Playable Stories

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Usually I blog about books and comic books, but I really just love a good story and I try not picky about format — lately some of my favorite stories have taken place in video games.  Narrative-focused video games are recent discovery for me.  As a kid, I played a lot of Sim games (SimAnt, SimFarm, SimCity, SimLife, etc.), platformers, and puzzle games, none of which were particularly heavy on the storytelling.  As a teen I primarily played Nintendo multiplayer games (mostly Smash Bros and Mario Kart); again, not a ton of storytelling happening.  Then, around three or four years ago, my boyfriend gave me Kentucky Route Zero as a gift, and my reaction to it was basically: “HOLY #%@*^.  WHAT IS THIS.  I LOVE IT.”  Since then, I’ve kept my eye out for more video games like it.  These are my three favorites:

Kentucky Route Zero
In retrospect, it’s not very surprising that I like Kentucky Route Zero so much.  It won a Kitchie Award in 2014 (celebrating the year’s most progressive, intelligent, and entertaining speculative fiction), its creators cite David Lynch as an influence, and even its release format is literary/theatrical — it’s being released as a series of five acts, the last of which is not out yet.  Sounds like it was tailor-made for yours truly.  You play the story as Conway, a delivery driver for an antique shop, who is currently lost in the backroads of rural Kentucky.  From there, things get decidedly more magical as Conway discovers a system of underground caverns and a mysterious route that seems to bend the rules of time and space.  This game is all about storytelling and atmosphere; the graphics and gameplay are deceptively simple and ultimately beautiful.

Firewatch
One of the reasons I love this game so much is that, for me, the nostalgia factor is super high.  Not because I used to be a middle-aged park ranger like our protagonist, Henry, but because in the late 80’s/early 90’s my family spent a lot of vacation time in national parks and forests.  Firewatch is set in the Shoshone National Forest in 1989, and for my money’s worth, the game designers totally nailed the feeling of tooling around a gorgeous national forest in the off-season.  The similarities to my childhood end there; none of my family vacations devolved into a Hitchcockian mystery the way the plot of Firewatch does.  The story here is multi-layered — in addition to the central mystery, there’s a budding friendship (romance?) with your fellow firewatcher, Delilah, who you communicate with only by radio, and the slow reveal of Henry’s tragic personal history.

Night In The Woods
I played this game in February after seeing one of my favorite comic creators (Kate Leth) mention it on Twitter.  Guys, it is SO GOOD.  It combines adorable cartoon animals with a story about (totally relatable) characters who are coping with mental health issues and economic instability in small-town America.  Also, there are ghosts AND one of the characters is a goth crocodile — if that alone doesn’t convince you to play, I don’t know what will.

I’m not very familiar with video game terminology, but I think all three of these games fall under the “adventure game” umbrella.  Which, frankly, seems like too broad of a category to accurately describe the type of game that I like to play.  If you know of a better/more specific term, or have recommendations of more games for me, let me know in the comments!

Until next time, find the stories that make you stronger. #WorkOutNerdOut
♥Karen

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