Have you ever found yourself more emotionally invested into a cartoon character than a realistic one? Discovered more value in a scene with implied meaning, versus one that’s narrated? I started playing a delightful game recently called “Virgina.” Virgina is a first person mystery thriller, where you play as FBI Agent Anne Tarver, and your investigation into a missing persons case. While playing I found myself deeply invested into the characters and the events happening within the game… even though so much of the game is represented in a simplistic and conservative way. This really got me thinking about other games that encouraged heavy player investment into characters or stories, even though they are done in a minimalistic way. For this post I’ll be exploring this concept and the games “Inside” and “Virginia”... I don’t want to give away too much this early into the blog post, so if you think you might be interested in playing these games PLEASE STOP here and go give them a shot… as we’re entering spoiler territory from here on out.
disappointed about how simplistic my character was. It took me a bit of time until I realized that this game has absolutely no dialogue. NONE! I was shocked! I was confused about how this game would continue with me being an FBI agent and supposedly working a case of a missing child. As the game progressed, I found myself in increasingly puzzling tableaus. Virginia transitions it’s scenes seamlessly and so abrupt that it can be jarring for the player. In one moment you'll be walking out of your apartment, then suddenly you're at your first day of work. This can be so disorienting, but also really added to the mystique of this game. I was always unsure of when a scene would abruptly change, so in every transition I would immediately search for interactive objects or understanding in my new surroundings. Only now do I realize that in this subtle way, the game forces the player to become the FBI agent and investigate every scene.
this dream help establish the background of your character, but also highlights some of the anxieties of graduation and moving on. The transitions between dreams and reality can be so seemless at times I found myself wondering if what I was experiencing was “real life” or my character was dreaming again. In this way, the developers are really able to toy with the player, and their perceptions of what’s happening within the game.
progresses on through scenes of the investigation, strange dreams, and montages of our character getting to know her new partner better. Inevitably drama unfolds as case progresses and your partner finds out that you’ve been instructed to keep tabs on them. Virginia does a really good job at establishing us into a routine, how we have coffee with our partner every morning before driving out to investigate the case… the game then takes a hard turn where we’re now having coffee alone and have to take a cab. The sudden loss of our partner is poignant and resonated higher for me in the story than the case itself. What follows is a pursuit of redemption for our character, and a moment where our character actually considers giving up dirt on our partner. This moment plays out like a montage of how your character sees the rest of her life playing out after this decision. A sequence of distrust, moving up in ranks in the FBI, backstabbing your friends, and ending up being the Director of the FBI asking a new recruit to do the exact same thing you did. This sequence really had me believing this was the end of the game, i was upset and confused if this was just a dream or not… until my character “woke up” and I was relieved. While there were many moments of emotional attachment in this game, this was the climax and the moment where I realize just how attached I was to these characters. These characters who had never spoken a word, were rendered in a minimalistic way, and yet I found myself deeply invested into their story.
Inside is another recent game that had a minimalistic art style, no dialogue, and yet caused me to be emotionally invested. Inside is a puzzle-platform adventure where you’re playing as a young boy, in a dark monochromatic landscape. While beautifully rendered, the characters and environments in the game are simplistic… the boy is even faceless… we have no idea what his motivations are or why he’s being pursued. For having such a grim and dark atmosphere, the
being reincarnated, and eventually in the heart of the lab we become one with an abomination type creature. The end game consists of a rampaging romp to get out of the facility, as this new “creature,” until we finally escape and the game ends with the creature lying motionless… bathing in sunlight. It’s a very grim ending, where we’re all hoping to be the boy again and yet the end credits roll. Inside leaves us with more questions than answers… with so many lacking details, Inside has opened the door for players to find their own interpretations as to what’s happening.
can also be more globally personified, no matter your background. In intentional ways or not, both Virginia and Inside are leveraging this concept. Through their minimalistic art styles and stripping away of narrative details, these games allocate room for more emotional feedback. By stripping away details, the players are left to infer their own meaning into the narrative. When the player is participating in the narrative in such a way, it’s very easy to become emotionally invested… as the narrative and characterization is being fueled by their own creativity.
I hope this was interesting! I know I dived a little deep into the narrative of Virginia, yet I think it was important to highlight how the game establishes itself. If you haven’t already, I would again recommend giving Virgina and Inside a playthrough! Also check out Scott McCloud’s book on Understanding Comics! Even though I’m not working in comics, it has some really great insights into visual theory. Also I’m now finally giving the new Deus Ex game a chance, and it’ll be likely that the next post may be fueled by this playthrough….
Thanks again for reading!
I make games, I play games... and sometimes I have some thoughts about that.