Something I think adventure games can do better than almost any other type of game; convey loneliness. There are a number of reasons for this; chiefly the fact that they’re so narrative-driven, and often don’t involve that many other characters. But most of my absolute favorite adventure games use loneliness as a theme, whether literally or figuratively. It’s a pretty major theme in Sepulchre and Richard & Alice too, of course. Being isolated, being an outsider, trying to solve the puzzles life throws at you.
Dave Gilbert’s games are often remarkable examples of this. The Blackwell games, with their astonishingly ‘real’ portrayal of New York; not melodramatic and horrific, nor dripping with glitz and glamor, just regular apartment blocks, lonely cafes, windswept bridges. Even though all four Blackwell games have you in charge of two characters at once, they manage to capture this exceptional feeling of loneliness, of not quite fitting in, at least in part due to Gilbert’s fantastic characterization of Rosa. The Shivah, too, is wonderful in this regard.
Then you have more light-hearted games such as Broken Sword and whatnot; the concept of being a stranger in a strange land, hints of danger and mystery. It’s not about how extreme or explosive or over the top the situation is, with adventure games. It’s about the feelings they evoke, about the protagonists, and about your relationship with them. Adventure games are at their best, in my opinion, when they make you feel alone.
The reason I’m bringing this up but not going into huge detail is because I read this article over on Unwinnable, by Cara Ellison. It’s one of the most remarkable, astute, evocative pieces of writing about adventure games I’ve ever encountered. This is, in part, because it doesn’t actually talk about adventure games all that much at all. It talks about other things; things that people like me, who grew up playing the games that have now inspired us to make games, will relate to. It talks about that feeling you get as you sweep the cursor over the screen, Rosa and Joey standing looking out over the bay. And it’s the feeling you get as you sweep your finger over your phone touch screen, standing alone, breathing in the cold night air, wondering if there’s a walkthrough out there to let you know what to do next.
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