VIDEO GAMES FOR PEOPLE WHO DON'T PLAY VIDEO GAMES
I recently had a friend explain that they've always hated video games, but are curious to dip their toes into the water and try one out for themselves. The argument was that video games were childish, immature, or stupid, so I was asked to assemble a list of games to refute that argument. The catch, of course, is that these games need to be accessible to someone who has never played a video game before, meaning that complex but mature titles such as the Red Dead series or the Dark Souls series wouldn't count.
So here's a list of video games that are mechanically very easy to play, but represent strong storytelling, characters, and engagement. I made it a point to pick titles that are available mainly on platforms that almost everyone has, so the three starter titles listed here are all available on Windows or Mac via the Steam app. Most also have console releases, in case your family already owns a console and you'd prefer to play that way.
Anyway, here's a good starting point!
NIGHT IN THE WOODS
Infinite Fall Studio
Mae, an only child, has returned home to Possum Springs, where times have changed since the closing of its coal mines. Now living in her parents' attic, she uncovers a dark mystery that leads her into the nearby woods, forcing her to confront a horrible secret the town has hidden for decades.
NITW is my first choice for this list, primarily because of three factors:
- The game isn't difficult for newer gamers. There aren't really any time-sensitive moments that will require you to be good at playing the game, although there are some basic platforming (jumping from one area to another) elements that might be difficult if you've never played a game.
- The cost is low at $20 for 10 hours worth of content, and the system requirements for the game aren't demanding, so you can play this game on even an older laptop and still be fine.
- NITW presents a story that not only capitalizes on aspects of video games that you won't get anywhere else, but is also a story that you couldn't get anywhere else. One of the game's themes is the nature of time and relationships, namely, there's never enough time for you to do everything with everyone, so it's important to pick your friendships and relationships carefully. This aspect of making the audience choose how to spend their time is something that narratives in other creative formats (movies, music, books, television) can't really do, since they're presented in a linear fashion. In this game, you WILL miss out on things, and that's OK -- that's the point of the game.
For a game that is ostensibly about cute animals in a cute animal town, NITW presents a surprisingly nuanced and mature story. Don't be mistaken by the beautiful animated visuals -- the story thematically discusses mental illness, depression, living with anxiety, the erosion of the American middle class, and the death of American small towns. It's something that completely blindsided me when I played it, and it makes for an incredibly enjoyable trip through what otherwise looks like an animated movie.
Availability: PS4, Windows, Mac OS
Length: 10 Hours
Length If You Stop For Details: 16 Hours
Henry, a fire lookout who is assigned to his own tower in the Shoshone National Forest of Wyoming, uncovers clues about mysterious occurrences in the vicinity that are related to the ransacking of his tower while out on a routine patrol, and a shadowy figure that occasionally appears watching him from afar.
Firewatch is a slow burn, faintly Hitchcock-ian mystery that takes place entirely over a summer in the Shoshone National Forest. The game itself is visually stunning, but where Firewatch shines strongest is the sense of place and characters that Campo Santo has created.
Players spend the game as Henry, a man following an intense personal crisis, as he navigates the ins and outs of being a fire lookout with Delilah, another lookout stationed at a tower on the opposite side of the mountain. The relationship between these two characters helps drive the mystery along, and is probably one of the most convincing interpersonal relationships I've ever seen in fictional media. The voice acting is impeccable, and when combined with the beautiful visuals and the slow burn mystery, make Firewatch an enjoyable and even somewhat relaxing experience.
The story itself is a meditation on relationships, loneliness, and family ties, but the story never feels heavy-handed. Instead, there's almost a sort of melancholy woven throughout the game that makes the quiet and beautiful visuals even more poignant.
Availability: PS4, Xbox One, Windows, Mac OS, Linux
Length: 4 Hours
Length If You Stop For Details: 5 Hours
LIFE IS STRANGE
Max Caulfield, an 18-year-old photography student, discovers that she has the ability to rewind time at any moment, leading her every choice to enact the butterfly effect. After having foreseen an approaching storm, Max must take on the responsibility to prevent it from destroying her town.
Life is Strange is an episodic adventure game where your dialogue choices genuinely matter. While originally decried as a 'hipster' game upon release, players have since come to find that Life is Strange offers an unusual perspective not typically seen in video games: a slice of life experience for a teenage girl. While the plot does move in unusual, unexpected, and sometimes shocking ways, the game shines brightest when taken like an interactive novel where you can control the main character's choices and dialogue.
Life is Strange also offers some unique and interesting themes and perspectives that video games don't typically tackle. These include teenage sexuality, the nature of free will, friendships, and the way that relationships can change following a tragic death. When you factor in the idea that your choices have weight and value, this makes the game a compelling and interesting peek into a normal girl's life as it slowly begins to derail in the face of an oncoming tragedy.
Cost: $19.99, with the first Episode free on most platforms
Availability: PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Windows, Mac OS, Linux
Length: 15 Hours
Length If You Stop For Details: 17 Hours
OTHER 'INTRODUCTORY' GAMES YOU MIGHT BE INTERESTED IN:
A teenager returns to her childhood home to discover it abandoned, and must rummage through her family's belongings to determine what events have occurred since she left.
What Remains of Edith Finch
The story of several generations of the Finch family is told via small vignettes exploring the 'curse' on the Finch family which causes members to die an untimely death.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
Paranormal investigator Paul Prospero receives a fan letter from 16-year old Ethan Carter, inspiring him to journey to Ethan's hometown of Red Creek Valley, Wisconsin. Upon arrival, he begins encountering unsettling paranormal phenomena, as well as evidence of recent violence in the tiny mining village.
The game is centered on a top-secret espionage agency operating out of an abandoned subway station in a fictional place called Japanada in the late 1950s. The player takes the role of Polyblank, a silent protagonist, who is mailed to the espionage agency in a human-shaped suitcase before being given an increasingly outlandish series of missions and tasks.
The Beginner’s Guide
The game is narrated by the creator, Davey Wreden, and takes the user through a number of incomplete and abstract game creations made by reclusive and anti-social game developer named Coda. Wreden challenges the player to try to come to understand the type of person Coda is, and his creative output, from exploring these spaces in a first-person perspective.
A young man leaves his home in the middle of the night to engage in an ancient practice: a Year Walk, where encountering dangerous ghostly spirits in the forest will give him prophecies of the upcoming year. He plans to use this prophecy to discover how to win the love of his life away from her current suitor.