Who wants a free game to play? Lots of people. Who wants a free “expressive game” to play? Not quite so many. Did I also mention that it’s French? Well it is. A French expressive game about a man exploring his past to fix his future. It’s called Keys Of A Gamespace and for one glorious moment I thought it might be my new favourite point and click game, for at least today. In the end, that wasn’t the case. Let me tell you why.
I love the opening scene. I love the realism of the room, the design of the characters, rough but somehow appealing. I believe in this place and these people. Who are they? A man, almost completely obscured by his computer monitor, who is preparing to take part in a raid while his girlfriend/wife demands that he step away from the machine and make her pregnant instead. Not in so many words, you understand, but that’s the gist of it.
This was the moment when I thought this might be a game that really spoke to me. I've played computer games while refusing to become a father, I thought. When the woman left and the man abandoned his game, slumping to the floor in despair, I realised I had done that too and that this exploration of The Gaming Man might be a good thing.
If you are even slightly wary of my ability to avoid spoiling the game, download and play first if you so desire. It'll only take around half an hour. I haven’t given away the story but I discuss it in an abstract fashion. If you have the linguistic knowhow, play in French. The English translation isn’t bad but there are occasional slipups.
Here’s my problem with the story: I was hoping for too little. A quiet and mundane slice of life about a relationship in a death spiral, something fun like that. Despite repeated references, Keys Of A Gamespace isn’t even about gaming really. The man trundles through a series of doors, exploring his memories and trying to put things right. This is done by clicking on people and objects, usually taking items from one memory to another.
For me, it didn’t work. The few actual choices in the game are too simple for the analysis presented to be meaningful but the biggest problem I had was with the actual content. The story covers some very unpleasant material but I felt it was doing so to force an extreme response and it never earned that response from me.
It’s like having Adolf Hitler as an endgame boss. Good, yes, we will gladly kill him. He himself is the motivation for doing so and nothing else need be said, no other supporting material need be provided. It’s easy. The dilemmas and emotions in Keys Of A Gamespace don’t require any real effort in the understanding or creation of the characters involved or their past, they only ask that you understand the concept of something terrible and the possibility of forgiveness. I didn’t feel any real connection between most of the memories and the man’s current situation, which made the choices presented seem targeted directly at me, with the game not even a filter in between.
Maybe you’ll have a different experience. For me, in such a short game, I think the characters would be far more interesting without any huge secrets, just the everyday evils of passivity, apathy and raiding.
Still, I like the art style and it’s a university project exploring a kind of interactive storytelling that’s made me sit down and write about it, so that’s something. The lesson I’d take from it is that in short-form fiction, subtlety is often the writer’s friend and moral dilemmas don’t have to be quite so extreme. The team that made this seem to be planning to make more "expressive" games and it'd be interesting to see what they learn and how they develop.