From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Gamer+Girl: Quest for Adventure Games

One of the deep, dark not-actually-very-secret secrets about me is that I’m actually pretty bad at video games. It’s true! I’m particularly terrible at platformers – I’ve been trying to get past this evil owl thing in Super Princess Peach for months – and I’m only a little bit better at first-person shooters. I spend an awful lot of time spinning in place and smacking into walls while trying vainly to figure out where the camera is and how to move forward. I’m also the only person I know who gets panicky and anxious while playing Elebits (which also makes me motion-sick if I play for more than fifteen minutes. Sad, I know).

I love playing video games, but it’s not exactly a relaxing pastime, for me. My skillz are sadly deficient for most kinds of games, and the ones that I can handle on my own with a minimum of stress aren’t usually the sort that one can enjoy for more than a half hour or so at a time. Puzzle games and pinball are made of win, but not necessarily an hour of win, you know?

Sometimes, when I’m trapped in a corner while bad guys shoot at me, or have been knocked off the same stupid little teeny ledge for the hundredth time in a row, I reflect back on a genre of games from my youth at which I didn’t totally suck: graphic adventure games.

Oh, the memories! The first time I saved the kingdom in King’s Quest! The day I beat the puzzle that had totally stumped my older brother in The 7th Guest! That time I made up lyrics for the MIDI theme music from the Quest for Glory series! (No, I won’t tell you what they were. Some secrets should not be shared.)

But, alas, I thought those days were gone. Until…(insert suspenseful, possibly MIDI-based music here!)…I found out that Myst was being re-released for the Nintendo DS. Oh man, I was so excited. And then I got my hands on a copy, and… Well, there were things that were difficult to see and click on in Myst back when I was playing it on my dad’s computer with a 15-inch monitor. These things haven’t become any easier to deal with in the translation from monitor and mouse to handheld touch screen.

But wait! After giving up on DS-style Myst, I picked up a copy Hotel Dusk: Room 215, a DS game with intriguing copy on the package identifying it as “an interactive mystery novel.” Designed specifically for Nintendo’s latest handheld console, Hotel Dusk is exactly what I was searching for. It follows in the tradition of graphical adventure computer games while making use of the DS’s features and capabilities, pairing a robust and intriguing plot with puzzle solving that uses the touch screen and uncomplicated – yet appealing – visuals.

Hotel Dusk is not my dream game. The viewpoint character, a hard-boiled noir-style detective dude, isn’t someone I’d particularly like to hang out with, much less be. And while I always enjoy a game with lots of talk, the dialogue between characters in Hotel Dusk can drag on for long enough without player input that it’s really more of a monologue. Still, it’s a fun game, and as a fan of graphical adventure games, I am heartened by its mere existence.

As a fan of adventurous stories, I am super-heartened. Video games can be a great vehicle for narrative. One example that comes immediately to mind is the very spiffy sci-fi story in Mass Effect, which I find myself getting caught up in anew every time I play. But for me, the actual mechanics of a game like Mass Effect can be a distraction from the story, rather than a source of enjoyment. If I could play through without the first-person shooter elements, I would. And no matter how much I tell my science fiction-loving mother that she’d enjoy the plot, I’ll never get her to play a game where she’ll need to be able to move, navigate and shoot all at once.

An interactive novel, on the other hand, offers both an excellent base for a complex plot and potential for a system of gameplay that’s much easier to learn. Which is not to say that a graphical adventure game should be easy. Difficult puzzles and multi-step problem solving are traditional elements of the genre, after all. And wouldn’t that fit in nicely with a high fantasy saga, or an urban fantasy mystery, or a tale set on a generation ship?

Yep. I’m pretty excited to see some evidence that the graphical adventure game genre might be starting to rise to prominence again. And I think you should be, too.

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