliet is simply sleeping or tell Hamlet that it’s not his uncle behind the curtain.
Signs of the Sojourner uses its deck-building structure as a jumping off point for creating a procedural rhetoric that encourages empathetic, compassionate communication. Players can only succeed in conversations–and therefore receive the items they need to complete goals and the information to unlock new paths–by forming matches with characters. In order to form a match, players have to recognize the right-hand symbol of the other character and mirror it. In order to set up a subsequent match, the player must introduce a new symbol that corresponds to the kinds of symbols the character they are talking to is likely to have. There can only be a match when characters listen to each other and recognize their partner’s conversation style. And in order to do this, players need to intentionally build a deck suited to the characters they want to talk to.
The tug of war between narratives and interactive gameplay elements and how to balance the two is a heavily contested issue when it comes to the conversation about video games and their narratives, with many narratologists arguing that video games can inherently not be narrative experiences due to their interactive nature. However, as Henry Jenkins brings up in ‘Game Design as Narrative Architecture’, statements that pit interactivity against narrative by labeling them as opposites may be ignoring some nuances in favor of more rigid definitions of storytelling being very heavily controlled by an author rather than have any level of input by the player/audience. In presenting some middle ground between the two camps, Jenkins presents the notion of environmental or spatial storytelling, whereby he describes game designers as not simply telling stories, but as designing worlds and sculpting spaces. He categorizes them into four major types, which we will explore using The Fullbright Company’s game, Gone Home.
Asymmetric game structure can take many forms. At its core, it involves giving players different abilities or rules, and often involves a different set of objectives that pits players against each other. Games like Overwatch and League of Legends are popular examples of games that revolve around characters with different abilities. These characters fit into specific roles and as a game is optimized at a high level, there becomes a standard ratio of roles present on each team. Outside of these examples where players have the same objective (destroy enemy team, capture a zone, destroy a base), asymmetric gaming can also give players on opposing sides distinct objectives. For instance, search and destroy is a common game mode in many first person shooters. In this setting, characters often have the same tools and abilities, but the game creates asymmetry through goals. One team must plant a bomb or destroy the other team while the other team must prevent the bomb from being planted, or diffuse it once it is planted. This structure forces players to act with unique strategies based on which side they are on.
Even outside of video games, asymmetric structure is often used to generate excitement. Games like mafia and werewolf are very popular group games, and in the board game realm, games like Betrayal at House on the Hill, Pandemic, and Scythe rely on asymmetries between players to create unique playing experience and various clashing strategies. Clearly there is something exciting about this type of game structure. With the recent rise in popularity of Among Us, we have seen how a simple game can capitalize off of the asymmetric structure of gaming to draw in players.
Stylishly late project summary by group leader Shé Edwards
Untitled Goose Game is a colorful, charming game about the delightful antics of one of life’s most devastating antagonists. The game was developed by House House, an indie game developer based in Australia composed of just four people: Nico Disseldorp, Jacob Strasser, Stuart Gillespie-Cook, and Michael McMaster. Fun and lighthearted slapstick seem to be their forté, as the studio previously released a multiplayer game of a similar cute and cartoonish style named Push Me Pull You. Their most recent release became a hit for casual players and content creators alike, combining simple mechanics and character archetypes with entertaining puzzle-like objectives. The player waddles about the colorful world completing tasks, fulfilling the well-known power fantasy of being a particularly awful goose.