Warning: if you’re not prepared to laugh, cry, or ask a stranger to hold you on a crowded train, save these games for an emptier carriage (or possibly a small dark room).
A few weeks ago, I found myself crying on a bus. Although this is not an uncommon occurrence (certain songs, podcasts, and Youtube ads have all been known to set me off), this was the first time that a video game has made me openly weep on public transport. If any of the other tired-eyed, life-weary commuters had asked me what was wrong (thankfully, they all allowed me to sob quietly in peace), I would’ve had to explain that I had just completed a mobile phone game, and that I would very much like someone to hold me.
Mobile games are not generally associated with bursting hearts and leaking tear ducts. Instead, they conjure up images of aunty Carol’s Candy Crush addiction, or perhaps the more recent global phenomenons of Pokemon Go and Animal Crossing Pocket Camp. These games are all perfect for commuters; they’re simple, fun and, most importantly, they pass the time. And yet when the time does come for you to slip that phone back into your pocket, backpack or work desk draw, it’s unlikely that these games leave players with much more than a vaguely unscratchable itch to keep tapping and swiping.
However, for those who don’t mind being caught off-guard by your own feelings in public, or are simply looking for something a little heartier, you’ll be pleased to hear that a number of video game studios are starting to shift the focus, bringing emotionally charged, beautifully crafted experiences to anyone with an app store login. Given that mobile games are perhaps the most widely accessible in this smartphone age, seeing games with narrative quality and emotional weight equal to (and, in some cases, surpassing) some of the more expensive console games on the market is in itself extremely heartening. The makers of the following games have truly embraced the idea that video games should be for everyone, creating games with mechanics designed to invite beginners in and a story that will stay with you long after your phone runs out of battery.
Warning: if you are not prepared to laugh, cry, or ask a stranger to hold you on a crowded train, may I suggest either saving these games for an emptier carriage, or possibly a small, dark room.
Image from the game Florence.
FLORENCE The game that broke me on the bus, in the best way possible. Made by Melbourne-based games studio Mountains, Florence tells the story of 25-year-old Florence Yeoh, a young woman whose dreams are slowly sinking into the murky depths of her 9 to 5 life. Via a sequence of simple yet utterly charming mini-games, you play through the motions of Florence’s day to day, motions that are transformed when she stumbles upon love interest Krish playing cello in the park. Threads of intuitive game design, original art style and a gorgeous classical score are woven together to tell a story of love blooming, love changing, and how the people who share that love can change with it. Cue warm, heartfelt sobbing.
BURY ME, MY LOVE Named for the Syrian farewell phrase that, in essence, means “don’t die before me”, Bury Me, My Love draws upon collected stories of Syrian refugees to create an interactive story game using its own fictional smartphone interface. You play as Madj, a Syrian man trying to help his wife Nour flee their war-torn country and seek refuge in Western Europe. You progress through the game by selecting texts to send to Nour, guiding her through difficult choices, informing her of the ever-changing border policies, and keeping her motivated during the darkest moments of her harrowing journey to safety. Bury Me, My Love is a beautifully crafted experience that gives emotional insight into the countless hardships people seeking refuge face every day, and will have you checking your phone at all intervals to make sure that your beloved Nour is doing OK.
MONUMENT VALLEY AND MONUMENT VALLEY 2 Cream of the puzzle game crop, the Monument Valley games use colour, sound, and movement in ways that will both blow your mind and squeeze your heart. The first game sees you playing as Princess Ida, who has embarked on a solo search for redemption amongst the mysterious ‘sacred geometry’, while in Monument Valley 2 you play as Ro, a disciple of said sacred geometry come to share its secrets with her young daughter. Every single level of these games could live a second life on an art gallery wall, and the puzzles themselves unfold so organically you can’t help but gasp out loud each time you discover a new pathway or door (which can get a bit awkward if you’re like me and need to sneak into the office toilet to play just one more level). Yet in the hearts of these tiny works of geometric art lie stories that develop as seamlessly as the puzzles themselves, telling intimate tales of love, loss, and the power of letting go.
EL Perhaps the shortest of the bunch, this simple side scroller didn’t exactly cue tears, but it definitely left me speechless. You begin the game as El, who wakes in a small dark room, next to an open umbrella, unsure of where she is and how she got there. As you fly her Mary Poppins style over forests and cities, you aim to collect the glowing feathers that will keep her afloat, while avoiding flocks of birds, trees, and various other airborne dangers. With the completion of each short level, the story of El is slowly pieced together, and you begin to understand how she came to be in that small, dark room in the first place. What begins as a sweet way to get through your morning commute will slowly evolve into a something quite a bit darker, so maybe don’t play this before a full day of work/class/large amounts of social interaction.
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