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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8 Responses »

  1. My kind of girl, Robyn! I try to hide my general suck at FPS’ (“I can’t see!! Who the hell is shooting me?!” *points gun at the ceiling* “Where IS he?!” That’s me.) from my friends (sexist gamers!!), but like you, video game playing is now a less-than-stressful event that I generally pass up until I’m alone. These games, though… I could do that.

    We should hang out sometime.

  2. I so relate to this XD I love games for the stories they can tell, and I adore playing through a good story like reading a book, but with my own input. Knights of the Old Republic is still one of my favorite games for that. Of course, I always have to make my little brother play the video game part for me XD

    Hotel Dusk sounds a lot like the Phoenix Wright series, which I’m in the middle of. I have to highly reccomend those games, for their fantastic writing (so many of the mysteries are fantastically convoluted) and memorable characters. It’s a lot less Noir, a lot more colorful :)

  3. There are a gaggle of myst-like adventure games with beautiful graphics and decent storylines for the computer. Dreamcatcher Games (at ) is one of the leading producers of them.

    I too love to play games like Mass Effect for the story. In fact, all of Bioware’s games have been pretty good. The Knights of the Old Republic games were the only Star Wars games that didn’t suck, and Jade Empire was a nice break from the standard McEuropean fantasy setting RPGs, being set in an Asian mythology. And of course the Baldur’s Gate games were awesome.

    The Silent Hill series are survival horror games with minimal fighting, built mostly around spooky atmosphere, storyline, and puzzles.

    The Tomb Raider games have okay storylines and are a decent in-between game since the game is built mostly around obstacle puzzles and platforming, and the fighting is infrequent and usually straight forward.

    You can get Syberia I and II, and Myst Exile for the Xbox.

    You can also play Dreamfall: The Longest Journey on Xbox, or PC. It has a great storyline that won all kinds of awards and acclaim, and is largely self-contained, although it is actually the middle game in a trilogy and ends on a bit of a cliff hanger, and I’m not clear on whether they are actually making the third and final game or not. You could also start at the beginning with The Longest Journey for PC.

  4. Cat – Sounds like we’d be a good (bad?) match in an FPS versus mode!

    Samantha – I hear really good things about the Phoenix Wright series. Definitely need to get my hands on one of those.

    Randy – Great list! Thanks!

  5. I love the 7th Guest – shame it won’t run on newer PCs. I had the sequel too, but never got around to playing it. There are a few games like that still around (I’ve got Myst for the PS, Myst 2 or 3 and one of the Broken Sword titles for the PS2) but I agree there aren’t nearly enough. Somewhere along the way the games developers seemed to forget that some of us are interested in the story and not the kills.

    My personal favourites are the first three Monkey Island games – a goofy main character, pirates, and insult sword-fighting, what more could you need?

  6. The Monkey Island games are great, yeah! I really liked The 7th Guest better than The 11th Hour, though the puzzles in the second were really challenging and awesome. There were lots of plot elements that were pretty grotesque, which I found off-putting.

  7. Excellent, Robyn. I’m always frustrated by the fact the games most people recommend to me are first-person shooters, because I can’t play them (they set off my vertigo), but some of the adventures sound like a lot of fun. I’m going to have check out some of these games (from your article as well as the comments); they sound excellent.


  1. Robyn Fleming » “Quest for Adventure Games” at Fantasy

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