Welcome back to the second and final part of our weird game experience, here’s Part 1. Today’s words are brought to you by the talented Angie Hewitt. Follow her on Twitter and watch her on Twitch. Enjoy!
Last time, I wrote about some of the weirder or less mainstream gaming experiences out there. My hope is to broaden people’s definition of what computer games are and can be. We are entering the brave new world of Virtual Reality (a post for another time), but it’s still worth noting that there are plenty of games already available which can offer players something different.
Life is Strange
LiS is another narrative-driven game, but this one is episodic. Episodic means releasing games in short segments, putting out “chapters” periodically. It’s a format that’s been used before by studios such as Telltale Games (with beloved older titles like Sam & Max), and increasingly popular in games such as Hitman, Tales of the Borderlands, The Wolf Among Us, Game of Thrones, Minecraft Storymode and The Walking Dead.
Back to LiS: you play Maxine, an awkward girl who’s studying photography and trying to fit in at a new school. Whilst witnessing a violent crime, Maxine discovers she is able to rewind time to a certain point, to remake decisions and to change the future. As with most episodic games, the decisions you make mean something and will lead to different slightly outcomes, so be careful which path you choose. Whilst one course of action may seem like the right one, it can have unintended and tragic consequences, especially when you can only rewind time so far.
It’s an interactive drama which had been lauded for its emotional impact. It’s also been mocked, too, with some critics labeling it “Tumblr: the game.” This is because the game deals with some complex themes, including identity and depression. Oh, and the two main characters are female, so of course it’s been dismissed as a SJW (social justice warrior) game.
I haven’t played through the whole thing myself yet, but I plan to, and I already know a few spoilers. I’ve read reviews where critics have been bereft by a choice you must make in the game, so be prepared.
Also, one of the characters says “hella” an ungodly amount of times in the first episode, so consider yourself warned.
The Room (the game)
No, not one of the many mobile games where you must try to escape a puzzle-locked room. This The Room is an unofficial tribute to the movie of the same name.
The Room is a playable version of the cult film The Room. Tommy Wiseau wrote, directed and starred (as Johnny) in one of the most unintentionally funny films ever made. It gained notoriety for its terrible acting and odd story choices. Characters appear and disappear at random (often because actors were walking off the set in despair), the dialogue was horrific (anyone for a scene where a character tells a story about domestic violence, which is then dismissed as an amusing anecdote?!), and the plot made no fucking sense. What little plot there is depicts Johnny as a victim, loved by everyone except his manipulative fiancee, Lisa, who makes his life hell. It very much seems like Tommy was dumped in real life and decided to make a movie out of spite. They’re actually creating a film about the surreal and terrible making of The Room, which I am absolutely watching.
In the game, you play Johnny, reenacting the scenes from the film. However, there is original material as well which gives the story an actual, coherent plot, something the film failed to achieve. There are secrets to be discovered (such as what the hell creepy Denny actually keeps in his room), which make this fresh and interesting, despite how many times you’ve endured the movie.
It’s a charming and amusing game experience which will probably be a lot funnier if you’ve actually watched The Room. If nothing else, the sight of a naked 8-bit Tommy Wiseau should be enough to tempt/horrify you. The game is free to play online.
The Stanley Parable
This is one game I haven’t played, but mostly because I’m terrified to do so. It’s another interactive fiction, exploration game (are you sensing that I have a preference here?), but it’s much more open than most. You play Stanley, an office worker, whose computer suddenly goes blank. You get up to find help, but there is no one around. A narrator explains parts of your situation, but the story is decided by you. Or not. It’s complicated.
There are six different endings in total and which one you end up with is determined by the choices you make. Where a choice is possible (e.g. go through the left door, or the right one), the narrator will tell you which one you should pick. However, it’s up to you to decide whether you follow his advice or go against him. Or you may not make a choice at all.
From the gameplay I’ve seen, The Stanley Parable is a surreal and inventive take on interactive fiction; one critic likened it to Being John Malkovic. Davey Wresden, one of these game’s designers and writers, wanted to create a game where the player had the ability to choose, unlike other games which had a set of rules about your destination and how you should get there. The reason the game terrifies me is that a) I’m a wuss (ask Madeleine – she will testify that I spend most horror films hiding behind a cushion) (EDIT: This is true, and yes we torment her – Madeleine) and b) the surreal landscape of the gameplay that I have seen has been somewhat unnerving.
If you want something more than “press X not to die” in your interactive fiction, this is an interesting start.
This is the only mobile game on the list, but it’s so very different from your everyday Candy Crush imitators and Farmville clones.
Reigns employs a mechanic more typically seen in Tinder: swiping left or right. You play a king, and the aim of the game is to achieve a longer and longer reign through various incarnations. To do this, you are offered choices to determine the fate of your kingdom and, eventually, you. You must maintain and balance four elements: the Army, the Church, the People and the Treasury. Nearly every choice you make has some impact, but you can only choose Yes or No by swiping left or right. Do you want to heal the people? Great! The People will be very happy, but, ah, the Treasury is going into the red because you’ve had to spend money to build hospitals. Keep one element happy and you’ll do well, adding years onto your reign, but what benefits one can weaken the others.
Trying to ensure no element is too weak (the Treasury is bankrupt! The kingdom revolts and you die in a ditch!) or, conversely, too strong and well-off (the Treasury is full! You eat a sumptuous feast to celebrate and die from choking on a fishbone!) is a difficult task to manage.
However, you will die; that’s inevitable. Once you do, you start again, sometimes with different goals to achieve and choices to make: you can meet the Devil, follow the dog, uncover the conspiracy, find a lover, employ a witch, and so on. After multiple playthroughs you will notice some repetition, but this is part of the game: it’s all about learning from past mistakes and trying to be a better king, all whilst trying to unlock different endings. It costs a couple of quid, but well worth it for the amount of time sunk into it.
Farming Simulator and Goat Simulator
Oh god, these games. OK, so I’ve talked about dating sim games (Hatoful Boyfriend: forever in my heart), but a new genre of simulators had been gaining popularity in recent years.
The strangely successful Farming Simulator and Euro Truck Simulator 2 (where you are literally carrying out realistic farming and driving jobs in a computer game) may seem an odd way to spend your evenings, but there’s an audience for it. Just go on Steam right now and you’ll see cooking simulation, train simulation and plane simulation games aplenty. This popularity is either because the games are often meant to mimic real-life tasks closely (and thus almost act like training), or because some people just really, really like relaxing by taking a tractor around a computer-generated field.
Farming Simulator had sold over four million copies so far, and counting. Bear in mind that Destiny, a game with a massive launch and studio behind it, has 25 million users worldwide: in context, this weirdly specific Farming Simulator game has achieved nearly a fifth of the same amount of users. And their game is literally about carrying out farming chores.
Goat Simulator is a different take on the simulator experience. You play a goat. Your aim is to create mayhem. Using your oddly elastic tongue, you have challenges to compete, and damage to wreak. In one playthrough I found, the YouTuber had managed to get the goat to chill out on the top of a hang-glider, whilst another persisted in just throwing people around the map.
It’s very, very stupid and is intended as a humorous diversion. Goat Simulator is fun to play for a while, but it’s not exactly got a compelling plot to hook you. Be warned: this game is reputedly buggy as hell, which is conversely one of the reasons people love it; more often than not, they’re trying to break the game and glitch the goat character in the silliest way possible.
This is just the tip of the iceberg and some of the games have been out for a while. If you really want to explore insure gaming further, itch.io is a site focused on sharing indie games, games which can be very experimental (the previously featured Succulent being one of them). Some of these games are free or pay what you want, but if you’re unsure whether they’re worth it, check out YouTube to see if anyone has done a Let’s Play, just so you can see whether it’s to your taste or not.