Filling in the Blanks

I picked up a game called Her Story last week knowing almost nothing about it. What I did know was that it was a form of game would lend itself to casting. We could all play it together. In this game, you a presented with a series of interviews conducted by police of a murder suspect. It’s up to the player to work out what happened.

This isn’t really so much a strict review of the game. It’s great, by the way. Through playing it I noticed something more about the way in which we play games. The state of gaming as a hobby at the moment. More likely the prevalent form in which those games take. It reinforced in myself a thought I’ve always had; our minds are a powerful element more often than not left out of the game experience.

Let me explain.

I went into Her Story prepared only on one level, and it was something I warned my audience about. Bring lots of paper. Bring a pen or pencil. Truth be told, the first ‘part’ of the game, if you could call it that, was taking a lot of notes. It was piecing together the various stories coming out of the interviews.

There came a point however where we had formed an idea of what we thought was going on. The notes became less and less important. Through the narrative of the game, we had come to our opinions on what was going on.

As we came to what was essentially the end game, we were given prompts, but the game itself hadn’t yet told us the ‘actual’ answer. I reasoned with my audience that we were unlikely to get what the ‘correct’ answer to the game was, we already had our version of the story. That was it. When we went to the endgame options, the credits rolled. A lot of the audience were aghast.

Her Story really does have a cunning way of playing with narrative, and that’s its strength. At a design level, its actually little more than a number of video files cut up and given keywords that you search to uncover the overall story. It’s a few steps simpler than an old style text adventure, one could argue. But it was engaging our minds to fill in the blanks, to provide what the game didn’t.

This comes back to my initial point. Our minds are a powerful element that are more often than not left out of gaming. I believe my audience were probably looking for the screen that explained everything and said ‘yes, you got it right’. Most of our gaming experiences are simple narratives. We’re provided with instruction, and given reward when these problems are solved. At the end of the game, it’s complete. We have the trophies to assure us we have 100% completion.

I’d have to admit that while having these thoughts I am from an older age of gaming. It’s easier to be presented with things now. When I grew up, the player was expected to fill in a lot of the blanks. There were simple graphics, more representational. People would pay as much for a text based adventure game as they would an arcade style game. Your mind and imagination had to do a lot of overtime.

Going through the experience of Her Story with my audience was a powerful one. Not just because it was a group experience, but because it was exposure to a form of gaming that requires one to think outside the box. Beyond problem solving skills, Her Story expected us a player to come up with our own story, almost. And all of the three or four versions that my audience and I came up with were entirely valid.

I feel that it’s good to expose people to gaming styles that are outside of the norm, especially ones that toy with narratives and how we engage our minds. There are other examples out there. The recent Silent Hills tech demo is a good example. There are many outcomes to this narrative, but at any number of points the player can disengage and tell themselves they’re satisfied with the outcome. They’re happy that they know whats going on.

Minecraft is another example. In this game we’re engaged in building whatever we want in an endless sandbox. Even the rules are malleable through mods or modes. A lot of the enjoyment of the game comes through us filling in the blanks with our minds and imagination- the stories that we tell ourselves though the experience, and with others who we take along for that journey.

That’s not to say the state of gaming is bad, or that we should be expected to use our brains when it comes to all games. It is excellent though when we’re expected to bring ourselves to a game and its almost designed that way. Where we’re expected to do more than just use our keen problem solving abilities and l33t hand to eye co­-ordination.

Take a chance on forms of gaming that you might not have engaged with before. Let your mind fill in the blanks and think outside the box. Our hobby is all that much richer for what we bring to it.

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