Gameplay innovation: Have dinner with the old lady across the hall

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(I’ve only just started Always Sometimes Monsters, so this isn’t a review. Not really even a first impression. More an observation about videogames in general.)

Always Sometimes Monsters is an, uh, life simulator or something. You walk around, talk to people, try to make ends meet, question your morality, etc. It’s like a more interactive take on the visual novel. Still heavy on narrative, with branching storylines and plenty of dialogue, but offering more of a chance to explore the world. One point early in the game struck a chord with me. It’s a simple, effective setup: You meet your elderly neighbor in the hallway as your leave your apartment building and she invites you over to have dinner. If you follow up on the offer, you and she can have a lovely conversation about your old significant others (hers actually died, you just broke up with yours). It’s a beautifully written scene with a certain human touch that resonated with me. This rarely happens in videogames. When was the last time you played a game where you could sit down and have a pleasant conversation with an old woman? I can think of dozens of games about killing people in a jungle but I can think of so very few about making a new friend.

Now, sure, early video games had to rely on simple gameplay mechanics because 1) technological restrictions and 2) that style of play is addicting and easy to pick up, making it more economically appealing to the producers. While it’s incredibly convenient for anybody to sit down at a computer and make a game nowadays, that second hurdle has yet to be overcome. The majority of mainstream games–with many variants, granted–are still at their core about shooting and hitting things.

We’re getting better, I know. The cinematic edge of modern gaming offers us a ton of opportunities to reach for this human touch. The Darkness, despite being largely of the “shooting and hitting things” persuasion, briefly pauses its mayhem to let you sit down and chill with your girlfriend for an evening. The emotional pull of The Last of Us is what really sold that game. Even the basic premise of Far Cry 4 involves the tear-jerk-worthy act of spreading your mother’s ashes in her home country. But those games still involve lots and lots of running around while shooting and hitting things.

There’s nothing essentially wrong with a game about running around while shooting and hitting things. The problem is almost every mainstream game boils down to that basic gameplay mechanic. I’d be really interested in seeing a conversation-with-old-lady simulator with Heavy Rain-level production values.

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About Bryan Cebulski

Historian, critic, author. Undercover queer. Aspiring P&C adventure protagonist. Collects bad habits like Jessica Rabbit.
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3 Responses to Gameplay innovation: Have dinner with the old lady across the hall

  1. As long as we keep both sides of the spectrum I’ll be happy, don’t want to be a gun toting maniac all the time but then I don’t want to have to understand complexity and depth all the time either.

  2. bryanonion says:

    For sure, although if I can fine some amount of enjoyment in flossing a character’s teeth in Heavy Rain then I think we’ve found ways of making less adrenaline-pumping actions (like this pleasant conversation in SAM) into an entertaining gameplay experience. But yeah, it’s tough to branch out from a successful formula. One hopes that in time indie game popularity will inspire the big companies.

  3. running, shooting and hitting are simple concepts everyone can understand. Depth in story is for a smaller audience, guess which one is more common.

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