My two top games this year

November 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

It’s interesting -well, I find it interesting- my two favourite games this year are a downloadable title from the Playstation Network, and an adventure game from a studio with a very average history.  It’s also interesting, since they both sit on opposite ends of the “ludonarrative” scale.

The Walking Dead is a series of cutscenes, you have a small impact on what happens, just enough for the story to feel like your own, but everything is shown to you, it’s told.  This is an interactive movie more than anything else, and its use of typical “cinematic” techniques to evoke emotions is a benefit of the style.  The other advantage is that there’s no “ludonarrative dissonance,” that is to say that the gameplay feels like the storytelling, because they’re both the same thing.  All of its elements are consistent between gameplay and storytelling, thanks to the rather clear benefit of them being the same thing.

Journey is a game about exploration and co-0peration, it’s a journey in both name and gameplay.  It has no characters, no emotional hooks, and its “cutscenes” are brief vignettes, which show you what is, and what has been.  Kind of.  Mostly they just show some pretty lights.  Despite this, I loved the world it was set in, and I wanted to know more, I cared about my co-operative partner and felt bad when they were hurt.  When I lost one of them through a poor action I felt genuinely bad, and we called out to each other as I was forced to walk away, a sad cry, weakening as I walked away.  The cutscenes in the game aren’t there to tell the story, but to expand on it.  The story is learned through experiencing it, through its gameplay, and the world around you.  Again, it avoids dissonance by having one of the purest “game” experiences available, there’s nothing in it to cause a mental conflict.

My two favourite games of the year are wildly different, and yet still very similar in their own ways.  They both mad me think.  They both drew emotional responses from my cold and withered heart.  They both presented themselves consistently and well.  These two games show where video game storytelling is at its strongest, the two ends of the spectrum.  And they’re both wonderful experiences because of it.

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