Continuing and concluding our round-up of PC games to show people who feel that all games are culturally worthless, or are otherwise entirely uninterested in them. Part One is here, and I do strongly suggest you read it before this one if you missed it.
Please allow me to reiterate a few key points before reading on:
- By and large these are PC games which require little gaming experience. Ones which do have been omitted. There is a great deal of grey area here, inevitably.
- This is not a definitive list. Nothing has been maliciously omitted. There are many, many other suitable PC games. Please recommend them in comments below.
- These are not necessarily the ‘best’ PC games, and nor are they inherently better than games about action and fantasy. This feature is simply to show the other side of the coin to people who may not have realised there was one.
- This article and its comments are intended to be a resource, and not a springboard for arguments about what is and is not a game, or to raise controversies about the games’ creators. Comments will be heavily moderated with this in mind.
The Grow series of games are tiny toyboxes from playful Japanese developer ‘On’. Puzzles, essentially, but their joy is more in seeing the surprising and eleborate animations that result when a button is pushed than in solutions. Nothing more than simple clicking is required; it’s like visiting a wonderful museum of the imagination. Grow games will make you feel better about almost anything.
One of relatively few ‘serious’ games which have crossed over to the mainstream, Fate Of The World is a digital card game about enacting global policies in the hope of averting climate disaster. This is hard to achieve even with FoW’s fictionalised global taskorce – the repercussions of fiddling with nations’ economies and diet are potentially disastrous. Meticulously-researched, what makes Fate of the World so terrifyingly effective is that it swiftly reveals how little most of us truly know about what’s currently happening to the planet, the reasons for it and the paucity and complexity of solutions. As a game, it’s straightforward – play a card, essentially – but as a strategy for saving the planet, it requires paying close attention, and being receptive to new scientific knowledge.
Warning: themes of domestic violence.
Take away faces. Take away names. Take away human voices. Leave something absolutely chilling.
10 Seconds In Hell is a browser-based game which lasts less than a minute, but that’s all it needs to convey the horror and seeming hopelessness of an abusive relationship. You’re stuck in a room, and you have ten seconds before your violent partner enters it too. What are your options?
It’s perhaps most effective gone into without much explanation, but if you do please bear in mind that it’s included here to demonstrate that games can deal with difficult subject matters, not as an entertainment product.
A game about badgers is very much a game for humanity, it turns out. Shelter is about caring for your young. Shelter is about the raw fears of being a parent, how it feels when you can’t provide food or safety, how it feels when things out of your control go wrong but it’s somehow on you to make them right. Shelter is about badgers, but most of all it’s about caring.
Lest this sound too doomy, it should be stated that Shelter is also a very pretty game which finds an appealing middleground between cute and authentic animal behaviour. The baby badgers’ snuffles and squeaks are almost impossible to resist. The game is also gentle and allows exploration, despite the potential for heartbreak.
Warning: themes of suicide.
A dialogue-heavy game about depression and suicide, so brace yourself for dark subject matter, but it should also be noted that Actual Sunlight is so very unsentimental that it can be difficult to connect with its protagonist. It is, however, a painstaking document of the paralysis, self-loathing and long-term destruction that depression can cause. Simple and traditional gaming objectives – click on items or people to explore an effect – result in crushing flashbacks and partial explanations as to the protagonist’s condition. The conclusion is inexorable. ‘Unflinching’ is probably the appropriate adjective here, and with that in mind, please be warned that Actual Sunlight deliberately does not attempt to offer hope.
I’m in two minds about this one. On the one hand, this historical turn-based strategy game is a fine demonstration of breadth and depth, with its thoughtfully potted history of human existence. On the other, despite a simple start – click to found a city, choose what to build and what to research – it’s not long before you’re juggling a couple of dozen balls at once, as your Civilization expands to multiple cities and encounters multiple AI-controlled opponents with their own agendas. Fortunately the turn-based nature of the game means you’re always free to make decisions in your own time: no turn ends until you say it does. To some (abstract) degree, it’s extremely slow-motion and far more elaborate chess. Fascinating, intelligent and compulsive, and a fine, non-threatening way to experiment with more elaborate games, but requires relatively long-term investment.
‘Platformers’ are perhaps the archetypical form of gaming, at least from a relative outsider’s point of view. Think Super Mario, think jumping over obstacles and onto enemies’ heads, think collecting coins and increasing difficulty whenever you enter a new area. Blueberry garden subverts that. It contains the same base elements – jumping and collecting – but presents them within a freeform playground. Wander around, jump around, pick things up, take them to other things, see what happens, and most of all don’t worry about anything going wrong. This is your place. You’ll create your own, wordless objectives as you play. Its unusual Scandinavian art style and skeletal piano soundtrack plays a large part in adding to the sense of wonder and no-pressure experimentation.
A short story about the before, during and after of hormone replacement therapy, but it evokes the confusion, fear, doubt and societal suspicion because it uses the visual language of games. The faceless enemies who spit attacks. The Tetris shape which won’t seem to fit into anything else. The maze of bureaucracy. The words can be minimal because the screen says just as much.
An adventure game – which generally means a fixed story progressed by solving leftfield puzzles – concerning the invention of a technology which can plant memories in people’s minds. For instance, giving a man on his deathbed the memory of having visited the moon, in order to grant his dying wish. From this high concept To The Moon spins a beautifully-told but often devastating yarn about loss, old age, mental health, and relationships. The simple, cute art style belies the power here.
The title refers to US military drones, of which you play a remote pilot. Browser game Unmanned grants you access to the thoughts that drift through his brain, and shows the strange mundanity with which he often sees such a destructive and controversial role. His ostensible concerns are his day-to-day to life – shaving, commuting, family, flirting – not what’s happening on the other side of the world as a result of his actions. But it creeps in. Of course it creeps in. Your own role here is primarily to pick dialogue options and make a few essentially moral choices, shaping what sort of character this drone pilot is, gradually deciding if he’s heroic, monstrous, or deeply messed up by what he does for a living. Clearly, there will be consequences.
Continuing the military theme, this is illustrated ‘interactive fiction’ which places you in the role of an American shooter on duty in the Middle East. You only know how to shoot, at least at first. As you choose actions more options open up – for instance hear, warn, calm – and you can apply to this to the various other characters, both to see their effects, and to gradually unravel a fractured narrative about a fractured mind. When you only know how to shoot, terrible things will happen to you. Harrowing and political.
I must confess that I’ve not played this myself, but enough people have recommended it that I’m (cautiously) including it here. A platform (i.e. jumping) game with puzzles about a young boy and his pet rhino-dog, Papo & Yo might sound like the setup for a Saturday morning cartoon, but it swiftly becomes a parable for a father-son relationship and what happens when that turns bad. How does trust and dependency remain when that trust has been violated? Is there a way back? It is also a beautiful game, one of those rare instances of a sizeable budget being granted to a deeply personal project. Just as a proviso: reportedly some of the jumping and puzzling can become frustrating even for seasoned game-players.
A game about life on the breadline. When games deal with money, usually that entails a race to the top, but Cart Life is purely about survival. You run a food stall, for which you must buy and prepare products with the hope of selling them for a small profit. While this grind does mean there’s no small amount of misery, Cart Life also concerns itself with friendships, and offers appealing people depicted in a halfway house between animation and documentary. This human contact is the virtue to pursue above and beyond the almighty dollar.
The biggest game in the world is the biggest game in the world for a very good reason. It’s accessible, it’s instantly rewarding, and it’s all about imagination rather than a power-fantasy. Click to mine. Click to build. Build whatever you want. No wonder a generation of kids are obessed with it – it’s infinite Lego, and they can collaborate with their friends too. This by no means makes it a childish game, though if you really are resistant to the simple charms of freeform building for freeform building’s sake then Minecraft won’t be for you. If nothing else, it’s well worth taking a couple of hours to get a first-hand sense of a genuine cultural phenomenon.
Also worth investigating is education-orientated spin-off MinecraftEdu. It’s a modified version of the game designed with teaching in mind. Clearly it works better in a classroom than at home, but digging into it is a great way of understanding how games’ essential interactivity can very much have a higher calling than pure hedonism (which is not to malign pure hedonism, of course).