OPINION: Games – A shared screen experience

Over the course of the past week, two personal gaming moments have stuck in my mind. Interestingly, both of these experiences involved me sharing my screen with other people. Not in a two player split screen way, mind you. No, I simply mean that another person used my screen, as a viewer… but with many of today’s games, it’s so much more than that. It’s a shared experience.

The first of these occurrences I’d like to talk about comes from Ubisoft’s wonderful “Western” JRPG, Child of Light. I’ve played quite a lot of Child of Light on my laptop this week, while also minding my 2 year old daughter. You see, most games I have to cover are often too violent to play in the same room as my little one and are usually played late at night, when she’s fast asleep. Often, the game’s that aren’t too violent are often still far too complicated for her to play at only 2 years of age.

So, when I saw her getting into my Child of Light playthrough, it became less “my experience” exclusively, and more a collective, shared experience between father and daughter. She was elated when I won a fight, she loved hearing me read out the games rhyming story sections and she gazed on in horror when I succumbed to a particularly deadly foe. It felt like another way of storytelling. I’ve often sat down to read my little one a story. Together we see new lands, strange creatures and sometimes even engage with our favourite movie heroes.

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Child of Light feels like an interactive storybook… and I used it as just that.

Never before though have I shared such an interactive experience with her. She would point to an enemy during a battle, indicating that I should take them out next. She would point in a direction when I was exploring the world and I would be expected to fly in that direction. In many ways it reminds me of a Livestream. She was my viewer and was dictating what she wanted to happen in Child of Light and I was willing it into reality.

I wish there were more games like Child of Light for me to play with my daughter. Not only is it an honestly great RPG, but it’s a smart, arty game that deserves plaudits, if even as one of a handful of games which will appeal aesthetically and thematically to very young children. It may even serve as a gateway into the world of interactive storytelling. The second experience I want to discuss involves a far more adult title I played with my wife and mother in law.

I’m a huge fan of Telltale Games – I even enjoyed their much derided Jurassic Park game. I’m also a massive fan of Vertigo Comics Fables series, but for some reason have left it far too long before really getting into the licensed videogame, The Wolf Among Us. I did play through the first episode upon release, but did not keep up with subsequent episodes. This week I decided I was due to catch up on the adventures of Bigby Wolf and Snow White in Fabletown, New York.

It all started when my daughter went down for her afternoon nap. I decided now was the perfect time to squeeze some “adult” game time in. So I booted up the PS3, looking guiltily at my wife and mother in law, who both sat in the room. Sure, they were distracted with their Smartphones, but I was essentially robbing them of their TV viewing time too. Still, no amount of guilt was going to stop me from jumping into Episode 2 of The Wolf Among Us and thus, I started the game.

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Decisions play an important part in Telltale Games titles and sharing them engages viewers.

Within 10 minutes my mother in law asked “Is that a game or a TV show?”. At first, I was unsure whether this was a slight against the game for it’s excessive exposition, or if she genuinely couldn’t differentiate this from shows like Grimm or The Walking Dead. I suddenly realised it was the latter and she began to get as absorbed into the world as I was. While this happened, my wife began to take note. Before long she was calling the shots, (as is the case with all wives) asking me to select a certain choice or suggesting what I investigate next.

It was great. I was initially worried that I was robbing these folks of TV time when instead we were sharing a same screen experience. Sure, I was the vehicle that input the actual commands but the choices made and outcomes were influenced directly by our collective engagement in this interactive narrative. Sure there were times where we squabbled over the next choice or I selected something against their wishes, but still… this was one of my favourite gaming moments this week – or potentially ever.

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TwitchPlaysPokemon is the poster child for shared screen experiences.

So, my takeaway from this couple of experiences is that videogames are truly starting to find their place as a medium where multiple viewers can share and enjoy in an interactive story. In many cases, it may not even require more than one player to do so. It’s – as I’ve said previously in this article – becoming a shared screen experience; an instance where a group of people can collectively come together to share in an interactive adventure and feel just as gratified as if they were holding the controller themselves.

Looking at the gaming ecosystem today, this is already true as many people tune into livestreams of games and send suggestions to the player. Phenomenon like TwitchPlaysPokemon occur when gamers feel connected through a shared experience of a single player game. I remember my cousin doing a livestream of The Walking Dead by Telltale where he allowed players on Twitch to decide the choices made, meaning he willingly wanted to share his experience with others – and they were more than happy to reciprocate.

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Gone Home is beautiful and introspective, but it’s an inherently private game by design.

In an age where everything is moving in an adult direction and games are either violent gun catalogues like Call of Duty or intricate and deep experiences like Gone Home, I really hope there is more room for games that can be enjoyed (even from a distance) by casual and younger gamers. Videogames are often seen as interactive stories and if having a daughter has taught me anything, it’s that the joy of sharing a story is one of the greatest things you can share.

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