6 Video Games with Innovative Storytelling to Play in Quarantine
If you’re like me starting a new week in quarantine, with barely any work, a lack of things to do and a strong cabin fever, your healthy distraction options are limited. It’s getting increasingly harder not to get absorbed by heavy thoughts or melancholic procrastination. I know there are some great books, films and TV Shows that would help with that, but I found my remedy in indie video games.
Here are 6 games that I think would expand your mind, and that I consider great works of interactive storytelling. Whether you play video games a lot or believe that it's not your cup of tea, you should check them out. They are quarantine-tested and are great to play when you're feeling particularly existential or isolated.
1. The Talos Principle is an atmospheric blend of a mind-bending puzzle game and an existential sci-fi narrative. It will keep your mind busy on a variety of levels: thinking of the ethics and philosophy of an AI existence, solving complex puzzles made out of lasers, deadly machines, and antic ruins, and most importantly helping your robot character find the truth about their mission and place in the world made of ruins of the past civilization. Time needed: several hours.
2. Firewatch. Another solitary exploration through the eyes of a character in an existential crisis, though this one is set in a more down-to-earth and peaceful environment and is primarily a psychological puzzle. As a conservation park ranger you are hired to live an isolated life at a fire watch post and monitor the woods for unusual activity: partying tourists, communication line breakages, and, of course, fires. Is that a good idea to try to escape from the haunting past in the Wyoming wilderness? See for yourself. Time needed: several hours.
3. Kind Words is a good game to play when you’re feeling trapped or emotionally conflicted. Simple by its set up it is based on a higher concept: by helping others you help yourself. As the pink-haired alien-looking character, you are in a small room surrounded by some psychedelic decor and write letters to people all over the world to low-fi tunes. In this little bubble-like world you anonymously give advice, reassure and support other users and can request the same letters in response to any of your problems. Many of the anxieties you come across in the game today are coronavirus-related, so feel free to release your own and get the much-needed connection with the world. Time needed: play as long as you wish.
4. Missed Messages - is more of a storytelling piece than a game, but a truly engaging one. It won’t take more than a few minutes of your time and it’s worth it. As a lead character, a college student named Alex, you are struggling to focus on your work, but there are other things happening outside of your laptop screen, that are way more important. Getting distracted might lead you to change your own or someone else’s life... Hard to tell more without giving out spoilers. Time needed: less than an hour.
5. Stanley Parable. The structured and highly systemized social environments in our world often border with chaos and absurdity. One day you wake up in a large office filled with cubicles. You are Stanley, a conventional office clerk and you have no idea, what your goal is, nor how to exit the building and make it all stop. You find yourself in a maze of repetitive office settings led by a witty voice-over to an unknown destination. Stanley Parable is a story, a game and a piece of conceptual art in one package. It makes you think about why we get buried in volumes of unnecessary routines, paperwork and concepts and what awaits us at the end of the game.
Time needed: about an hour.
6. The Beginner’s Guide. The beginner’s guide is another innovative piece of storytelling from the author of Stanley Parable and is probably my favorite item on this list. In a metagame fashion, you are following the narrator through the world of indie video game developers and a particularly mysterious one named Coda. By playing his early work you quickly understand that he’s a true artist, but his games are often too self-absorbed, intentionally not user-friendly and are often left unfinished. It’s hard to read his artist statement through, but the author’s personal experience with Coda gives you an insight into the artist’s world, while the story of their relationship leaves you beautifully puzzled. Time needed: about an hour.
For those who found this list interesting, I have another top chart edition with indie art games that are rather dark-themed or darkly existential. I am going to post it sometime soon in a bit happier times. Stay in touch, stay safe and please share your favorite indie games with me as well in the comments. *ALL GAMES ARE AVAILABLE ON STEAM