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Have You Played...ABZU?

Absent Friends

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

I fell hard for languid, gorgeous diving adventure ABZU at the time, but replaying it recently with my three-year-old daughter, it's become something else entirely. Not simply delightful - also strangely harrowing.

She knows a lot more about manatees and blue whales now, is the main positive. The second is her simple delight at the wild colours or the appearance of a brand new type of fish - wanting to know what everything is, wanting to know that everything is a friend, wanting the vibrancy to be restored to an area when the humanoid player-character activates one of the underwater spirit-palace-thingies. She is regularly fascinated and celebratory.

The downside is that this is a game full of minor tragedies - the regular loss of small robot 'friends', as she calls them, who follow the player-character, offer sing-song sounds in response to his/her calls, and help him/her to open coral doors. Some are destroyed by predators, but most are simply lost when progressing through one of the titanic, ominous doors that gate progress to a new area.

Young Connie becomes so anxious when she realises a Friend has gone missing, and I have to reassure her that we will find another soon, while privately worrying that perhaps we will not, or that it it will take too long and she will become terrified and tearful during the wait. These events are simple, brief and wordless, but powerful - even to me. I too miss my Friends when they're not there. Proof that a game does not need a cutscene, or even a any dialogue, to achieve its intended effect.

Perhaps I shouldn't protect her so much. Perhaps I should let her experience and begin to understand loss. I would rather she was cheerfully cooing at manatees, though.

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Alec Meer avatar

Alec Meer


Ancient co-founder of RPS. Long gone. Now mostly writes for rather than about video games.