Words About Video Games

Player vs. Backlog - January Update #1

January has been a mixed bag for progress on the backlog. I marked off 4 games (3 completed), but I also added 3 games, so I’ve only managed to reduce my backlog total by 1 so far. It’s not a great start, but I expect to finish at least one more game in January, and I have no plans to add any more for the next couple of months, so I’m not worried about my goal yet.

Games completed: 3

Quarantine Circular - This is a short narrative game that shares the same loose sci-fi setting as Thomas Was Alone and Subsurface Circular. The whole experience plays out in dialogue. What’s most interesting about QC is the way it shifts the player’s identity. Characters that were NPCs enter the player’s control, while characters who the player previously made choices for become NPCs. It’s sometimes a jarring experience. At its best, it makes you feel like an actor switching roles, and encourages you to roleplay different characters with different perspectives. At its worst, it creates the opposite effect, and the player feels more like a director than a character. But it’s a consistently engaging branching sci-fi story that you can finish in 1.5-2 hours, so if the description above sounds at all appealing, I recommend it.

The Order: 1886 - Somehow this game about the successors of King Arthur’s knights of the round table battling werewolves and vampires in steampunk London manages to be bland. The characters have relationships, but they don’t have any chemistry or interplay, and so they ultimately fail to make much of an impression. This is a sin in a game that features a swashbuckling Marquis de Lafayette and a young Nicola Tesla. That said, it’s a solid B-game. It falls short of excellence, but is an entertaining enough way to wile away a few hours. I would totally play a sequel starring the Indian resistance leader, Lakshmi.

What Remains of Edith Finch - Probably the best game I finished so far in January, but the one I’m most conflicted about. Its willingness to experiment with mechanics to deliver its story produces some of the most arresting sequences of interactivity in any game. Its twists are well-contextualized—they don’t rely on deception or pull the rug out from under the player. But it is also a game that turns the deaths of multiple characters, many of them children, into often whimsical games. The deaths of children in media have always made me uncomfortable, but after my daughter was born, they became almost unbearable. I played most of Edith Finch with my heart in my throat, and it never really left, even after the game ended. Normally, if a game made me feel that way, I’d praise the way it used mechanics and narrative to create an emotional response. But I honestly can’t say that Edith Finch did anything to make me feel that way—other than being about the deaths of children. And that in turn makes me question if what it does is as skilful as it initially seems, or if it is mostly just riding its subject matter.

Games played but not completed: 1

Super Mario Party - This was my daughter’s Christmas gift to me. We have played it a lot. We’ve played every map in both standard and partner mode multiple times. It’s a terrific game to play with a 4 year-old because it mixes randomness and accessible minigames with a light meta-strategy. The randomness makes it possible for someone to win even if they aren’t the best at the skill part, and the skill part keeps it interesting even if the dice aren’t going your way. And of course it has that Nintendo personality to it—encouraging competition, cooperation, and always giving the person in last place a chance to catch up. I could probably count it as completed, but technically there are five gems to collect and four characters to unlock, and truth be told, I have no idea how to do any of that.

Now playing: Valkyria Chronicles 4, At the Gates, No Man’s Sky

Rebecca Harwick