Florence and Narrative Through Gameplay

When video games began gaining traction as an entertainment medium in the 80’s, most games kept their lore and story relegated to the manual distributed with the game. Games just didn’t have the capacity to tell stories any other way than through text, and more importantly, through the gameplay itself. Nowadays, the devices we use allow us to create experiences of all different kinds, but storytelling hasn’t seemed to evolve to fully utilize the potential of games.

Games like Bioshock and Horizon incentivize exploration with audio logs that flesh out the lore of the world, while games like Telltale’s series of licensed choose-your-own adventure games have let players directly influence the narrative to feel more connected. Though these approaches do a great job at making the player feel engaged, and they certainly involve the player more than other forms of entertainment, it doesn’t feel like these games are getting the most out of the interactivity of the medium. There’s a clear disconnect at times between the gameplay and story, such as the hordes of gunned-down soldiers contrasted with the charismatic protagonist in Uncharted or the godlike strength displayed by Kratos in God of War that is relegated to quick-time events. We’ve seen some exceptions, like last year’s brilliant Nier: Automata and its interesting uses of gaming tropes like replayability, character customization, and UI, or the cult classic Shadow of the Colossus and its subversion of the hero and open-world standards, but the list is surprisingly small.

A few days ago, I played a game called Florence that changed my opinion on that. It’s a short game by the creator of Monument Valley, a popular mobile puzzle game, and it genuinely took me by surprise. Within the half an hour I spent with the game, I performed mundane tasks like rubbing the screen, adding numbers, and putting together simple puzzle pieces. But Ken Wong and the team at Mountains have made those minute activities much more than just an interaction. They are part of the experience, and they help connect the player to the story of the game more than I’ve really ever seen. So let’s talk about what makes Florence‘s story feel so personal beyond a typical love story, thanks to the interactive nature of games.

Warning: spoilers for Florence are contained in this piece. It’s a 30 minute game and it’s well worth the time to check it out.

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