How Devotion Transforms the Player


Devotion is a first person psychological horror game set in 1980s Taipei. In it, you play as the father in a family of three as he explores his clearly haunted apartment through the years. As the player, you must investigate and interact with the apartment to learn what happened to this home and the family in it.

Gameplay and How Devotion Tries to Transform the Player

Devotion is a game that can be progressed by completing puzzles, collecting notes, and interacting with objects. For the first half of the game, this is all done in the same apartment unit. The entire game seeks to investigate the past, so there are four different years that you explore the apartment through. Though the apartment regularly transforms, often due to shifts in time, the general map remains the same.

This refrain of space, coupled with puzzles necessary to master knowledge of this space, triggers a common desire from players who tend to play puzzle-heavy, story-based games: master the space. Devotion does satisfy the desire of learning, as all players learn the entire story to complete the game. However, to maintain the horror element, the predictable and classic experience of complete puzzles and learning in a linear way is warped. Jumpscares and flashbacks push the player out of the apartment regularly, only for them to re-enter and have the space look almost completely different. Rapid changes to the environment curtail the player’s perceived ability to complete a puzzle or task presented in front of them. However, the embedded narratives in these relatively unfamiliar environments contain the sort of information the player was attempting to find in the first place.

A good example of this would be the player’s first interaction with the apartment. When getting oriented with the space, the player is able to interact with different objects to learn about the Du family. The apartment is entirely open for interaction except for the locked bathroom. This gives the player their first perceived objective: find something in the apartment to unlock the bathroom and learn more. This pushes the player to keep interacting with different objects in the apartment, in search of a key. However, there is no key. Rather, there are so many different puzzles and pieces of information presented to the player that they may forget about or give up on unlocking the door. The information that’s provided in this non-linear way of storytelling seeks to do two things. One, stem the player’s desire to focus on one immediate, seemingly unimportant object. Two, this stemmed desire is in favor of the amount of exposition that player receives from going with the game’s mashed up way of storytelling. 

Bringing this back to the door example: 

One, the interest in unlocking the door pushes the player to search for a key

Two, the player’s search for a key is intercepted by jumpscares, other puzzles, and general flow of storytelling. These are the ways that Devotion tries to stem desire for spatial mastery.

Three, the initial objective of unlocking the door is either forgotten or deemed unimportant in comparison to the other things brought to the player’s attention

Four, the player is eventually taught about the locked door’s importance in a way that they weren’t expecting to.


Devotion centers on a family of three. The mother is Gong Li Fang, a retired actress. The father is Feng Yu, a failing playwright. Together, they have a daughter named Du Mei Shin. All three members of the family hope for Du Mei Shin to succeed as a famous singer. She was featured on a televised singing competition for some years where she experienced a winning streak. Unfortunately, many unfortunate events occur for the player to end up in Devotion’s destroyed, clearly haunted apartment. As the father continues to fail with his plays, the family is met with financial struggle and stress. This stress gets to their daughter Mei Shin who eventually experiences difficulty breathing. She loses her winning streak and, due to the amount of hope that her parents have pinned on her, this is a great cause of frustration for the entire family. Mei Shin sees multiple doctors who find nothing physically wrong with her, and eventually suggest psychiatric evaluation. Mei Shin’s parents are in denial of any mental health issues, and seek out religion to help. The mother turns to traditional prayer while the father turns to a cult. Feng Yu throws a lot of money and focus on this cult which, given their financial situation, causes a rift in his marriage, resulting in the mother leaving their home. This, as a result, worsens Mei Shin’s anxiety and, ultimately, Feng Yu’s desperate devotion for a cult cure. The story ends with Feng Yu completing a cult ritual that causes him to gouge out an eye, remove his tongue, and trap his daughter in a rice wine bath for one week straight. This kills Mei Shin, ending their story.

Embedded Narratives in Devotion

A large amount of Devotion’s exposition and storytelling is rooted in embedded narratives. When speaking of embedded narratives, Henry Jenkins states that “a story is less a temporal structure than a body of information.” Devotion really demonstrates this with its use of collected and interactive items. To aid in storytelling, these items are scattered and repeated to create a story in the player’s head that, despite not being shown in a connected way, forms a linear and comprehensive story.

The role of embedded narratives in storytelling is well-explained as Henry Jenkins states, “One can imagine the game designer as developing two kinds of narratives – one relatively unstructured and controlled by the player as they explore the game space and unlock its secrets; the other prestructured but embedded within the mise-en-scene awaiting discovery.” Embedded narratives in Devotion are relatively unstructured, but a lot of the cutscenes, jumpscares, and exposition waiting is carefully placed to uncover a coherent, “pre-authored narrative.” Embedded narratives can exist to enrich the main, planned-out story, and devotion does this well.

Here is an example of an embedded narrative in Devotion:

Tulips are littered throughout Devotion. Our first interaction with tulips in Devotion comes when we interact with a page from the father’s play. In it, we see a scene where the daughter, Mei Shin, folds a paper tulip for her father Feng Yu. On the page, we learn that the father’s play was met with unsuccess, and that Mei Shin folded paper tulips as an act of love. We see a paper tulip again in the back of a storybook that Feng Yu always read to Mei Shin before bed. At the end of the game, we see many paper tulips as the gameplay shifts from Feng Yu’s perspective to Mei Shin’s. In this scene, Mei Shin’s love for her father coupled with Feng Yu’s angst toward his failed dream connect to portray a more whole narrative in the final image: Mei Shin and Feng Yu’s love for each other (depicted by the storybook tulip) was impacted by Feng Yu’s failure (indicated in the play). This adds up to the final narrative of Mei Shin riddled with anxiety as she folds paper tulips alone. In the face of difficulty, her father stopped paying attention to the things that brought them joy.

The importance of this embedded narrative is that it gives the player a greater understanding of the amount of loss experienced in this family. The tulips, along with other embedded narratives, help to increase Devotion’s emotional stakes, allowing the family’s tragic end to be considered truly devastating.

These embedded narratives are so effective because they speak to the past in a nonlinear way that does not give the player the full picture initially. However, as more embedded narratives come into play, the pre-planned narrative continues to grow into full effect. With this, the puzzle-piece thought process that comes as a result is even more effective than either of these storytelling methods being used on their own. Completely linear storytelling allows for predictability, whereas a complete lack of linearity leaves room for unresolved convolution.

And, going back to how Devotion stems the idea of mastery, embedded narratives help by widening the parabolic scope of the game. Learning the importance of the tulips in Devotion, for example, is satisfying because it gives the player deep insight into the characters’ relationships to each other. In my own experience, the tulips are emotionally evocative enough to make the player thankful for the ability to learn about them. This, in part, distracts the player, temporarily or otherwise, from the desire to do a simple cut-and-try gameplay that looks and feels completely linear.

Bandersnatch: Choose-your-own Adventure on Streaming

            “Bandersnatch” is a special choose-your-own adventure episode of the critically acclaimed show Black MirrorBlack Mirror is an anthology series that focuses on the effects of futuristic technology on society often with a dark and pessimistic view. Bandersnatch is no different. Despite featuring five different “true endings,” the special episode continues the trend of dark and unhappy Black Mirror endings. Although some endings may seem better than others, there is no doubt that this story has no happy ending despite the best efforts of the viewer in making the correct choices. 

            The episode centers around a young video game developer named Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead), who is attempted to adapt a choose-your-own adventure book with the name Bandersnatch. Stefan struggles to deliver his game as he must make choices (or more accurately the viewer to choose for Stefan) on how to preserve the integrity of the game while also staying sane. As he continues developing the game Stefan becomes more unhinged until eventually, he learns the truth. 

Narrative Structure

            The first half of the episode has a similar composition regardless of the choices that the viewer makes. The first two choices, for example, are seemingly inconsequential. You choose what Stefan eats for breakfast, then you choose the soundtrack that Stefan (and yourself) listens to on the way to the meeting at Tuckersoft. These choices do not create and forking paths but instead are simply there to introduce viewers to the mechanics of the show. The early forking choices the game is not truly forking as after a certain sequence has occurred the two paths converge together which again unifies the experience for all viewers during these sections of the story. These choices, unlike the breakfast and soundtrack, have a significant impact on the game. They unlock certain choices and thus certain paths at future choice nodes. The variability of the over-arching story is dependent on two major choice nodes, the password Stefan inputs in his father’s safe, and the answer to who is controlling Stefan. 

The password choice node has multiple choices dependent on the experiences and choices made earlier. The TOY choice is the only one that creates a new path which allows the viewer to access the Childhood Trauma ending. This ending is only accessible through looping through a false ending at the “whose there” choice node twice. The other options all converge to the “whose there” choice node. However, each of the other options set the viewer on a specific storyline which decides what choices they have at the crucial “whose there” choice node. Although there is no divergence in the database itself, the password node is the point in the show whether the story begins to diverge into different paths as each choice follows a specific narrative. 

            The next important choice node is the “whose there” node where Stefan uncovers what is controlling him. This node has hard forks where both the narrative and the database diverge into different paths. However, these separate paths do not determine the endings as there are still choices along these paths that create new branches which will converge to one of the other four true endings. 

             The 5 true endings are branches at which the narrative ends and there is no way to progress further even by changing earlier choice. The true endings are the furthest that the story can progress and most of these endings are conclusive. However, there are 3 distinct ways that a branch (and thus the narrative) can “end” in Bandersnatch: Looped Endings, False Endings, and True Endings.

Looped Endings

            Looped endings are the rarest narrative endings in Bandersnatch as they are also some of the most complicated ones. A looped ending occurs when a narrative branch ends, and the viewer must change an earlier choice in order to progress the story. The loop, or return to an earlier choice, is accounted for in the database and thus it changes the narrative. The first example of this occurs at the first important choice in the story. Stefan has finished his presentation at Tuckersoft when the owner, Mohan Tucker (Asim Chaudry), presents and offer the Stefan where he will develop the game at Tuckersoft with a team. 

A person in a blue shirt

Description automatically generated with medium confidence

If Stefan accepts the deal, then the show flashes forward to the release of the game where Stefan and his father are watching it get reviewed on television. Stefan’s game receives a rating of zero out of five stars and this is the end of this branch. The show starts the day over again but this time things are a bit different. Mohan introduces Stefan to Colin Ritman (Will Poulter), a genius videogame developer, Colin asks if they had met before. Further Stefan is able to identify a bug in Colin’s game when in the first iteration of this sequence only Colin was able to. In the first iteration of Stefan’s pitch, Colin does not know about the book Bandersnatch. After the loop, Colin has read Bandersnatch and loves the novel. This is the first instance of a looped ending, where the loop creates a new set of events that seem like a new branch. In the underlying database, the path converges to the normal storyline but the database records that the viewer has looped. This is important as it may unlock certain choices at future nodes. 

False Endings

            False Endings, similar to looped endings, are when a narrative branch ends, and the viewer must change one of their earlier choices in order to progress further into the story. The difference between false endings and looped endings are that the database does not record the false ending. It bears no significance in the paths within the database, nor does it unlock future paths at future nodes. Once the viewer goes back and changes their choice it has no effect on the path as if the choice had never been made. 


Description automatically generated

            An instance of this occurs when Stefan chooses to take the pills prescribed to him by his therapist. If he takes the pills, then the show flashes forward to the review of Bandersnatch where it gets 2.5 out of 5 stars. The show that prompts you to go back to the pills choice or to and earlier choice. This choice has no impact on the episode as far as the database is concerned.

True Endings

            As stated earlier there are 5 true endings for Bandersnatch. These endings are for the most part conclusive and there really isn’t much further the story can go. The most common ending is the Jail Ending as there are multiple paths that converge to this ending. In the Jail Ending, Stefan kills his father but finishes his game. Stefan goes to jail for murdering his father, but his game receives a perfect five out of five. Every other ending in the show has exactly one path that leads it there, making these endings much rarer than the Jail ending. And then there is the Childhood Trauma ending which has also been referred to as a secret ending since you need to reach a specific looped ending two times to unlock it. 

Database Narrative

            As a choose-your-own adventure special, Bandersnatch employs a database with forking paths in order to tell its story. A major element in the narrative is the availability of choice, whether we are free to choose or if choices even matter. This is what attracted Black Mirror show-runner Charlie Booker to agree to Netflix’s request for a choose-your-own adventure episode. He wanted to create a show with choices about choices. Throughout the narrative the binary choices presented to the viewer don’t exactly align with how the story will go. Choices that would seem to help Stefan and makes his life easier tend to backfire such as taking pills to help him focus on his game or accept help from Tuckersoft. Each choice that the viewer makes is important for the narrative and the story that the filmmakers are telling, even if it does not affect the path in the underlying database. The act of choosing is just as important as the path it sets you on. 

            While the choose-your-own adventure medium may seem videogame-like, Bandersnatch certainly seems like an episode of a TV show. The primary reason that creates the rift is that the viewers have no objective when watching/playing this episode. All the depressing endings may be interesting and connect well with the over-arching theme and story that filmmakers want to tell, but they do not represent an intended resolution that is an important aspect of video game. While Stefan may have no control over his decisions, the viewers that are making the decisions don’t really have any control either. The connection between the choices the viewer makes and the path it sets them on seems entirely arbitrary.


            Bandersnatch is an interesting a unique piece of media that pushes the boundary of what cinema can be with in the modern age. Although the interaction does not feel immersive due to the disconnect between the choices and the paths it sets you on, the interactivity does feel authentic and utilized effectively.

Future of choose-your-own-adventure

Since the release of Bandersnatch, Netflix has continued developing choose-your-own adventure episodes. They have primarily focused on children’s shows and have occasionally reached out to different genres such as the sitcom with Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and a documentary/pop quiz style show with You vs Wild. They also have an extensive choose-your-own adventure experience in Minecraft: Story Mode which is more similar to a video game and is developed by Telltale Games. It is unclear if Netflix will continue to promote this blend between cinema and videogames or if they will focus more heavily on videogames. They have announced plans to release videogames which will be free to subscribers, similar to Microsoft’s Game Pass. 


Telling Lies: Double Lives and the Horrors of Undercover Policing

By: Leila Pulaski

Sam Barlow’s “Telling Lies” (2019) is a gripping piece of interactive fiction anchored by moving, artful acting performances. In shedding light on the practices and history of David Smith, an undercover FBI agent, the work brings to mind questions of authority, discretion, and manipulation in law enforcement while promoting an often ignored storytelling format. 

Consequences of database-as-database

On a user interface designed to look much like a Mac desktop, “Telling Lies” (2019) allows players to search for keywords or phrases in a bank of webcam footage in order to piece together a story. What story might that be exactly? The answers vary. At its simplest level, “Telling Lies” (2019) follows two years of webcam footage from the devices of four different people. These characters are connected in initially unclear ways. Players eventually realize that they are witnessing the narratives of undercover FBI agent David Smith and three women he’s involved with. Personal curiosities and biases will determine how exactly you categorize these entanglements and the story at large; is it a love triangle, a horror, a classic detective story, perhaps even a tragedy? By choosing to search for certain terms rather than others, you unknowingly ignore a wealth of other footage. Given that you don’t need to watch every clip in the database in order to finish the game, it’s possible for players to come away from it with vastly differing opinions on its leading man. Herein lies one of the principal dangers and benefits of the database-as-database method in this piece: you are free to sort through the information yourself and come away with an experience that is entirely your own. You’re given free rein to determine what story you are witnessing, with the result that you may miss incredibly grievous criminal behavior, threats against women, and serious anger issues from the main character. In my gameplay, the story was a horrifying and cautionary tale about the abuses of undercover policing operations, but yours may be a somber tale about a man whose demanding job keeps him away from his wife and child who he would do anything to protect. While the structural openness of “Telling Lies” (2019) makes it a particularly intriguing game, it also leaves open the possibility to miss the critical social commentary which Barlow is attempting to make.

Social commentary and Barlow’s history

Barlow has focused his gaming narratives on social commentary in the past, with “Telling Lies” (2019) following in the footsteps of its predecessor, “Her Story” (2015). “Her Story” (2015) also conquered a law enforcement theme and revolved around a database of clips from police interviews with one woman. Set two decades before its release, the game asked users to search through a similar database of video footage in order to uncover what the story of the game was. Both games feature a very straightforward database system and don’t allow the user’s actions to change the source material. Your search terms, exploration of the desktop interface, and fervent note-taking whilst going through the story don’t have any bearing on what may happen; there is only one ending to the game. Everything you witness as a player has already come to pass, and you’re only an observer attempting to work out an understanding of the sequence of events for yourself. This strategy, fun and unique as it is, does allow for players who approach the game with a low level of critical thinking and a taste for meeting all the Steam accomplishments to sort through only the most necessary of clips and miss the allegorical heart of the story. Though I acknowledge that to say this is to think very lowly of the average person, it’s worth mentioning that Barlow’s game structure– at least in his two most recent and critically acclaimed games– leaves room for players to ignore his intended messaging.

With respect to “Her Story” (2015), Barlow aimed to critique the viewer themself, commenting that the game drew heavily from “the modern phenomena of the Youtube Jury, in which police forces distribute the footage of intimate suspect interviews for armchair detectives to dissect [and] the suspects’ stories themselves get lost amongst the torrent of cliches and prejudices” (The Guardian). Looking forward to “Telling Lies” (2019), we see that the subject of scrutiny has changed. While “Her Story” (2015) challenged its users to think about their own uninformed or premature judgements on a suspect, its successor reveals the gross violations of law enforcement officers themselves. 

Undercover policing and the terrifying true stories behind “Telling Lies” (2019)

In “Telling Lies” (2019), we witness David Smith receive and carry out a deeply sinister mission: to lie to a young woman and con her into a relationship for the sake of infiltrating her environmental activism group. David’s target, Ava, is not a high ranking activist, a militant individual, or even a member of what he deems the most crucial group. She is, however, young, kind, and trusting. The pair meet in late 2017 and quickly begin their romantic relationship. David convinces Ava to move in with him, meets her parents, and even gets her pregnant. When it comes out that David has a child, he tells Ava that he is a single father to her. All the while, David’s wife is struggling to take care of their daughter Alba on her own while dealing with a full time nursing job and a dying mother. David continually lies to his wife Emma about his mission and becomes infuriated when she admits to having a brief affair with a doctor, at which point Emma brings up that she has been terrified of David for a long time. In the course of elaborating on this fear, Emma reveals to the players that David murdered her abusive ex-boyfriend in front of her and was celebrated for it by his law enforcement colleagues. Though there is no confirmation that he physically abused Emma, there are multiple hints towards the possibility (aside from Emma’s own admission that she was scared of him for many years). Losing his position within the family he has abandoned for over a year, David refocuses on his mission by abandoning a pregnant Ava and doubling down on his attempted entry into a more militant activist group. By the end of 2018 he has alienated himself from both Ava and Emma and commits suicide by bomb. Though he states his intentions for the explosion were to stop a pipeline, we never see the results of that action. The phenomenon at present here– domestic abuse in police relationships, celebration of violence within law enforcement communities, and infiltration of activist groups by manipulative undercover police– are all tragically grounded in reality.

Donna McClean and the Metro PD

There are women all over the world whose stories mirror Ava’s in harrowing detail. Take for example Donna McClean, whose experience with the Metropolitan London Police Department follows Ava’s in almost all respects. Donna, though not herself a socialist or labor unionist, was friends with many members of labor unions and socialist party figures in the early 2000s. An undercover member of the London Metro PD named Carlo infiltrated her life starting at an Iraq war protest where he posed as an event facilitator. The couple were together for two years and followed a relationship timeline largely similar to David and Ava. They got together quickly after meeting and moved in with each other rapidly. She introduced him to her parents, brought him to her little brother’s graduation, and got engaged to him. When it came out that he had a child, he (like David) told her he was a single father. All the while, he was going by a fake name and had a wife and child just down the road. Donna is not alone in this experience, as countless numbers of women have been tricked into sexual relationships with undercover police officers. In 2015 alone, 8 women held a press conference about their experiences with manipulative, violatory undercover officers from the London Metro PD. In one case, the officer even fathered a child under his false identity before finishing his mission and disappearing. As a result, the London Metropolitan Police have given out millions of dollars to these women who were duped into relationships with men that never existed. In almost every case, the women targeted were not members of terrorist organizations or dangerous hate groups, but political or environmental actors. The previously mentioned child was the product of a relationship between the officer and an animal rights activist. These women– targeted for their kindness, young age, and good connections– nearly always stood for causes rooted in hope, healing, and generosity. By making very dubious the nature of consent through constant lies and manipulation, these officers commit grievous violations against the women that the target. Somehow, those violations are made even worse by means of the fact that most of the women are sought after for non harmful activity. In some cases, it is not the activists but the police themselves who encourage an escalation to harm. Northern Irish Police, for example, recently published a report admitting that the gun used in a 1992 massacre which killed 5 people was provided to the known terrorist loyalist shooter by a police officer (Irish Times). How this action and many others are not clear examples of entrapment I could not say, but Barlow also puts a spotlight on this behavior. David pushes the members of Ava’s Organizing Group to blow up a bridge in order to stop a pipeline project. Ava quickly rejects the idea, informs David that she’s pregnant, and decides that she wants to leave behind her active role in the group to lead a normal life; “ordinary can be magical”, she says. It’s challenging to follow up this clip by watching David stalk Ava for months before meeting her while commenting on how the 19 year old will be very trusting of an older man. That is the power of the non-linear structure of “Telling Lies” (2019). The tragedy, violation, and abuse of David’s actions are made most clear by the sharp discontinuity between the footage of David Jones, the man he pretends to be, and David Smith, the man he really is. 


Sam Barlow has created a truly fantastic game with “Telling Lies” (2019). His interface allows a thoughtful, curious viewer to find the story for themselves and his deeply talented cast moves you to seriously reconsider your notion of undercover policing. From its structure to its cast to its script, “Telling Lies” aptly points out the abuses of undercover policing, puts a face to the devastation caused by it, and facilitates a unique gameplay experience. 


Hutton, Brian. “Police ‘handed’ gun used in 1992 Sean Graham massacre to loyalist terrorist”. The Irish Times, 8 February 2022,

“‘I was duped by an undercover policeman’ – BBC Newsnight”. BBC Newsnight, YouTube, 18 January 2016,

“Son grew up not knowing his father was an undercover police officer”. Channel 4 News, Youtube, 7 October 2020,

Stuart, Keith. “Her Story: The computer game where True Detective meets Google”. The Guardian, 27 February 2015,

The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker: I’m not Mad, You are!

By Elias Bernstein

Doctor Dekker was a therapist. He has been murdered by one of his patients. You are his replacement. You must figure out who killed him by giving his patients therapy while trying to remain as sane as possible. Good luck.

Developed and published by D’Avekki Studios Ltd in 2017, The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker is a Full Motion Video (FMV) game playable across all mainstream platforms. It features over 1600 fully acted HD videos, a random murderer every new game, and multiple endings dependent on how insane you are, calculated using the hidden “Insanity Points,”
at the conclusion of the game. There are six main patients/suspects—Marianna who suffers from blackouts, Claire who murdered and resurrected her husband, Elin who believes she can shapeshift, Jaya, your secretary who needs grief counseling, Nathan who lives in a time loop, and Bryce who has an extra hour in the day—as well as a few side patients that are optional to progress the story.

Full Motion Video

So what is an FMV game? Basically, it’s a game that uses videos shot with real actors as the visual component of the game instead of the animation that we’ve become so accustomed to seeing. FMV games were first introduced as a proof-of-concept in the early ‘80s through interactive arcade games made by Sega (Astron Belt) and Cinematronics (Dragon’s Lair) as a way to make games more immersive. However, after the releases of a few not-so-sophisticated horror games in the ‘90s, FMV games quickly fell out of the mainstream market. Recent years have seen the return of FMV to the indie market through games like Her Story (2015), The Bunker (2016), and The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker (2017). Outside of video games, other types of media are also experimenting with interactive video, the most prominent example being Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (2018).

FMV, with the advanced photography technology and techniques that we currently have access to, allow games to reach beyond the graphical and animation limitations that currently exist, with the downside that the resulting games are usually less interactive, after all it (currently) is impossible to make videos with real actors fully interactive. To me, this is a pretty big downside. Compared to a game like L.A. Noire (2011), famous for its then groundbreaking facial tracking, Doctor Dekker certainly adds more subtlety and realism, but definitely feels less like a “game.” Despite the recent surge in FMV titles, I personally believe that FMV games will remain in the indie world for the foreseeable future, but they can be a nice break from animated games.


The gameplay of The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker actually works very well with the FMV format. The game uses a text parser where players can type in their questions for the patients. The game then does its best to interpret the question and plays the video corresponding to the keywords used in the question. For example, asking a patient “who are you?” will play a short introduction scene. The text parser does not require a full, grammatically correct sentence to work—typing “doctor dekker” may prompt the patient to speak about their experiences with Doctor Dekker. Sometimes the text parser will interpret a question incorrectly but recognize a keyword, in which case it will play a scene related to the keyword but not the question itself, for example I asked Claire “how did you meet David?” and she replied with something akin to “are you saying I killed David?” Obviously not what I meant, but the game picked up on the keyword “David” and played a corresponding video. Obviously, this can be pretty un-immersive, but these misinterpretations still help propagate the story. Sometimes patients will ask you yes-no questions. Your responses to these questions will lower or raise your “Insanity Points” which, if you remember, are used to determine the final ending you experience, separate from discovering the murderer. There are three modes of completion per patient: red—you have not asked enough questions to progress the story—yellow—you have asked an acceptable amount of questions and can progress the story once all patients have reached yellow completion marks—and green—you have asked all questions available to this patient at this point in the story. This mechanic requires the player to be a competent conversationalist in order to progress, something I evidently am not since I found it very difficult to pick out keywords from the patients’ responses. If you, like me, are not a conversationally inclined person this game may prove to be extremely difficult. But fear not! The game developers were gracious enough to provide pre-written questions that will be sufficient to bring every patient into the yellow mode of completion. This feature was added because of the console releases of the game—it would be annoying for console players to quickly type out their questions into the text parser. If it weren’t for the console releases, it’s very likely that the game would not have pre-written questions, but there is a hint system so it wouldn’t have been unfinishable for non-therapist players. The hint system is very easy to use: you type “hint” into the text parser and it will tell you a question that you have not yet asked to the current patient. Some of these seemed impossible to pick up on without the use of the hint, for example one hint told me to ask Marianna if she saw somebody behind me, something that was not mentioned in any response up to that point.

Skill vs. Labor

In Jesper Juul’s essay “The Art of Failure: An Essay on the Pain of Playing Video Games,” he describes three paths to success in video games: skill, chance, and labor. A game of skill is exactly what it sounds like: you need to be good at the game to beat it (think Call of Duty/CS:GO). In games of chance, players must rely heavily on luck in order to win (think casinos/gambling games). Games of labor require some sort of “grind” in order to “beat” the game. Many games of labor do not have a real end, instead the player becomes more and more rich/powerful the more hours they spend playing the game (think World of Warcraft/Farmville). I firmly believe that if you are observant and you are able to pick up on keywords, The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker can be one-hundred-percented (completing all patients with green marks) without using hints or pre-written questions. I do believe that there are people who would find that this game is more of a game of skill. That being said, the vast majority of players may find playing the game without the pre-written questions and hints an impossible task. The hints have a 90 second cooldown after each use, meaning if you are intent on “going green” with each patient, it may take a very long time if you are reliant on hints (it took me 30 minutes to “go green” on Nathan!). Energy is to Farmville as hints are to Doctor Dekker, and reliance on these hints truly makes the game more of a “grind.” For this reason, I am tempted to label Doctor Dekker as a game of labor. Thankfully, the labor portion of the game can be avoided if you use the pre-written questions or if you’re a genius. The only chance element found in the game is the random murderer selected at the very beginning, so the game is not one of chance.


As an FMV game, Doctor Dekker requires a lot of database elements in order to work well. A database is basically a set of data organized for quick retrieval of information; think Wikipedia, where you can type in a search and a corresponding article will be displayed. There are a few different types of databases, but I will focus on three: database as a database (retrieval of information for the sake of information), database as a branching tree (choices change the course of the database à la Bandersnatch), and database as a simulation which is what Doctor Dekker is a good example of. Doctor Dekker has elements of database as a database—you can access replays of patient responses as well as a couple other videos and pictures unlocked by progressing the story at any time—as well as branching tree elements—the yes-no questions that patients ask you resemble a branching tree since your responses to these questions will change the end of the game. Doctor Dekker ultimately combines both of these types of databases to form a simulation: a therapist who needs to discover the murderer of his/her predecesor. The databases in the game serve to help the player to progress the story. Without the ability to replay responses, zeroing in on keywords would be much more difficult, as one missed detail could be the difference between knowing the best follow-up question and spamming “hint” into the text parser.


A unique story with a unique storytelling medium, The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker makes great use of databases to complement text parser gameplay, simulating (with decent immersion) a conversation between a therapist and his/her patients. However, the game is not without its flaws. First off, the text parser is not perfect. It is not uncommon for the text parser to misinterpret a question; this will usually be beneficial to the player and propagate the story, but it can be pretty un-immersive. I also found the game to be extremely, forgive the pun, maddening at times: I would spend a non-trivial amount of time re-watching responses only to be unable to find the next keyword to progress the story. I was very thankful for the pre-written questions and hints, but they also made it feel like I wasn’t even playing the game—it might as well have been a movie.

If you can put up with everything above, or you’re just looking to complete the story as quickly as possible using the pre-written questions, then by all means pick up the game. I think that the game can be a very rewarding experience when played by the right people. However, if you are more like me, somebody who likes to complete games using their own ability, you may wish to avoid this particular title. It’s not bad by any means, in fact I found the story to be quite compelling and the acting was very good. It just isn’t for everyone.


Boo, Bernard. “Black Mirror, Her Story, and the Return of FMV Games.” Den of Geek, September 25, 2019. 

The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker. D’Avekki Studios Ltd. Accessed February 12, 2022. 

Juul, Jesper. The Art of Failure: An Essay on the Pain of Playing Video Games. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2016. 

Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000. 

Hades: Escaping From Failure

By Shannon Kong

'Hades' review: supergiant's latest is, quite literally, a god-tier game

“Again”. You, as Zagreus the son of Hades, emerge from the Pool of Styx at the House of Hades after yet another unsuccessful run. Hypnos, sleep incarnate and de facto receptionist of the House of Hades, makes another witty remark about the way you just died. But you laugh with him, knowing that the next time you emerge from the pool, Hypnos will still be there to greet you with another piece of unhelpful advice. In Hades, failing and dying are engrained in the gameplay experience in a way that doesn’t punish the player, but rather presents an opportunity to explore, build relationships, and most importantly: to try again. To fail in Hades is to progress, and the game masterfully utilizes its roguelike structure to encourage the player to treat failure as a necessary component of the gameplay experience, and to navigate through randomness and unfamiliarity in a way that enhances both the game’s combat systems as well as the narrative journey.

Combat Variety, Skill vs. Chance, and Perceived Strength

The combat system in Hades is a roguelike hack-and-slash dungeon crawler in which Zagreus uses a chosen weapon and a combination of Olympian boons, weapon upgrades, and other combat enhancing mechanics to fight through procedurally generated rooms of monsters in order to escape to the surface.  As you clear each room, you get to choose what type of reward you’ll receive after clearing the next room; you could collect another Olympian boon to further strengthen the effects of your abilities, take a break at the shop to purchase upgrades with gold, chat to one of the few underworld deities that you’ll encounter along the way, or even pick up currency that you’ll use back at the underworld hub. Due to the sheer amount of upgrades to choose from, every run will always be unique and different to previous runs, ensuring that the gameplay loop feels fresh no matter how many times you’ve gone through it. Although the list of rewards and their specific benefits may seem long and daunting for many players, the game simplifies the process of choice in such a way that it both gives the player a strong sense of agency to design their own run, but also ensures that the player isn’t overwhelmed and can instead focus on the actual combat experience. After completing a room, the game would present at most 3 ‘doors’ for you to choose from, corresponding to the different types of rewards you could potentially receive. Additionally, when you pick up a boon, a Daedalus hammer, or enter the upgrade shop, you will be met with a tab that only presents three choices for you to choose from. In doing this, the game asks you to ignore the long list of boons that freaked you out the first time you opened your codex, but instead to make a simple and swift decision between choices 1, 2, and 3. On top of that, the combat system is designed to indicate which boons or upgrades you’ve used in previous runs, so that you may decide to choose an upgrade you knew to work, or to roll with something entirely new.

However, such a combat system could be thought to create an over reliance on chance or ‘luck’ to succeed in a run. A streak of unlucky rewards could lead to you having too much health but not enough damage to comfortably clear each room, or being one hit from dying with an incredible set of upgrades desperately hoping for a way to restore your health. Nevertheless, Hades’ roguelike structure forces the player to treat failure as a natural process of the gameplay loop, and encourages failure as a means to experiment and reconsider one’s strategy; in turn this teaches the player to become skillful at handling ‘chance’. Each time you fail a run, you would most likely find yourself wondering “was that extra boon worth it?”, or “should I have used the other Daedalus hammer upgrade?”, or “when should I dash back in to hit the enemy?” But as you continuously go through the loop and fail again and again, you begin to be able to answer these questions, and better understand how to maximize damage output with specific weapon aspects while staying healthy, how specific monsters and bosses move and act, which boons synergise well with other Olympian boons, and so on. The long lists of upgrades and erratic enemy movements start to become recognisable and predictable; that is to say, the roguelike structure of Hades turns the unfamiliar into something familiar. As Greg Kasavin, creative director of Hades, explains: “Your knowledge of the game world is shared with Zagreus, right, so you’ll both be like, ‘Oh, it’s this boss again,’ and we really wanted to harmonize the player experience with the narrative experience.” Even when the game presents the player with too many centaur hearts or simply a series of Olympian boons that don’t synergise well with each other, the player would be able to recognise and accept a failing run, and dedicate their attention to advancing relationships with the underworld deities or collecting more currency to spend rather than struggle to finish the run. Kasavin also said in an interview: “Life is a bunch of randomness that you try to exert control over. You wish that you could just script your life in which case you would just script it perfectly. But you can’t, so the best you could do is just try to navigate, and so roguelikes are about navigating the unknown and trying to prevent randomness from killing you.”  Through recognising and learning from failure, the player is able to utilize the chance components of the game as a practicable skill to inform the choices they make in the game and further enhance their gameplay experience.

Going back to the discussion of variety, one of my personal criticisms of Hades’ combat system is in how it doesn’t incentivize the player enough to actively experiment with different build paths. As the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. Despite being a completionist myself I often found myself gravitating towards certain boons and upgrade combinations that I knew worked in the past – I knew they “weren’t broken”. The extent to which I ‘experimented’ often came down to selecting specific upgrades in order to “try them out once” or progress certain side quests and dialog events or just for general achievement purposes, but the fact of the matter was that I simply found them lackluster compared to boons like Athenas’, Artemis’, or Demeters’. What I think this criticism sheds light upon is the fact that the game plays upon each players’ conceptualization of what is ‘strong’ or what is ‘good’ – what we perceive to be strong. Hades’ single-player nature makes it such that our perception of what is strong is ultimately influenced by our preferences and our playstyles; whether we like to keep distance between ourselves and the enemies or be right up in their faces, or whether we prefer to burst down the enemy’s health over whittling them down with status and damage-over-time effects. That isn’t to say that certain boons and upgrades are wrong or not worthwhile, there are plenty of people that love a specific boon, upgrade, or weapon aspect that others may deem weak or difficult to work with. What’s interesting about this phenomenon is that when we look at the Hades player base as a whole, each player would offer wildly different weapon aspects and builds that they found to be strong and comfortable to use, so ultimately while build diversity on the individual level may not be great for every person, there is a substantial amount of build diversity across the entire playerbase.

Immersion and Reflection

On the flip side, what Hades’ roguelike structure enables from a narrative perspective is a greater degree of immersion. As I mentioned before, characters such as Hypnos have specific dialogue recorded to respond to key parts of your previous or current run; such dialogue may respond to how you died in the previous run, your weapon choice for the run, or an Olympian that you received a boon from earlier in the run. What ties these quirky lines of dialogue together is that they are (for the most part) choices that the player actively made as part of their run. So when such lines of dialogue appear, an extra layer of immersion is added because it makes the player question whether the character is speaking to Zagreus, or the player directly. Immersing the player in such a way harmonizes the player’s experience with Zagreus’ experience throughout the narrative. When you grow stronger and better at the game, so too does Zagreus grow stronger and more capable of escaping; when you encounter failure he also (by default) encounters failure. These instances of player-to-character harmonization are strung together by the bits of dialogue and interaction that you get at the end of every run, and brings you through each step of Zagreus’ physical and emotional growth, ultimately making the emotional moments of Zagreus’ story feel more personal.

Additionally, due to the large cast of characters that Hades has adapted over from Greek Mythology, the roguelike structure of the game allows the player to explore various branching narratives and ponder on the question of “how do you reflect on and make peace with choices that you made when death is not the definitive end?” For many of the characters that you meet in the underworld, Supergiant’s adaptation of their personalities and ideals probably do not match up with what we would envision them to be. For example, Achilles, famed for his strength in battle and near-invincibility, shows an incredibly humble personality and often takes on the role of a mentor and a source of support for Zagreus. Sisyphus, who is tasked with rolling a boulder up a hill for all of eternity, has appeared to make peace with his punishment; he presents a cheerful demeanor whenever he greets you, and he even went as far as to call his boulder – the physical manifestation of his punishment – “Bouldy”. This juxtaposition between our expectations and the reality we are met with emphasizes the idea that people can change; we can reflect upon the actions that brought us suffering and punishment, and improve upon ourselves in such a way that we can seek forgiveness and reconcile with others. Hades’ roguelike structure complements this idea as it allows the player to witness each characters’ emotional growth and story in bite-size chunks; by continuously interacting with these characters the realization of their dissatisfaction, their efforts to change their circumstances, and their reconciliations are presented to the player in such a way that feels gradual and not rushed.


Overall, Hades is a beautifully made game that emphasizes the importance of failure and perseverance in achieving one’s goals. Through repeated encounters with failure we can grow familiar with things that we were previously scared of, we can learn to adapt and adjust our strategies in ways that give us better likelihoods at success, and we can seek the support of others and eventually grow alongside one another. Finally, Hades tells a story of escaping. Whether it be escaping our literal physical spaces, or escaping the very mindsets that have kept us discontent, Hades shows to us that with enough time, effort, and reflection, we can always take steps forward and better ourselves. It was an absolute pleasure playing and writing about this game, and I would highly recommend this game to people regardless of their experience or interest in roguelikes.


know. “Hades Creative Director Interview.” YouTube, YouTube, 28 Dec. 2020,

King, Jade, and Jade King (650 Articles Published) . “Greg Kasavin on the Success of Hades, Diversity in the Pantheon, and Zagreus in Smash.” TheGamer, 25 Mar. 2021, 

Hades. Windows PC Version, Supergiant Games, 2020.

Outer Wilds: Welcome to Hearth

By Eric Lujan


The story begins as you wake up beside a campfire on Timber Hearth, ready to set off as the newest astronaut in the Hearthian space program. Hearthians are four eyed sentient creatures that appear to have developed from aquatic ancestors. Their planet, Timber Hearth, is relatively quiet and peaceful. It boasts lots of water and trees with its main dynamic feature being geysers that can shoot you into the air (or even space). 

The home planet serves as a mini tutorial for the player but doesn’t exactly make it obvious. You interact with fellow Hearthians who remind you of some necessary gameplay mechanics but they don’t explicitly give you a step by step guide. This is done purposefully and, as you’ll see later, remains a core principle for the Outer Wilds game. If you wanted to, you could bypass all the conversations, get the launch codes, and take off without having any idea how to play. But the game does a good job at capturing the player’s attention with uniquely nostalgic music, a cozy forest setting, and a space exploration museum that hints at things to come. After you get the launch codes for your first takeoff and initiate the time loop (which I won’t spoil), you set off into space on your own with no mission or objective. Your goal is to simply explore your solar system. This could appear to be a daunting task, however, you’re not alone. On each planet you can find one of your Hearthian space exploring companions that came before you. They can give helpful tips and are worth paying multiple visits as you learn more about each planet.

You may be wondering how the story progresses with no missions or objectives. Well, on Timber Hearth you learn of an ancient alien race known as the Nomai who lived in your solar system thousands of years prior but have since disappeared. On your travels, you learn about their lives and ultimately where they went by visiting their ancient ruins and reading Nomai texts using a newly invented Nomai translator tool. But where could such an technologically advanced alien race have gone? This serves as the narrative for Outer Wilds.

Dynamic Environments

The solar system contains five planets and a comet that all orbit the sun. 

The Hourglass Twins (Ember Twin and Ash Twin) orbit one another as the sand from Ash twin fills the deep canyon that cuts around Ember twin. Once the sand fills Ember Twin completely, it reverses, hence the name “Hourglass.”

After Timber Hearth you have Brittle Hollow. This planet has an unforgivable black hole in the center that absorbs pieces of the surface as they fall apart. What causes the surface to fall apart is the volcanic moon called Hollow’s Lantern that continuously spews out fiery rocks which crash onto the surface.

The next planet, Giant’s Deep, is a gas giant with a surface that consists mostly of water with a few islands on top. This planet’s main dynamic features are the stormy weather and the cyclones that launch the islands into space. 

Lastly there’s Dark Bramble, which holds many deep and dark secrets. All I will say about this planet is that space doesn’t exactly work the same on the inside. 

With an understanding of each planet, you can see how lively the solar system is. It’s also very dangerous. The creators of this game wanted to challenge the idea that games require static environments and instead built a world that changed over time and continued to change despite whether the player was on one planet or the other. The best example of this that I can think of is when I had left my ship on an island on Giant’s Deep only to find it thrown into the air by a cyclone and having it get caught in the trees of an island. The world does not revolve around you. It, quite literally, revolves around the sun.


This game does an amazing job at making space travel feel scary and dangerous, whether it be from the wonky space controls that have you crashing at top speed into different planets or the different dynamic elements of each planet. And the best part is, you are going to die.

 This game features a time loop mechanic which places you right before your first launch and lasts for 22 minutes until an in-game event resets the loop for you. The reason for the time loop and it only lasting 22 minutes does have story relevance but at the same time it prevents the player from going on for hours without resetting the loop. Naturally, the time loop resets upon death. The time loop allows you the freedom to choose a different planet to explore if you get tired or frustrated on another. This can be especially helpful for progressing the story since you may get hints to solve a puzzle on one planet while exploring a different one.

As you uncover new information, your findings are stored in your ship’s computer which I found to be a very helpful feature. It keeps track of your progress which is especially helpful in this game since there is no one correct path to uncovering information. 

Along with a Nomai translator tool, you’re also equipped with a probe device and a signalscope that helps track different sounds. The probe device can detect ghost matter which can kill you but it call also illuminate a dark area or take pictures as it flies through space. The signalscope lets you pick up noise frequencies that can assist you in finding the other space travelers who each play a different instrument. These tools play significant roles in some of the puzzles.

The most important tool in your arsenal is your space ship. The ship is very difficult to fly at the beginning of the game but the more you play (and die) the better you get. Just remember where you park it and don’t let it get carried away by the dynamic environment.

A Unique Storytelling Experience

This game focuses on the optimistic side of space exploration, which equates to learning about new planets and other life in the universe rather than participating in something like space conquest. It capitalizes on this by having the story be one primed with the task of uncovering secrets and learning about the history of the Nomai in a very respectful manner.

 The game is very character driven. Each Nomai text is written by a specific character, and while these characters may never show up, they feel very real and lively. You learn about their thought processes and romantic interests as well as how they came to be and ultimately where they ended up.

What makes this game unique is that there are no conventional objectives or missions. This could prove challenging when writing a compelling narrative, however, the story functions as a puzzle with the player putting together the different pieces and having it make sense over time. So no matter which planet you choose first or which information you uncover it begins to make sense as you learn more. 

The developers used 4-5 main narrative plot points to serve as a calling to the player’s curiosity. All the information you uncover is built around them with everything pointing in their direction. All of this becomes evident on your computer as you progress throughout the story.

This game does not hold your hand, rather it peaks your curiosity and guides you with a trail of information that has many different connections to one another. The developers made sure every bit of information you could find has some amount of relevance to keep the player engaged. This directly tackles the text-as-lore gaming trope and instead treats the text as important narrative. They didn’t want to players to go searching behind every rock so they purposefully didn’t hide anything and only put content where there was something to be discovered. 

Along with only putting details where there was content, the developers did the same with music as there are different tracks that play as you discover major plot points. This makes the player feel immersed and as if they are actually progressing in the story. It also helps maintain a good rhythm within the game.

All in all, the story of the game is incredibly captivating. Its accomplishes this by focusing on a story driven narrative, enabling the player to have a genuine connection with an unseen race of aliens through the texts, and giving the player the freedom to uncover the mystery of the Nomai on their own.

Something cool about the narrative is that once you know everything and beat the game there is little to no deployability. The ending of the game can be achieved in a few steps that can be accessed right at the start of the time loop (but simply doing this won’t provide you with any understanding of the narrative).

Final Thoughts

Going into this game my expectations were relatively high given what I had heard about it but I didn’t know much about the game. I was very happy when my expectations were exceeded.

My only complaint is that some of the puzzles did not feel very intuitive and instead relied heavily on labor and luck. Sometimes you had to be in the right place at the right time or simply wait for something to happen. Either way it required a lot of trial and error. This caused me (and other players I’m sure) to search up guides on how to complete certain puzzles which ruined the immersion. But aside from that the game is difficult to critique.

I truly hope that this type of narrative structure is explored more by games in the future as it truly felt immersive and as if you were the one putting the story together rather than simply following along or playing as someone you’re not. I think the time loop mechanic lends itself very well to this type of narrative structure but finding a way to include it in the story does seem difficult. Outer Wilds is a great example of how to do this effectively.

It’s difficult to recommend this game without spoiling the story since that’s what makes it so interesting but the game is best experienced knowing as little as possible. So take my word for it. I’d recommend this game to any type of gamer, casual or experienced. And remember, the less you know the better.


Noclip – Video Game Documentaries. (2020, January 1). The Making of Outer Wilds – Documentary. YouTube.

Outer Wilds. Playstation 5 version, Annapurna, 2019.

Outer wilds. (2022, January 30). Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved February 2, 2022, from

Twelve Minutes: A Loop to the Past

Gameplay in Twelve Minutes takes place in a claustrophobic apartment.

By: Monty

The Game:

You walk out of the elevator of your apartment building, the green and red carpets and brown doors a familiar sight. You’re tired from work, and you are ready to see your wife and relax. When you enter the apartment, you are surprised to find that she has a secret to reveal to you–you’re going to be a father! Before you can enjoy the news, a knock at the door. A police officer. You let him in. He grabs your wife. You try to fight him off. He kills you.

You wake up. You just walked into your apartment.

Twelve Minutes is a game from the mind of Luis Antonio, an independent developer, published by Annapurna Interactive, a subsidiary studio of Annapurna Studios. Development for the game began in 2014, and the game would get announced at PAX East 2015. Six years after its reveal, the game would finally be released with some fanfare on XBOX and PC.

The game features a simple point-and-click gameplay loop (literally) where the player can move around with their mouse in the crowded apartment, exploring the different rooms looking for items to use to uncover more information. The game depends on a time loop that activates whenever your character is killed or about 10 in-real-life minutes pass. The time loop is the integral gameplay element, allowing your character to remember events in previous time loops, trying to incrementally solve the puzzles of the game and figure out what is happening.

The Point-and-Click Adventure Game

The adventure game genre is one of the largest genres of videogames, stemming all the way from the game ADVENT(URE) also known as Colossal Cave Adventure released in 1976 for PDP-10 mainframe computer. Since than, the burgeoning genre has come to create many exciting iterations and ideas, including the genre of the “point-and-click adventure.” In the 1980’s, the legendary King’s Quest series, described as one of the greatest series in the golden era of videogames, would put adventure games on the map.

The point-and-click adventure genre was also extremely popular in the early and late 1990’s, with many famous point-and-click adventure games appearing in this time including The Secret of Monkey Island (1990) and Grim Fandango (1998). These games would become known for their narratives, plot, and puzzles. Having played both the remasters myself, I found that they were an extremely engaging medium for storytelling, thought-provoking gameplay (though at times frustrating, we will get to that later), with a cast of interesting and compelling characters.

These games would peak in the 1990’s, as newer more exciting game genres started to appear over the horizon, such as the first-person-shooter, such as Quake (1996) and Doom (1993). It seems like the era of the point-and-click adventure game would end soon, not being able to compete with the fast-paced action, quicker narratives, and replayabiltiy of the newer titles coming out. Soon, the point-and-click adventure game, known for their slower gameplay and “once-and-done” style would soon become a distant memory.

The Problem with The Genre

Critics of the traditional point-and-click adventure game, such as Grim Fandango all seem to have one thing to say in common: some of the puzzles suck. And I mean really suck. The kind of suck that causes a player to sweat walking around the map looking for the thing they missed. The kind of suck that has a player deciding that maybe the best course of action is to reach for a guidebook or search online for a tutorial. And when that happens in a puzzle game, you’ve already lost the sauce. Puzzle games need to be difficult in some regard, it’s part of the fun. But yet there was something much more lethal about the way these point-and-click adventure games were creating this difficulty. No, it wasn’t that the puzzles were designed brilliantly in such a way that they were difficult due to the mental processes required, but rather they were seemingly being designed in such a way that these mental processes did not in fact matter. And this is where the idea of moon logic arises.

Moon logic is what it seems like, logic that would only make sense on the moon. It basically means that the logic required to solve the puzzles in these games required backwards or unintuitive thinking. And honestly, is there no bigger sin than a puzzle game that feels less like a puzzle and more like a gotcha from the developer to make you feel stupid?

I played both the remastered versions of The Secret of Monkey Island and Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge when I was 10 years old. At the time, I was having a blast with the game. It was the perfect combination of thoughtful puzzles, fun characters, and witty dialogue that a 10 year old would like. But there was one caveat, I had the internet. And with the internet, it meant I had guides. And oh boy did I use guides. I mean, to be fair, I was 10, and I really tried my best, but in a game where the game itself is locked behind difficult puzzles, of course I am going to look at guides if that means I get to play longer. And remember, it isn’t just about difficulty, but rather that the difficulty is artificially created by unintuitive design choices.

Difficulty in Games

Difficult videogames have had somewhat of a resurgence in the 2010’s. I mean, an entire genre of difficult videogames was spawned by the release of Dark Souls (2011), known as “soulslike” games (Note: Demon Souls (2009) was technically the first in the series to have the gameplay described by a “soulslike” game, but Dark Souls is when the series really took off and became the phenomenon that we know today.) And these games are difficult, but the difficulty is part of the draw of the game. Yes, the people who play these games want the difficulty, and the developers know this, so with every subsequent game, they stick to the formula of course, but they try to add incremental features to spice up the gameplay. And due to the nature of the difficulty, players find themselves engaged not just with the narrative of the game, but with the fundamental nature of the game itself. And yes, the game can get frustrating, but some of that frustrating adds to the excitement when the player finally gets the achievement of beating that hard boss, or getting that cool upgrade.

Even older genres, such as the “roguelike,” which is almost as old as the adventure game genre, have become extremely popular. Games such as The Binding of Isaac, Dead Cells, Risk of Rain, and Enter the Gungeon have all found great success with players and a large and excited community. Roguelikes, including all these games, are known for their difficulty, with permanent death mechanics, ever increasing difficult stages, and more and more things to keep track of being common in all these games. For example, Risk of Rain keeps track of how long you have been playing on a run, and increases the difficulty the longer the game goes. That means that you could stay on level 1 theoretically forever, but expect it not to feel like level 1 after sometime. And every year, new Roguelikes are being made, like Hades, which became a hit quickly.

Satisfaction and Innovation

The things that make roguelikes and soullikes succeed while the point-and-click adventure game fail is simple. Both the roguelike and the soullike game bring innovation with each game, and satisfaction for the player who plays it. A game’s design is more than just the ideas and thoughts of the developer, but rather how it is implemented and understood by the audience. With each roguelike that comes out, each new game relies on some new gimmick or idea to try to stay fresh, and with a genre as saturated as the roguelike is, developers are pushed to innovate for that next great idea. The Binding of Isaac took the roguelike and turned it into a bullet-hell game, where your character has to constantly be dodging enemy projectiles. Slay the Spire took the roguelike into a deck-building dungeon-crawling card game. Darkest Dungeon turned the roguelike into a classic turn-based RPG. These games are known for their innovating–for pushing the genre to its limits. I mean, a card-game roguelike really? Who would want to play that?

I’ve bought it on both PC and on my phone.

The Soulslike genre has a much harder time innovating than the roguelike; the genre isn’t as open-ended. So what do the developers do? They focus on what the games are good at: difficult but satisfying gameplay. A player feels accomplished when they win, because the game feels like it is a game of skill. Even if they looked up a guide on how to beat a boss, the boss is still difficult. See where I am going?

With the point-and-click puzzle, looking up the guide is game-over. You have basically beat the game on someone else’s back. The game being to difficult means that a player either risks disliking the game, quitting the game, or cheating the game (and maybe some combination of all three).

What Twelve Minutes Does Right

Twelve Minutes is a thoughtful creation over many years, and it shows. It tries to push the genre to its limits just as much as the roguelikes do. The creation of a time-loop keeps the game fresh and entertaining. This innovation brings the entire game together, from the narrative, to the puzzles, to the dialogue, all hinge on the time-loop being satisfying and interesting.

And in my opinion, it delivers.

The game does a great job of just keeping the player so close to solving the mystery, without ever getting them there till the end of the game. Many times I found myself thinking, “Oh, I see where this is going, I have to do this the next loop.” And you want that in a puzzle game. You want the puzzle to be intuitive and interesting. I loved stealing the intruder’s phone and reading his text messages from his daughter to get more information. I loved being able to kill the intruder for no reason (and knowing that the game doesn’t end for me here, I’ll just go to the next loop!) I loved (now this sounds grotesque) being able to grab the kitchen knife and just stab my wife for no reason (I mean hey, we all wanted to try it right?). When a game’s mechanics are as simple as a point-and-click games are, the puzzles need to be intuitive.

But it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Even this game has a little bit of moon logic here and there. Like, why did I have to drug my wife to get her to go to the bedroom? Can’t I just convince her to go to the bedroom? Why does the light switch knock out the intruder–is it really that powerful of a shock? That seems like a crazy safety hazard–you’re telling me they never got that fixed?

By locking the game into a small space, the player becomes intimately familiar with the location of the game, a pleasant and interesting idea compared to the sprawling worlds and maps of the 90’s predecessors. In some ways, the game innovates a dying genre in just enough ways to make it fresh and exciting again.

But is it enough?

SteamSpy shows that DeathLoop, a first-person shooter game made by Arkane Studios and published by Bethesda Games, that came out the same year as Twelve Minutes in 2021 has blown Twelve Minutes sales out of the water. It is important to realize that the main innovation of both games is the time-loop mechanic. Is the point-and-click adventure game just dead on arrival if an innovative and thoughtful game such as Twelve Minutes can’t sell anywhere close to more main stream genres. Maybe, but I think that the genre still has some juice in it, if developers are willing to try to find it on Earth rather than the moon.

Edge Of Tomorrow: The Blending of Movies & Video Games

By Monica Villarreal

In today’s modern world, it’s rare to meet anyone who hasn’t either experienced watching a movie or playing a game. The vast majority of us have done both, and with that you might have a personal preference for one and it makes sense. While both mediums have been proven to be strong sources of storytelling, they are vastly different with how they present their stories and thus how immersed the consumer can feel. However, slowly there’s been a trend of taking inspiration from one another with the most interesting one being movies taking notes from video games. 

In theory, it seems easier for a video game to replicate components of film than it is the other way around. That’s because film has more constraints than video games, and this leaves video games with more expressive freedom than what can be done with a camera. 

This is not to say video games are superior to film when it comes to storytelling. Instead, what I’m trying to emphasize is the difficulties that can come to bring one medium’s way of storytelling to the other. Video games rely heavily on interactivity and input from the audience, allowing them to experience the story in their own way. This can include the idea of “resetting” as one fails at a level of the game and must restart to try again. Of course, this depends on the type of game since not all of them have this function, but nonetheless this ability to loop and learn from your mistakes is prominent in what defines video games.

As for movies, we as the audience are simply viewers; watching pre-recorded pictures on screen. Components like acting, music, camera work and so forth make this timeless medium so enjoyable and in a way easy for video games to take inspiration from and not the other way around. There’s only so much one can do to replicate the same feelings and experiences that are so unique in video games, but that’s still not stopping directors from trying.

Doug Liman’s 2014 film Edge of Tomorrow is an example of this effort. Based in a world where humans are on the brink of losing to aliens, we follow the story of Major William Cage who after a few minutes in battle gets instantly killed. However, he instantly wakes up 30 hours into the past, starting this story of time loops as Cage tries to use this new skill to humanity’s advantage.

Taking inspiration from the aforementioned video game “death loop,” it’s clear that this is an example of the potential future films can be if they continue to explore the possibilities in games. The whole “start at the beginning when you die” is parallel to the experience of many video gamers when they have to start over after receiving the infamous “Game Over” screen. However, before we can imagine such scenarios we must inspect what exactly is done in Edge of Tomorrow to recreate this effect, but most importantly if this was a successful attempt or not.

Films Prior to Edge of Tomorrow

Before delving into what Edge of Tomorrow does right or wrong, let’s look at films who have either similar aspects to the movie’s time loop or video game qualities, specifically movies before this title’s release.

The biggest and most well-known example of a time loop based film in Western media is the 1993 film Groundhog Day, directed by Harold Ramis. This film, starring Bill Murray, revolves around a TV weatherman who, for unknown reasons, has found himself reliving the same day over and over again. No matter what he does, he wakes up to the same situation and has to relive the same normality for the entirety of the film up until the end when this loop stops. 

Our protagonist Phil finds himself waking up to the same situation in Groundhog Day.

Unlike Edge of Tomorrow, this film is more focused on the comedic aspects of such predicament and places our main character in humorous situations to keep the audience entertained and invested. In addition, although it’s not really inspired by any video game, the way it executed the idea of “looping” still plays a crucial role when we come to examine Edge of Tomorrow. 

Basically, Groundhog Day was a blueprint on how time loops could be used in film through a series of repetitive visuals, careful pacing, and a narrative built around this function. As we’ll soon discover, Edge of Tomorrow follows some of  these aspects, but there are some tweaks so it can have this Halo-esque feeling.

While Groundhog Day centers around time loops, one film that is literally fully inspired by video games is Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Edgar Wright’s 2010 film, based on a graphic novel of the same name, was revolutionary in the way it handled the theme of video games.

 On the surface, the story centers around titular Scott Pilgrim and his journey to defeat his girlfriend’s “seven evil exes.” However, what makes this film so outstanding is how heavily video-game inspired it is. From battling seven different bosses, collecting coins (or XP) when Pilgrim defeats an enemy, and its video game-like visuals, Scott Pilgrim feels like watching a video game. 

Titular Scott Pilgrim has learned the Power of Love, earning him the stats shown in the bottom left corner. Small details like these make this film feel so much like a game.

This movie is probably the most famous example of how movies can truly implement elements in games into film. And once again, although different from Edge of Tomorrow in story and style, we can see how it’s possible for films to borrow elements from a video game and successfully implement it to deliver something new to its audience.

Video Game Influence

Knowing there are films that can implement ideas seen in video games to this medium, it’s time to examine both how Edge of Tomorrow attempts to do so, and if by the end, it succeed. 

Firstly though, what does it mean to succeed?

For me, a film succeeds in implementing a games aspect when it provides two things. One is a brand new experience to the viewer that couldn’t have been done in any other form. What I mean by this is that by using functions seen in games, the film was capable of introducing something new and refreshing for the audience.

The second element focuses entirely on the main selling point of Edge of Tomorrow: the effectiveness of the time loop. Even though it’s repeating the same visuals, the same story points, and keeps the audience stuck along with the main character in this predicament, was it able to keep us entertained and not perhaps frustrated? After all, the vast majority of movies rely on providing new scenes and narrative points to keep the story going. We know Groundhog Day was able to do so, but it’s different with Edge of Tomorrow since this loop is directly tied to  the main character’s death. Every time he fails, we as an audience suffer the same punishment of having to start over, so one can see how this could become a problem for enjoyment.

In video games, depending on the genre, failing is part of the experience and enjoyment. From simple Tetris to “rage inducing” like Super Meat Boy or Worlds Hardest Game, the ability to lose and at the same time win is what makes the interaction with video games so unique. One game that is similar to Edge of Tomorrow includes Halo (2001) with it’s first-person shooter and main story quests. However, one game that perfectly encapsulates the feeling of trial-and-failure is Dark Souls (2011). 

Even with difficult boss battles, the reward of defeating them is what makes the challenge that is Dark Souls worth it.

This game is famous among the gaming community for being extremely difficult with the only way to progress being to simply “git gud.” However infuriating it might sound, this game succeeded because just as that catchphrase suggests, with hard work, practice, and skills players are able to advance in the game thus making the anger felt in fighting infuriating boss battles seem like nothing compared to the overwhelming feeling of accomplishment once you defeat them.

So as a result, it appears like a challenge for Edge of Tomorrow to replicate this same feeling without tiring the audience. The actions on screen are completely out of control, and all we’re left to do is stare and hope Cage doesn’t fail or else we’ll be brought back to the beginning.

However, even with these worries of boring the audience, I believe Edge of Tomorrow was able to bring the same struggle and joy of “restarting” in games to the audience through many different and unique storytelling techniques.

Succeeding in the Time Loop

For the first third of the movie, we are stuck watching Cage struggle and fail to advance in the story. He continues to die on the first attack on the beach, and we’re just left to see his failed attempt to move forward.

This might sound tedious to watch, but on the contrary it was made enjoyable with some minor yet important techniques.

 The first and most important comes to the editing of these sequences. The quick, short, and fast-paced cuts between each of Cage’s attempts keeps viewers invested in the film even with it’s repetitive nature. We are focusing all of our attention on keeping up with Cage’s attempts to succeed, and with each failure we can laugh or groan in slight frustration, ready for Cage to try again. 

Through the rapid camera shots, fast movement, and constant action, we as viewers are thrown into this initial time-loop madness with Cage at the beginning of the film.

The repetitive nature of this portion of the film is described best described by Erin Manning’s idea of “preacceleration.” This rapid sequence of events perfectly pulls the viewer into the story, preparing them before we begin to truly see advancements in the story once Cage begins to train and slowly improve.

This plays into the second factor of making this time loop successful with that being the pacing in the narrative. After the preacceleration, we get to accompany Cage’s journey of slow-yet-steady improvement as he gets further and further into the day. Just as in a game, this is the part when the consumer of the medium can feel the effort and see results, or in the case of the movie we see it. 

However, what also helps the story move along is that eventually Cage is ahead of the audience. We stop seeing every single failure he goes through, so we’re left to decide if what we’re experiencing the same thing on-screen as Cage. This small detail immensely helps drive the story forward as Cage now becomes the one guiding us through the story. We’re no longer on the same level as him, and that itself makes it even more interesting for us to experience.

This plays to the third part of what made this film work so well: the narrative. For the last half of the film, this once “annoying” yet minor inconvenience of restarting has become more personal. We begin to learn more about this world and it’s story, and through his daily interactions with the people around him, we learn more about who Cage is as a person. 

 In addition, we slowly get to see him build connections with people who he continuously has to meet for the first time over and over again which causes him to begin to care for these people where now each reset is a death to both him and his relationships.

By combining all of these factors together, Edge of Tomorrow ends up delivering it’s audience a refreshing taste of narrative that’s so commonly seen in video games. As a result, we end up with an exciting, new, and refreshing film that couldn’t have been possible without the inspirations behind it. 

Only The Beginning

Edge of Tomorrow has proven that the once thought notion that films can’t replicate the experiences tied to video games can be contested, and to be honest this is pretty exciting. As the film industry begins to take more notice of the unique storytelling potential video games have, all we can do is to wait and see how the possibilities of visual storytelling expand or even begin pushing these boundaries ourselves. Maybe one day we’ll be able to directly interact with films in theaters, or perhaps directly experience the anger of “game over” on the big screen. But until then, we just have to wait until tomorrow.


Edge of Tomorrow. Directed by Doug Liman. 2014. Netflix.

Juul, Jesper, and William Uricchio. “How to Fail in Video Games.” The Art of Failure, edited by Geoffrey Long, The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2013, pp. 69–90.

Ledet Christiansen, Steen. Rhythms Now : Henri Lefebvre’s Rhythmanalysis Revisited. Aalborg University Press, 2019.

Manning, Erin. Relationscapes: Movement, Art, Philosophy. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2009.

Montfort, Nick, et al. “Repetition in Process.” 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10, The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2013, pp. 90–103. 

Elsinore: All’s Well That Plays Well

Zachary Putera Jia Hao Lee

Elsinore: All’s Well That Plays Well

There are few things that pierce the heart quite like missed potential. Within this group of heartbreak, one particular subset exists as the most offensive— the sort that lies just short of greatness. The kind of thing possessing a flaw that, if singly addressed, would completely overturn the negatives associated with it.

Elsinore is one of these things.

I had terribly high hopes going into Elsinore. As an English major who has played and enjoyed many games within the time loop subgenre, I was excited for what Elsinore had to offer. On paper, it had everything that I was looking for in a game— a novel premise, a focus on storytelling, and just enough literary pretension for me to wish I were an English/MAAD double major instead of an English/Economics one. That sensation, unfortunately, was short-lived. In a mere ten hours, any hopes I had had for the game were dashed—repeatedly and identically—by the mechanical inadequacies of Elsinore’s time loop experience. On the bright side, the feeling allowed me to identify more closely with Ophelia’s plight. We shared a common despair, marked by the same initial highs, deflating repetitions, constant frustrations and unhappy conclusions.

While I had a less-than-stellar experience with the game, it would be unjust to simply call it bad. There is, rather painfully, a tremendous amount to love about the game. The characters, while one-dimensional, fulfill their purposes well, and fill out their roles in the main plot and their own, smaller stories excellently. The cast is also very diverse, replete with underrepresented demographics fitted sensibly into whatever roles would most suit them, and all within the short “screen times” that they were allotted.

It doesn’t stop at the characters, though; Elsinore knocks its thematic goals out of the park. While Elsinore does an excellent job discussing death, metaphysics, time, and relationships, I was most struck by what it had to say about sacrifice. The tale of Elsinore reminds players that, in many cases, choices that require sacrifices must be made. The narrative draws attention to the impossibility of endings so happy that no one loses out— a pertinent reminder that befits the tragedy the game is based on. To drive this point home, the game even goes so far as to delete the player’s save file once an ending is reached, emphasizing the finality of any difficult decisions made by them throughout their playthrough. Very few games can fully make use of meta devices to elevate their narratives— Elsinore is one of those games.

While Elsinore is far from a perfect game, it stands as a meaningful and novel exploration of the cross section between video games and literature by developers Golden Glitch. The opportunity to explore Middle Age Denmark through Ophelia’s eyes is a wonderful love letter to the Shakespearean canon that should at least be given a try. 

Unfortunately, it only takes a handful of mistakes to sap the enjoyment out of even the most carefully constructed time loop game. Elsinore fails where its mechanics begin. Despite the best efforts of Elsinore’s developers, the level of scrutiny demanded by the time loop subgenre proved to be too overwhelming for Golden Glitch to handle. To the developer’s credit, many strides were made in an attempt to provide players with the best possible experience, including a loop-resetting button, the ability to speed up time, and a detailed timeline, among other things. However, this was not enough. The team bounded over the glaring hurdles in time loop game design, but stumbled over the more insidious bumps endemic to the subgenre along the way.

Incongruent gameplay mechanics—such as the inability to fully view NPC conversations if time is sped up too quickly—are some of the main culprits stymying the flow of the game. Aesthetic choices, such as the developer’s decisions to force players to listen to Hamlet rave and Polonius rebuke at the beginning of every loop, grow from minor annoyances to legitimate frustrations over the course of several dozen loops.

In other circumstances, players must go against what the game is training them to do in order to progress any further. A particularly egregious example of this is when Ophelia is investigating Lady Brit. Against all previous examples, the player is supposed to follow Lady Brit into the art gallery and wait for her to begin talking to herself in order to obtain key information necessary to continue the game. Until that point, every other conversation that I had eavesdropped on took place between two or more people. To have the in-game intuition that had been built up in me circumvented at the first major plot point was deeply exasperating, and transformed Elsinore from a game where I could exercise my own mental faculties to figure things out into a guessing game revolving around seemingly arbitrary developer dos and don’ts. It doesn’t help that, by the end of the game, players are left with a endings so unsatisfying that completion of the game can feel more like a punishment than a reward.

This is the hamartia of Elsinore. The game contains a collection of overlooked mechanical foibles that, within the context of an infinitely recurring time loop, culminate in an unpleasantness potent enough to rob it of any significant enjoyment.

I do, however, feel like it would be disingenuous to sit in the critic’s chair and decry the quality of an otherwise high-effort game without providing any solutions to the problems that I have brought up. As such, I want to take a short look at two great games that deal with the mechanics of time looping: The Forgotten City and Virtue’s Last Reward. The former will address the mediocre payoff of Elsinore’s endings, and how to improve them, while the latter will provide an alternative to Elsinore’s cumbersome time-skipping functions.

The Forgotten City offers four endings. Unlike Elsinore’s endings, every ending in The Forgotten City feels somewhat substantial, and all result in consequences that you would expect to manifest as a direct result of your actions. Additionally, the ending screen shows a small bar that provides a rough estimate of how much longer the player will have to keep playing in order to reach the other endings. In addition to this playtime-related hint, the first three endings provide players with a tip that will direct them towards acquiring the next remaining ending. 

I can understand Elsinore not providing hints on how to reach specific endings, but considering how arbitrary the steps to reach the secret ending of the game are, it might make sense to direct players’ attentions to the necessary conditions that must be fulfilled to reach said ending. Additionally, Elsinore’s endings felt very nominal to me. Their scrolling text and still backgrounds did them no favors, and certain endings felt tacked on to pad out otherwise unimportant happenings within the game. If Elsinore contained fewer but more fleshed out endings, the toil of sitting through janky mechanics would be more forgivable, and would likely make the game more satisfying to play. 

While The Forgotten City merits praise for its hands-off, minimally extradiegetic guidance, Virtue’s Last Reward deserves attention for a wholly different—but equally effective—method of time loop management. After completing their first ending, the player is allowed to restart the game from any of the points demarcated in the above screenshot. This way, players can easily pick up from where they left off, and not have to sit through previously consumed material just to get to where they want to on the timeline.

Elsinore touts about two-thirds of the number of endings that Virtue’s Last Reward does, but provides no similar system to allow players to easily reach pivotal choices. This makes sense, considering Elsinore leaves far more up to the player’s discretion— having a chart like the one shown above would demystify the exploration process that Elsinore seems so insistent upon. Nonetheless, skips to particular days or times might have been useful to alleviate some of the tedium that could otherwise be caused by the time loop mechanics of the game.

While both of the aforementioned games provide ideas that could improve the Elsinore experience, it is also important to acknowledge Elsinore’s categorical dissimilarities from them. The Forgotten City is a first-person, mystery adventure game with some combat elements. Virtue’s Last Reward is a more tightly constrained visual novel. Neither of the games’ mechanics would fit perfectly onto the point-and-click mould of Elsinore. Regardless, as is the case with all good games, there are certainly aspects of both The Forgotten City and Virtue’s Last Reward that Golden Glitch could learn from.

Behind Elsinore’s wall of mechanical mediocrity is, frustratingly, an original, earnest game that utilises its subject matter without adulterating it. The difficulty of designing games with multiple endings and even more ways to get there is not lost on me. While I have strong words to say about my personal experience with Elsinore, I was encouraged by how positive people’s reviews of it were online, and am hopeful that others will give the game a try to experience the good it has to offer. Much like their debut game, Golden Glitch clearly has a lot of potential— I just hope that they can put it to use.


Kyokugen Dasshutsu ADV: Zennin Shibou Desu(PlayStation Vita) by bleaker on January 01, 2013. (n.d.). Ally or betray, whichever you choose, do not overlook this game. Giant Bomb. Retrieved February 3, 2022, from

YouTube. (2021). YouTube. Retrieved February 3, 2022, from 

Traveling Back in Time with Emily is Away <3


“It’s 2008 and AIM is dead” So begins Emily is Away <3. You, as the player protagonist, have just left AOL Instant Messaging (AIM) to join Facenook, the new and exciting thing on the Internet. While the game is set in Facenook, it looks and feels a lot like a platform you may have heard of called Facebook. In simulating Facebook from 2008, the game raises questions about how the Internet and social media have changed since 2008 as well as the role of technology companies in shaping daily life. In addition to being set at a pivotal moment for technology, the game is set at a pivotal moment for the characters, including the player, who are all seniors in high school. On his website, Kyle Seeley, the game’s creator, writes Emily is Away ❤ “highlights the universal story of growing up and growing apart.” Throughout the game,  the relationships between the characters are constantly in flux and, depending on the decisions made by the player, these relationships may end up being very different by the end of the game, the summer after senior year, than they were at the beginning, the fall of senior year. This is particularly true of the relationship between the player protagonist and either Emily or Evelyn, one of whom the player will end up dating in the game’s first chapter.

Specificity & Immersion

The game is designed to immerse the player in the world of 2008 Facenook/Facebook. The game’s user interface looks dated and the sounds notifying users that the game has booted up or that they have received a message are reminiscent of older PCs. Upon installing the game, players are encouraged to close all other windows and programs on their laptop for full immersive effect. The game also provides several desktop backgrounds that the player can download and apply to their computer’s desktop. The game’s primary mode of storytelling, messaging, also feels quite realistic. Upon choosing from one of three message options, the player must then “type” out the message by typing randomly on their keyboard, though this is a setting that can be turned off. This has both the effect of making the experience feel more realistic and of drawing out the narrative. The messaging simulation additionally includes highly specific details, such as notifications indicating when the other character is typing or deleting, that add depth to the interaction with characters by indicating pauses or uncertainty as the character messages.

In addition to simulating the technology of 2008, the game is firmly grounded in the Internet and popular culture of 2008. At the beginning of each chapter, the player is encouraged to select their favorite movies, television, music, and books from a list where works are represented by pixelated icons rather than listed titles. The player needs to be quite familiar with a given work in order to recognize it from its icon, which requires the player to have specific knowledge of 2008 popular culture. Characters also constantly send the player links to Youtoob, which opens in the browser, where the player can listen to playlists and watch clips. Facenook quizzes also abound.


The specificity and immersion of the game are meant to elicit a sense of nostalgia for the world of 2008 Facebook. However, as someone who was too young to use Facebook in 2008, this was not my personal experience of the game. The game seems to focus more on the positive aspects of social media platforms, such as their ability to create spaces of sociality. Because of this, I read the game as more of an innocent, naive view of social media. The game’s Facenook seems disconnected from the current reality of Facebook and the negative societal consequences of Facebook’s design, including polarization and data privacy issues. This is not necessarily a negative aspect of the game and may make it even more enjoyable for players, but, given Facebook’s current prominence in public debates, these issues were still top of mind for me as I was playing. 

Additionally, the Facebook/Facenook portrayed in the game did not really connect with my personal experiences of Facebook. For instance, as a player in 2022, I found the lack of political content on the platform to be particularly conspicuous. I found this to be an especially interesting choice given the game’s setting during the autumn of 2008 and, therefore, during the presidential election in which social media became an increasingly important part of campaigning. Likely in part due to my age, the game’s nostalgia was ultimately lost on me, though I found the game’s specificity to be impressive.

Anonymity & the Encyclopedic Nature of the Internet

Emily is Away ❤ alludes to but does not fully explore two important aspects of Internet life: anonymity and the Internet’s encyclopedic nature. The game is set before Facebook started requiring users to use their legal names on the platform, and the player can choose any name they would like as well as any of the profile images provided. Once in the game, however, the player is only ever allowed to interact with characters that the player (as a character) is supposed to know in real life. This limits the player’s ability to explore anonymity on the Internet, though the game does allow for one scenario in which the player protagonist can “experience” anonymity by using their friend Matt’s second Facenook profile to chat anonymously with the Jeff/Steve character.  Likewise, the player can, for the most part, only interact with content generated by these characters or brought to their attention by the characters, which limits the player’s ability to explore the encyclopedic nature of the Internet. The player can leave Facenook to visit Youtoob, but the Internet of Emily is Away ❤ is constrained to these two sites. Understandably, the player does not have the entire simulated Internet as it was in 2008 at their disposal; however, the game’s strict branching structure and the limited response options for the player compound this limitation. In comparison to Emily is Away and Emily is Away Too that take place over AOL Instant Messaging, Emily is Away ❤ does provide a richer and more encyclopedic version of the Internet for the player to explore. 

Gender & Sexuality 

It is also important to consider the many critiques, defenses, and views of the game’s treatment of gender and sexuality. In her article on Emily is Away <3, Maddy Myers nicely summarizes the points made by other critics and players and provides links to other articles on the topic. Because players must choose to date either Emily or Evelyn in the game, some critics, including Myers and Emily Short, have argued that the game is too rigid and exclusive in its treatment of gender and sexuality. For instance, Myers and Short point to hints at Emily/Evelyn’s past relationships with men and potential future relationships with Jeff/Steve. In writing about Emily is Away, Short says, “the bulk of the story reads to me as heteronormative” and notes there is nothing specifically in the story to support alternate readings. Similarly, Bruno Dias writes, “a lot of squinting is required to read it as anything but the story of a boy’s crush on a girl” about Emily is Away, but I believe this view is accurate for Emily is Away ❤ as well. In contrast to these views, Avery Delaney explains, “The absence of an explicit, predetermined gender set by the game and reinforced through the narrative gave me a sense of freedom to interpret my character and their relationships” and argues that the game’s core relationship can be read as a queer relationship. Ultimately, this aspect of the game raised questions for me about how to create inclusive first person games and when it may be appropriate or not to create a game played from a very specific perspective. 


In part due to my age, the specificity of Emily is Away ❤ and the nostalgia that it was supposed to induce went over my head. What I found most interesting about the game was not its story or characters. Instead, I was drawn to its attempt to encapsulate the specifics of a time (2008-2009) and place (the Internet). In many ways, the Internet of 2008 is the game’s most interesting character, and the aspects of the Internet that are emphasized in Emily is Away ❤ reveal a lot about how the Internet has changed (or not) since 2008. 


Corcoran, Nina. “Emily Is Away Re-Creates Social Media’s Awkward, Early Days.”

Delaney, Avery. “Revisiting the Conversations of ‘Emily is Away’.”

Dias, Bruno. “Emily is Away: A Review.”

Myers, Maddy. “The Emily Is Away trilogy makes DMing your crush into a doomed game.”

Seeley, Kyle. “Emily is Away.”  

Short, Emily. “No Longer IF Comp 2015: Emily is Away.”