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  • Writer's picturePablo Cidade

Forget the game mechanics, it is time to cry.

(A 7 minutes reading, aprox)


Goose Ladder Games is an indie team “founded by a script analyst and a software developer who met in film school” as it says in their Itch bio. These disjointed influences are no doubt reflected in the peculiarity of their works.

For this analysis I want to focus on 2 experiences in particular, Three Jogs and One Last Game. Both do something quite powerful, making the player ignore the game mechanics in favor of the narrative, and even rarer, in favor of sentimentality, something rarely explored in a subtle way.


Alongside we will explore the Models for Creating meaning used in these games, as well as which Narrative Techniques are in place.

Using the Academic Framework provided by:

  • Jim Bizzocchi in his paper Games and Narrative: An Analytical Framework

  • Shelby Moledina, Cat Manning, Jeff Pobst, Alicia Fortier, Alexander Youngblood, Kaitlin Tremblay, Kevin Snow in Playful Narrative: A Toolbox for Story-Rich Mechanics


Is important to understand the interactions between players, systems (game mechanics, menus, AI, etc), and the story/world as an ongoing conversation, something that is dynamic and not static. This is where the use of Models for Creating Meaning comes in.

As you read, have in mind how these interactions are developed in each game, and how they create meaning.

The Narrative Techniques are tools that we use to guide and reinforce the created meaning 


I know it's fashionable to recommend "mature" games that "really explore the medium" and end up just being the same tired sad music techniques that Pixar and Disney have exposed us to ad nauseum. All packed up around typical AAA Pseudo-Hollywood experiences or pretentious indie platformers.

I ask the reader to give me a chance to assure you that these are not those types of games.

I just want you to allow yourself to feel a human emotion for 6 minutes in a video game that has the budget of a McDonald's lunch.

Take that minuscule amount of time to try these games now before reading on, if you don't want spoilers. And if you are not satisfied with the result, I assume full responsibility and offer my sincere apologies.



Three Jogs:


One Last Game:


SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!




Three Jogs - The Dog Dies in the End

I told you it will be spoilers


In Three Jogs we are presented with a man and his dog on a leash going for a walk. The aesthetic is one of cut paper painted with watercolors, adequate but not much else (at least at first glance), coupled with a frankly frustrating main mechanic that is reminiscent of a flash rage game. Maintaining the correct pace and angle to prevent the dog from getting behind will be essential if we want to do what the game initially asks us to do, beat a target time to finish the circuit and show that we are better than... I don't know, the imaginary player who uploaded those times to begin with.


We will have 3 stages, in the first the dog is young, he falls behind easily so maintaining a permissive pace is recommended.

The moment it gets stuck in one of the muddy pits, you will have to press the spacebar to call the dog. The owner then will pet it and then you can continue running. The time the man takes to take care of the dog before moving on can undoubtedly exasperate the most competitive gamers.




In my first game while struggling with the controls I didn't manage to beat the target time. It doesn't matter, the game continues to the next screen and with another target time.




This time the dog is in the prime of his life, and easily manages to keep up with us, running gloriously in the rain. With a little forethought to avoid falling into mud puddles, the target time can be easily achieved.





In the third and final level, even though the graphic appearance of the dog has not changed (at least I did not notice any changes), its movements seem tired, it is difficult for it to keep up with us, the time limit is quickly approaching, and it seems difficult to overcome this test.




Out of nowhere the dog stops, and the clock fades out.


Here is where we see a masterful use of the Narrative Infusion technique where the elements native of the videogame; in this case the user interface, are used to express and reinforce narrative concerns such as emotion, character, storyworld and story progression.

Achieving a record time never mattered, the goal of the game was a lie. In this case the User interface reinforces this notion masterfully. The degradation of the dog's health is also shown thorow how hard or easy it is to control.


No matter how much we call him, the dog continues sitting, he no longer advances as on previous occasions. The character, despite being a literal paper cutout with basic animations, transmits powerful emotions when he realizes that this dog can no longer take on these walks. They both return to where they came from and the game ends. The titles of the chapters from the beginning gave us the impression that it would be a game about old age. I thought I knew what awaited me.



A game where the dog basically dies at the end, another sentimental game that wants to tug at my emotional chords in a cheap way, I was ready for that. The dog doesn't even die on screen, but we all understand that he does so in the end, like all dogs and like all of us eventually. 

I don't think that was the point of Three Jogs. Just as the time marker wasn't the point either. As cliché as it may sound, the point was the walks, spending time with that pet, even though he can no longer give what he gave in his youth, that short time, those years that the game passes in minutes, are the ones that end up moving us.


The player gets frustrated with the dog during the first two levels when it gets stuck, it's ruining our perfect timing, by the third level, we don't really care anymore and the disappearing time stamp gives us more reluctant gamers permission to feel a bit of emotion.

Being able to transmit something so common, so known to all of us, but so pure, is truly remarkable. A rage game that dont want us to feel rage, but compassion.

And if that doesn't really move you, it doesn't really matter, I lied at the beginning of the review, I'm not going to take responsibility, I don't care either. I'm not a video game journalist, I don't get paid for clicks, I don't get paid at all.






One Last Game

Everyone dies




In One Last Game this forgetting of game mechanics in favor of human emotion is taken to its maximum expression. 

The game starts with a first person view, a checkerboard, we already know what we have to do, beat the opponent who is sitting in front of us.


We played a little, I even managed to get one of my queens (or whatever they are called) to the other end of the board, damn how well I play, this old man has no chance against me.




Suddenly you hear a bomb fall, the whole house shakes, the pieces of the board are scattered everywhere, it doesn't matter, you keep playing. Oh…I understand. We continue playing.

The bombs keep falling, the house shakes, the pieces fall and we continue playing without paying attention.




One of the bombs leaves everything silent, the screen black. Are we dead?

A candle lights up. Ok, we're not dead. We are still playing.




We keep playing, without really a point, the pieces are totally mixed up, we're not even keeping track of who's winning, it doesn't really matter anymore, it never mattered, that's very clear. More bombs continue to fall, flashes of light are seen in the distance, I assume they are gunshots. Suddenly they start knocking on the door, the aggressiveness of the knocks increases. The door shakes, appearing to be about to be blown out of its hinges. 




Finally our partner takes our hand and looks us in the eyes, we both understand what is going to happen, we are going to die. He smiles, I smile. The door being kicked down is the last thing heard before the game ends.


Remember when we talked about Models for Creating meaning?

Here, as well as in Three Jogs, we can appreciate the use of a Congruent Meaning Model, where the story and mechanics are two intertwined conversations that meet regularly.




They can act separately, like at the beginning of the game when we just think this is a checkers simulator. But they can reinforce each other's point, like when the pieces start to fall from the board and it is impossible to keep playing the checkers game with any logic.


The inevitability of death, and yet we continue to play, even when there is no point, there is no score, the pieces don't even stay in place. How many people do this right now in the real world? Someone in a hospital bed about to die will ask to play one last game of cards.

Who won that game? Who cares?



Homework? I guess…


Now, I'm asking you, dear reader.


1-How the Congruent Meaning Model is used in Three Jogs?

2- How the Narrative Infusion technique is used in One Last Game?

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2 Comments


Guest
Apr 30

Cool post! Do you have an example of these techniques used on a AAA game?

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Pablo Cidade
Pablo Cidade
Apr 30
Replying to

I can think of a couple.

The most well known I think is Metal Gear Solid 3, where the player needs to open a menu on the dead screen to activate a resuscitation pill. Is a weird mechanical contradiction for the player but helps a lot on the narrative side. Kojima does think like this in several of his games.

Another one that I really liked is in No More Heroes 3 where the game suddently shifts to an RPG format (the main character hates RPGs). If you select the enemy to attach him it misses every time, since the enemy is an RPG expert. But if you select the UI itself as a target you can destroy it and…


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