The world of You’ve Got Mail, directed by Nora Ephron, at first appears much like our own. That is until you realize you are watching a romantic comedy. Now this is not to say that the genre makes the film any less good, as is sometimes associated with the notorious rom-com. As I watched the film, I found myself genuinely feeling either sad or happy for the characters and either laughing with or at them. What is it about the rom-com genre that just works? I am no stranger to the genre, in fact, I have seen so many of the Hallmark Channel’s low budget holiday rom-coms. However, whether the film is produced by Hallmark or being played on the big screen, the format of the rom-com remains fairly consistent. There is almost always the budding love, followed by conflict, ending in a resolution of forgiveness and love. There are also other themes and tropes sprinkled throughout, some relating to the main love story, others not so much, however these themes can sometimes add extra conflicts, or other ideas, that end up not resolved in the end. These contradictions between the real word and movie world can in some cases pull the audience out of the main story, yet in the rom-com, this seems not to matter.
Her Story is a 2015 FMV detective mystery game by Sam Barlow. Throughout the game, the player acts as an unidentified investigator of sorts, gleaning through a police database of video clips from seven interrogations of a woman, Hannah Smith, to solve the murder case of her husband Simon (initially presumed missing) in 1994. The only information on the game’s objective right off the bat comes in the form of saved files on the desktop that explain the premise of searching through clips and compiling the story behind the murder case. As a player, you type keywords into the database’s search bar to unlock clips that include the words you searched, but only have access to the first five clips that appear from the interrogations chronologically. The game begins with the word “MURDER” already typed into the search bar, which primes the player for perceiving the game as a murder mystery. Other functions accessible as a player are the tagging function, which allow you to add tags to video clips to sort them into related categories, and the add to session function, which saves video clips in a bar at the bottom of the database to return to later. The Database Checker on the home screen indicates how many clips out of 271 available, varying in length and content, the player has already viewed. The ChitChat app, a messenger program, appears on the screen after unlocking most of the story, at which point the player can finish the game without having viewed all of the interrogation clips.
Minecraft is a lot of things. Its best description is an open-world sandbox survival game first published by Mojang in alpha version 1.0 in 2010. Although the type of game can be narrowed down in this way, approaching the particular genre of story Minecraft provides is a bit more difficult. In the original (and most well-known) game mode, “Survival Mode,” The player spawns into a randomly generated world of colorful blocks representing the materials that the world is constructed out of. The player can immediately begin exploring and collecting resources to craft tools and to build structures within this natural world. Throughout a single playthrough in Alpha 1.1 the player can traverse plains, hills, mountains, rivers, oceans, and caves. The only things the player will never find in this world is a hint of an existing story.
Although each world of Minecraft is essentially infinite as they generate new biomes as the player explores farther from spawn, the Alpha version was completely devoid of generated structures. The player can travel as far as they desire, but they will never encounter any objects, terrains, or structures hinting at a sign of “civilization” nor will they find any type of story or objective to follow. The world is open for exploration and change driven solely by the player. In this way, the world exists for the player to do with it whatever they wish to do. The state of Minecraft remained relatively static for over a year, except for the addition of The Nether, an alternate realm only accessible by constructing a portal. The Nether also lacked structures, goals, and story elements, but it provided several new materials to be acquired, opening the door for new possibilities for the player to build.
The Forest is a first person open-world survival game with a horror twist. In the opening sequence your character, survivalist Eric Leblanc, experiences a plane crash while traveling with his young son Timmy. The crash disorients your character, and one of the last things you see before falling unconscious is a human figure picking up Timmy and carrying him away. Once you regain consciousness, the game truly begins. Armed with a survival guide, a small axe, and whatever small items you pick up around in the plane, you step out into the forest to begin your adventure.
“Attention. Hull failure imminent. All personnel abandon ship.” Heavy breathing as we climb into the escape pod. “Launch in 3…2…1”. The pod falls apart as a panel hits us in the head and renders us unconscious. Everything is black. We open our eyes to see fire and need to put it out and leave the escape pod. Our ship is in the distance, but we are completely and totally alone. We look out into the infinite ocean and as survival seems a daunting prospect, we know that is the only option.
CONTENT WARNING This game contains representations of psychosis. People with experience of psychosis as well as professionals in psychiatry have assisted in these depictions.
Hello, who are you? …It doesn’t matter. Welcome. You are safe with me. I’ll be right here, nice and close so I can speak without alerting the others. Let me tell you about Senua. Her story has already come to an end but now, it begins anew. This is a journey deep into darkness. There will be no more stories after this one.
Last Day of June begins with a happy couple, June and Carl, enjoying a romantic evening by the lake. On their way home, however, they get into a car crash which Carl survives, but June does not. Carl struggles with the death of his wife, but he finds a potential solution to his grief in her art studio. Carl can rewind time by interacting with her portraits and change the actions of a specific neighbor. Using this power, he attempts to prevent the car crash from happening over and over again until it is eventually caused by severe weather. Knowing that he cannot prevent the storm or the date, Carl decides to take June’s place in the passenger seat, sacrificing himself so that June and their unborn baby can live. There are some aspects of the game that suggest June never died and was instead imagining this scenario in her grief (one such example being June’s sketchbook, which shows the player’s failed attempts at stopping the crash), but the story in which the player enacts is what I’ve described. For the entire game, we’re led to believe that we’re controlling Carl, and I don’t think either story changes the successes or shortcomings of the game. The June reading is an interesting interpretation, but it is a separate conversation and so I’m going to set that aside for this analysis. If you’d like to read more about it, here is a link to Nate Hohl’s article that proposes the theory: https://ag.hyperxgaming.com/article/3202/last-day-of-june-ndash-figuring-out-the-games-ending.
At its most simplistic description, Elsinore is a click-and-point adventure game where the player embodies Hamlet’s Ophelia. As the game unfolds, your abilities as a player expand. At the start, you learn that you are living through Shakespeare’s tragedy but you are able to interact with it by clicking on the characters around you and either following them or talking to them. You can only talk to people about information that you gather from others, stored in your electronic journal as “hearsay.” You also gain hearsay by following characters and listening in on their conversations. One of your main sources of agency in the game comes from your ability to distribute information to characters that might change their course of action— something we often long for as viewers of tragedy, when we want to warn Romeo that Juliet is simply sleeping or tell Hamlet that it’s not his uncle behind the curtain.
Signs of the Sojourner uses its deck-building structure as a jumping off point for creating a procedural rhetoric that encourages empathetic, compassionate communication. Players can only succeed in conversations–and therefore receive the items they need to complete goals and the information to unlock new paths–by forming matches with characters. In order to form a match, players have to recognize the right-hand symbol of the other character and mirror it. In order to set up a subsequent match, the player must introduce a new symbol that corresponds to the kinds of symbols the character they are talking to is likely to have. There can only be a match when characters listen to each other and recognize their partner’s conversation style. And in order to do this, players need to intentionally build a deck suited to the characters they want to talk to.
The tug of war between narratives and interactive gameplay elements and how to balance the two is a heavily contested issue when it comes to the conversation about video games and their narratives, with many narratologists arguing that video games can inherently not be narrative experiences due to their interactive nature. However, as Henry Jenkins brings up in ‘Game Design as Narrative Architecture’, statements that pit interactivity against narrative by labeling them as opposites may be ignoring some nuances in favor of more rigid definitions of storytelling being very heavily controlled by an author rather than have any level of input by the player/audience. In presenting some middle ground between the two camps, Jenkins presents the notion of environmental or spatial storytelling, whereby he describes game designers as not simply telling stories, but as designing worlds and sculpting spaces. He categorizes them into four major types, which we will explore using The Fullbright Company’s game, Gone Home.