Friday, February 09, 2007
This week, a fairly simple puzzle game called Thief, by Phillip Reagan. Thief is outstanding not for its graphics or gameplay but for its unusual and delightful way of drawing you into the story.
In most games--and exhibits--your role as a user/visitor is clearly defined in the beginning. You're an observer. You're a god-like controller. You're a pawn with particular characteristics. In environments that do make you "part" of the story, common practice is to spell out your role so that you can get into the perspectives and situation of your character. Maybe you get a backstory on your role from a passport or a briefing, or maybe it's more oblique; you are thrown into an active environment and your personal reactions and behaviors form the character you assume.
Thief takes another tack. Instead of contextualizing the experience you are about to have, the opening of the game is decontextualized. No backstory. No introductions. Instead, you are presented with puzzles that slowly unlock the story. As the story unfolds, you realize what your role is--not one you may have guessed.
In this way, Thief accomplishes something extremely challenging--it provides a plot twist that happens to YOU, not to other characters. Sure, some games may throw a stumbling block in your path or reveal an ally to be an enemy, but it's rare for an experience to trick you into an Aha about yourself. And this is accomplished without an obtuse or terribly complex story at its root. Enjoy.