If you’re not all too familiar with video games you could easily be excused for insisting that they’re all simply violent fantasy simulators that people use to explore their inner darkness Dexter style! As media students you probably shouldn’t think this way, but if you did we can probably excuse you. Now I’ve played many a violent video game in my time. I’ve ran through cities in Grand Theft Auto throwing grenades into crowds and I’ve shot many a 12 year old in Call of Duty who claimed to have done unspeakable deeds with my mother. But what about the other kind of video games that are making their rounds at the moment? Have you heard of Gone Home? Have you heard of Dear Esther? Both are exploration video games containing absolutely zero violence.
Now, I think technically these games would be classed as FPS’s. (First Person Shooters.) But the title doesn’t really seem to fit. Yes, you explore in the first person, but you don’t shoot anything. These are mystery games, involving the player going out and solving a Mystery. In Dear Esther you unravel a world that unfolds as you explore a beautiful coastal island. Gone Home is the story of a girl who returns to her family home after a year abroad in Europe to find her family missing. You spend the rest of the game unraveling the mystery of their disappearance through reading of diaries, notes, and journals spread throughout the house. Both of these games choose to entice the player through mystery as opposed to action and violence.
Why are these games important though? What do they mean? Well, first and foremost they’ve both received a butt load of awards and accolades from various gaming magazines and online readers, including several game of the year awards for each. They stand out from the blandness and repetitiveness of the new Call of Duty game (though admittedly I may be biased in that regard) not for their exciting game play and giant city destroying set pieces, but for their stories. These are some of the stories you would expect from a book or a movie, and the stories that many of us hoped video games would one day tell. Gone Home’s characters are extremely three dimensional and extremely real. Dear Esther contains a mystery as gripping as an episode of Sherlock. But both take a good, honest look at humanity. It’s a maturity that can often be lacking in video games, and one that refuses to avoid looking into our human natures in favour of fun, but entices you onward with mystery and a story that might just have you learning something about yourself.
Of course, there are games that do this while containing all the violence you could ever want. Telltales The Walking Dead offers and expansive and insightful look at how people choose to survive in the face of a zombie apocalypse. Admittedly the setting is a bit tired at the moment, but telltales execution really is one of the best examples of a zombie apocalypse. But there’s just something more exciting about Gone Home and Dear Esther. Something more refreshing. It may have been years since we’ve seen Narrative Video Games tackle deep human emotions while choosing to leave out any traces of violence, and personally, I can’t wait to see what developers are gonna do next!