This essay was definitely the most traditional, analysis-heavy piece we had to write, asking us to formulate an essay looking at two of the many games we played in class and show how they dealt with trauma and emotions. Although it was “traditional,” the essay was still nothing like the boilerplate five paragraph essay that I was so tired of writing in high school. Getting started was really the hardest part, as the essay had to be structured in that the thesis of the argument was staged only at the end. This led me to floundering quite a bit when I tried to write the essay top-down. Only after planning it out and formulating my thesis was I able to frame my arguments; how sympathy and empathy were the main goals of Gone Home and Firewatch, respectively. After completing, I really could see that no matter how you structure your essay, the argument can still be strong as long as it is fleshed out, regardless of where the thesis was located.
What do mob bosses, British nobility, and cold-blooded corporate suits all have in common? They are all beloved characters in some of modern television’s most critically acclaimed television shows. In the “New Golden Age” of television, viewers were treated to profound, enthralling stories, tugging at audience’s emotional heartstrings by inspiring empathy for even the most despicable characters. For most of these stories, writers capture viewer’s attention by making relatable and complex characters that their audience grows attached to, from the family-man turned mad scientist of Walter White in Breaking Bad or the morally chaotic “Hood Boogeyman” who robs drug dealers, Omar, in HBO’s The Wire. The writing for these amazing works of art really sells its characters’ depth as real human beings with real emotions, rather than being larger-than-life hero types that viewers often find little in common with. Every heartbreak, every tragedy was shared with the audience, allowing viewers to see the many emotions that these complicated characters were going through.
Still, these creators were limited by their medium; no matter how much detail they wanted to add to their stories, the limits of network television constrained them to a third person perspective where the bulk of the emotional weight passed on to an audience was through the actor’s embodiment of the script given to them.
To experience genuine empathy for someone, the age-old saying “you will never understand another person’s story until you walk a mile in their shoes” asks one to consider the perspective of others before passing judgement. Of course, this famous proverb is metaphorical, no one is really expected to stroll around in another person’s shoes, right? While traditional forms of film are not interactive, when developers choose to use a game to frame their stories, it really is possible to walk miles in a character’s shoes, experiencing events as a part of the plot, rather than just watching as a story progresses. In the walking simulator games Firewatch and Gone Home, you take over the role of main characters, allowing you to feel the story firsthand, and really experience the emotions the writers want to elicit out of you.
Both games have the same fundamental structure of gameplay, with the main objective being to progress the story by exploring the expansive yet contained environment to find clues and more information. Neither game is very gameplay focused, rather using the many possibilities of an open, explorable environment as a tool to deliver the narrative that serves as the meat and potatoes of the game. Each game’s approach to narrative perspective is quite different, though. Firewatch has the player function as an actor, controlling the main character to make decisions that have direct impacts on their own story experience. Gone Home elects to have the player function as a detective, trying to figure out what happened to their character’s sister. This key difference is the one that makes its game unique from the other.
Firewatch is a beautiful game, with both stunning visuals and a surprisingly hard-hitting emotional story. The game places the player in the body of Henry – henceforth you, the player – starting off by meeting and falling for his wife, Julia. Although this prologue is short, the player builds a relationship with Julia that builds the foundation for the emotional knockout that precipitates the rest of the game, when Julia gets dementia and Henry is unable to take care of her. This curveball right at the beginning is reminiscent of Pixar’s Up, another work in which the main character loses his significant other. The most important distinction, though, is that Firewatch places you into the relationship, rather than watching a montage of the couple’s good times or reading diary entries about their love for one another. You feel the Henry’s heartbreak because Firewatch intends for you to become Henry and live his story, not watch it. The game truly ‘begins’ after you become a fire lookout at Two Forks, the setting for the rest of the game. This opening thrusts you into the belly of Firewatch’s most important character dynamic: you feel the helplessness of Henry’s character, and you empathize with Henry taking his chance to escape. This hurt that is opened from the beginning and the initial escape are themes that will be repeated and amplified as the story progresses.
Gone Home is markedly different from Firewatch in the sense that there is no profound opening sequence, just a phone call and a note from the player’s character’s parents telling them to make themselves feel at home after returning from a trip abroad. Arriving in the dark during a thunderstorm sets an uneasy tone that seems to foreshadow more sinister things waiting inside the empty home. The ‘detective’ aspect of the game makes itself apparent when the introduction and tutorial relays nothing of value other than: “Explore!” The game seemingly has no goal as the player is forced to look for any indications of what to do now that they are in the house. This uncertainty with the ominous setting of a dark mansion during a thunderstorm can initially mislead players that the game may have horror aspects – but the main plot couldn’t be further from that! Once the player realizes there probably is no plot development that stems from flushing the toilet over and over, they stumble onto a diary entry of Sam’s: the sister of the character the player is in. Continuing to explore, the player finds more and more of these entries and begins to realize the story that Gone Home is trying to tell, one of high school romance and drama. These diary entries comprise of the main theme of Gone Home: the emotional effect forbidden love has on a high school girl. As the player follows the sister’s journey of joy and depression, the game begs the player to relate to Sam’s feelings
While Gone Home and Firewatch have the same skeleton structure of gameplay, they frame their narratives fundamentally different, with Firewatch placing the player as the main character of its story, while Gone Home allows the player to uncover the story it tries to tell. Both games ask the player to consider a character’s story by making them literally walk in a character’s shoes. They tell compelling stories about characters using nothing but pathos to inspire emotion in the player, with Firewatch bringing the player to empathize with Henry’s plight, and Gone Home showing the player their sister’s story, raising sympathy and nostalgic hope for the misunderstood teen. Ultimately, the true impact of these stories are
This week, we had to make visual notes, taking what we had written down before, and converting it into a more appealing, “flowy” version of itself. My friends and I also infused elements from anime to make important information “Pop” compared to others. This was really fun, while also
We had to recreate a famous scene from a movie this week, and I wanted to pick one from the best actor in one of my favorite movies: Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. I may have hammed it up a little bit, but this was my attempt at a monologue that earned Heath Ledger a posthumous Academy Award! Against that kind of competition, I think my 2-bit Joker with a leering Batman sticker behind him
Over the last few classes, my group had been spending time in developing a concept for a video game of our own! This whole time in class, we have been playing and dissecting games from the perspective of players, but now we got to experience what it was like to put a story of our own into the form of an interactive, non-linear framework of a text-based game. Even making a bare-bones prototype up for a game demonstrated how intensive this form of storytelling can be. This is why my group had a good method for breaking up the task into fundamental parts: story, gameplay, and marketing.
Once we had understood the capabilities of the Twine software – learning how to make branching paths, actually coding the options, and writing in the bar effects, expansion of the game became much easier. Honestly, most of our time was spent on learning how to code the many exponential paths each option resulted in. Our “gimmick” was having the character wake up day after day and make seemingly repetitive menial decisions to emulate the Groundhog Day effect of the pandemic, where days seem to be the same events over and over. We then were able to integrate an overarching story through our use of a frame story, where the character exposits by writing their college essay, or dream ranting. Overall, making just this demo of a text-based game showed me just how challenging game development can be, giving me a whole new sense of respect for both indie and triple-A studios making new, amazing games.
This week we had to produce our final podcast episode. Its crazy to think that we are basically at the end of the semester! In addition to this, our game project is also due, so my group decided divide and conquer. As a challenge, though, we wanted to pick a game that wasn’t a true video game to serve as a change to the already videogame-packed week. So, we decided to analyze the game of fantasy football. This episode was definitely different from many of the others of The Longest Rainy Sunday, but I think we made some good points when it came to analyzing a separate type of game. Once again, we utilized this “dry run” method to see what worked and what needed improving, and my editing job has obviously progressed from unsavory to somewhat decent! This episode was really evident in showing how I could use this class in writing and analyzing things other than video games. Our group was able to structure an argument that used evidence to look at the benefits of “playing the game” of fantasy football.
This week, it was time for round two of producing the class podcast The Longest Rainy Sunday. Last time, we had the daunting task of making the first episode. Now, more episodes have been produced, we now know what our show should generally cover when it comes to analyzing a game. This time though, we accounted for the time it takes to actually develop a script and show that puts forward a cohesive argument. So, we developed a strategy that I think worked out well. Over the week, we thought up our central argument, building an outline that then expanded on each point that we could talk about. As the deadline grew closer, we then did what we called a “disaster run” where we just tried to organically build a show from the outline. By not stopping mistakes we knew what ideas in our outline needed to have more structured, scripted pieces and wrote down some of the talking points we made in our first run. I think this led to us making a great episode with fleshed out arguments – and I learned a lot about old-school Mario!
This week we were tasked with writing and producing the first episode of our class’s podcast: The Longest Rainy Sunday. For this inaugural episode, my group decided to do a game we unanimously appreciated: Minecraft. This task seemed really easy at first because Minecraft’s sandbox structure makes it a versatile game in which a player’s possibilities are seemingly endless. Unfortunately, the same sandbox structure complicated our analysis of the game as there were so many angles we each wanted to examine it from. The day before the deadline, we tried recording off our outline to give a more free-flowing conversational style of podcast episode, but in practice – it is hard to read cues of when to jump in on a topic when everyone is virtual and recording. Still, I think our episode was generally a success for a first episode. The editing was a bit off, with the music awkwardly playing in the middle of the episode but I think we now know what to do in preparation and in post-production for our future episodes of the podcast.
This short essay was fun to write. I got to relive my younger life through the eyes of an older gamer. I experienced my early memories of success and hatred for different games. In the actual essay I focused on how my love for games is constant, but life gets in the way. When I was younger my insane amount of free time allowed me to play slower and more concise without a high understanding. Now, I use games as a leisure activity because the knowledge required to play them is not a lot for me, but is something easy to do everything.
Growing up in the early 2000s allowed me to experience the rise of modern gaming, as we currently know it. This unique opportunity builds upon the fact that at a young age, my only options from the toy store were board games, Legos, or action figures. Naturally, a child can only build many lego kits and imagine with so many figurines before they want to explore new trains of thought. This new outlet was playing against my parents in board games.
Board games were a quintessential part of my young life and early cognitive development. The earliest I can remember is with a classic for most children in my generation, which is Candyland. This sugar-coated game involved little strategy but a great number of counting skills. For me, it allowed for a great amount of fun when I could skip half of the game with the luck of the draw. Also, it balanced me out because whenever I landed on a licorice man square, I would be penalized for RNG sake.
Then I grew out of these “baby” games and played more advanced games that require strategy. My personal favorites, when I was younger, were Chess with my Dad and Scrabble with my Grandma. Both of these higher-skilled games boosted my abilities to be able to optimize choices to benefit me. This optimization came at a cost because these games allowed for a younger me to use copious amounts of time and energy because every move was a give it my all strategy. This led to a young me feeling drained after an hour-long Chess game or having to maximize points every turn in a game of Scrabble. Eventually, after years of practice, I moved to where I am currently.
Now, as an adult, I choose to favor games that are strictly played online. This is due to my friends and I attending schools that are so far away, but also due to their popularity in the gaming scene. Out of all of the online multiplayer games that are played on a global scale, my personal favorites have to be Counter-Strike Global Offensive and Rocket League. These games were built with an Esport in mind meaning that they are complex in two ways. They have a mechanical side along with game sense. These mechanics that I am referring to are the way that you move in a game. For Rocket League, you have to move your car on the ground as well as through the air. The game is designed for you to use a combination of buttons to lift and move how you need to. This combination and timing for button-pushing are difficult to achieve, and only a few out of the player base have mastered this skill. The other skill that I refer to is game sense. This is the intellectual basis for how to play the game. In Rocket League, the knowledge required to perform has mostly to do with how a player rotates through the field because, at its core, this is just soccer. As someone who has never played or watched actual soccer, learning this was a private dedication that allowed me to enjoy myself in a cut-throat online environment. Now, most games I play are here for me to relax from my real life. I can still learn from these games, but it is not as applicable as they once were to my younger self.