Oxenfree

Synopsis:
Oxenfree is an emotionally engaging ghost story adventure game with multiple looping endings. The story involves a group of teens on an abandoned island, trying to navigate some malcontent spirits.

Content Warning: Suicide

Who Should Play:
The trick of Oxenfree is that how you respond to other characters (if you are nice, mean, indifferent) changes the possibilities of how the story goes. While it is not necessarily for first time players, it is not difficult to pick up on once you get the hang of it working the controls. The controls are easier on touchscreens than on computers or other consoles (such as the Switch).

Made by: Developer: Night School Studio

Available on: Android, iOS, Linux, Mac OS, Microsoft, Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, XBox

Price: $4.99 – $9.99 (depending on platform)

Play time: 4+ hours (depending on how many times you play different scenarios)

Questions for Oxenfree:

  1. Oxenfree is a game about teens and teen drama. To what extent did you find the story engaging you in that drama and reminding you of drama from your own teen years?
  2. Did you think that Oxenfree was scary? Spooky? How did the “horror” elements of this ghost story sit with you?
  3. What kind of choices did you make in your play? Did you choose to be nice to your stepbrother? Ignore him? Berate him? What was your narrative strategy in the game?
  4. What ending did you get in your first playthrough? Was that ending satisfying? (Note that there are several different endings depending on the choices that you make.)
  5. Did you play through a second or third time for different endings? How did those playthroughs feel different than the first time?
  6. The game provokes an interesting conversation about “old” versus “new” media players; we play it on “new” media but are constantly experiencing the slowness and lack of precision in older media objects (tape players, radios, etc). How does this contrast affect your play?
  7. Did you sympathize with the ghost(s)?
  8. How did you feel about Alex, as a character, as playthrough progressed? Did you relate to her?
  9. To what extent did you sympathize with the emotions of the other non-player characters in the game (Clarissa, Ren, Jonas, and Nona)? How did you choose to behave towards each of them as the game progressed?
  10. The game was full of looping time. In what ways did time loops help with discovery?

General Gaming Circle Questions:

  1. What did and didn’t you like about the game?
  2. How much time did you spend playing? Did you play all at once or break up your time?
  3. Did you play during other activities, or dedicate time solely to playing?
  4. Did the game feel like a waste of time? A good use of time? Explain.

Links & Walkthroughs:

Official Web Site
Wired (Review)
IGN (Walkthrough)

Monument Valley 2

Synopsis:
Monument Valley 2 is a sequel to Monument Valley, this time replacing protagonist Ida with a mother and daughter team, solving mysteries together.

Who Should Play:
While Monument Valley is technically a sequel, it does not require playing the first game first (although it might be helpful). The mother daughter team in this version invites new mechanics to the original setup, taking place in the same worldscape.

Made by: Developer: ustwo studio, ltd.

Available on: Android, iOS

Price: $4.99

Play time: 2-4 hours

Questions for Monument Valley 2:

  1. If you already played Monument Valley, how did the change in protagonist(s) change your perspective of the game world? Did you enjoy one game more than the other?
  2. How did the mirroring mechanic between mother (Ro) and her daughter create an emotional resonance in your playing?
  3. The scene where the mother separates from the daughter is emotionally resonant, and somewhat upsetting. How did this departure effect your continuation of play?
  4. The game series refers to geometry as “sacred geometry.” What does this term mean to you, and do you think that idea was well-articulated in the game world?
  5. Consider the experiences of moving in unnatural ways (walking upside down, etc.). Was the magical realism of the game compelling? Terrifying? What kind of emotions does this strange physics evoke for you?
  6. In what way was the narrative about personal growth and change?
  7. Was there one level or scene that you found particularly intricate or difficult, or you thought was emotionally compelling beyond the others? What sticks with you after playing the game?

General Gaming Circle Questions:

  1. What did and didn’t you like about the game?
  2. How much time did you spend playing? Did you play all at once or break up your time?
  3. Did you play during other activities, or dedicate time solely to playing?
  4. Did the game feel like a waste of time? A good use of time? Explain.

Links & Walkthroughs:

Official Web Site
Polygon (Review)
App Unwrapper (Walkthrough)

Gorogoa

Synopsis:
Gorogoa is a gorgeous puzzle game that involves rearranging hand-drawn squares as it tells you a non-linear story about time, aging, and desires.

Who Should Play:
Gorogoa takes a while to get a hang of how to play, but once you get into it, the puzzles are absorbing and visually stunning. It’s not great for first time players, but provokes good discussions and meditative play.

Made by: Producer: Annapurna Interactive Digital; Developer: Buried Signal, Jason Roberts

Available on: Android, iOS, Linux, Mac OS, Microsoft, Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One

Price: $4.99 – $14.99 (depending on platform)

Play time: 2-5 hours

Questions for Gorogoa:

  1. Gorogoa was hand drawn over the course of about four years. How does a hand-drawn game change how it feels to play?
  2. The narrative of the game was somewhat elusive, yet always present. What do you think the narrative was, and in what ways was its completion satisfying or dissatisfying?
  3. The game involved no instructions and no tutorial levels. How did this method help absorb you in the game, or to what extent did you find the lack of instruction frustrating?
  4. Did you get stuck? What were some ways that you used to get unstuck?
  5. The game was constantly about framing and reframing and looking again at things you have already seen. In what ways did playing it affect how you saw the world around you?
  6. In what ways did the wordlessness of the game effect your experience?
  7. The end of the game was a whirlwind of emotions for the protagonist. In what ways did you experience a similar emotional catharsis?
  8. Gorogoa feels, in many ways, like a physical, card game. Did it remind you of other non-digital games.
  9. Who do you think this game was made for? What audience do you think the creator had in mind?

General Gaming Circle Questions:

  1. What did and didn’t you like about the game?
  2. How much time did you spend playing? Did you play all at once or break up your time?
  3. Did you play during other activities, or dedicate time solely to playing?
  4. Did the game feel like a waste of time? A good use of time? Explain.

Links & Walkthroughs:

Official Web Site
Ars Technica (Review)
Peabody Awards (Award Citation)
App Unwrapper (Walkthrough)

Donut County

Synopsis:
Donut County is a weird and hilarious game where you play as a hole in the ground, sucking up everything around you; an apt metaphor for our current times. The game neatly combines narrative and puzzling in fun and fast-paced ways.

Who Should Play:
Donut County is a great first choice for a gaming circle. The narrative is quite funny and it has things in it both for those who like puzzle elements as well as those who like narrative elements.

Made by: Producer: Annapurna Interactive Digital; Developer: Ben Esposito

Available on: iOS, Mac OS (steam), Microsoft (steam), Playstation 4

Price: $4.99 – $12.99 (depending on platform)

Play time: Approximately 3 hours

Questions for Donut County:

  1. The creator of this game refers to this as a “redemption story” – in what ways was BK redeemed? Were any other characters redeemed?
  2. What kind of pleasures are there in being a-hole (note pun – intentional by creator)?
  3. Who was the protagonist of this story and what made them a protagonist?
  4. Who did you relate to the most in the story?
  5. Did the story or puzzle matter more in this game?
  6. How did the process of making holes make you feel?
  7. The game was born out of an off-hand twitter joke. In what ways does this come through in the play and story?
  8. Was the final “boss level” too much of a deviation from the rest of the play? What might have been a better way to do a boss level that was more inclusive of different kinds of audiences?
  9. Was the game a good length? What might have made it better?
  10. Was the end satisfying or is more closure necessary to make it a good story?

General Gaming Circle Questions:

  1. What did and didn’t you like about the game?
  2. How much time did you spend playing? Did you play all at once or break up your time?
  3. Did you play during other activities, or dedicate time solely to playing?
  4. Did the game feel like a waste of time? A good use of time? Explain.

Links & Walkthroughs:

Official Site
Polygon (Review)
IGN (Walkthrough)
App Unwrapper (Walkthrough)

Monument Valley

Synopsis:
Monument Valley is full of breathtakingly beautiful puzzles that have the player navigate through Escher-esque castles and landscapes. Looking at the structures and spaces differently yields answers, making it a game that helps us remember to keep perspective. It is a game that is full of both fun puzzles to solve and provides a relaxing visual atmosphere to gaze at while solving them.

Who Should Play:
Monument Valley is a great beginner game for individuals and groups who like good puzzles. It is a game where if you look for long enough at a landscape, you see it differently. The puzzle solving is very satisfying.

Made by: Developer: ustwo studio, ltd.

Available on: Android, iOS

Price: $3.99

Play time: 2-4 hours

Questions for Monument Valley:

  1. The game had heavy puzzle elements with a light narrative backdrop. How did you respond to the story portions of the game, and did they encourage your play?
  2. How did the artwork and visual style effect your desire to play?
  3. We never see Ida’s face nor get any dialogue from her. In what way(s) do we still relate to her as a protagonist?
  4. Early in the game, an elder says to Ida, “This was the valley of men. Now all that remains are our monuments, stripped of their glories. Thieving princess, why have you returned?”
  5. Reigns was also a game about female royalty. In what ways did the two narratives feel different (or similar)?
  6. In what ways did the aesthetic style complement the narrative and mechanics?
  7. In what ways might this game feel more like a poem than a short story, if we were going to compare it to more traditional narratives?
  8. Talk about the frustrations or pleasures you had from unlocking puzzles. How did the puzzles make you feel, and did you ever get stuck?
  9. What do you make of the other non-player characters in the game (the crows, the totem, the elders). How did each effect how you played and how you thought about the protagonist?
  10. Recently, the film rights were sold on this game. Do you think the game would make a good movie? Why or why not?

General Gaming Circle Questions:

  1. What did and didn’t you like about the game?
  2. How much time did you spend playing? Did you play all at once or break up your time?
  3. Did you play during other activities, or dedicate time solely to playing?
  4. Did the game feel like a waste of time? A good use of time? Explain.

Links & Walkthroughs:

Official Site
App Unwrapper (Walkthrough)

Reigns: Her Majesty

Synopsis:
Reigns: Her Majesty is a strategy card-based game that takes place in a fictional Renaissance-like society. The player directs the action of a rotating (reincarnating) set of queens, deciding on choices (through swipe actions) based on advice from various advisors. While the game is a sequel, it is standalone and (arguably) better than the original, and authored by feminist game journalist Leigh Alexander.

Who Should Play:
Reigns: Her Majesty is probably not a good first game for a novice gaming circle, but it is a good game for people who have played a few other games. The swiping mechanic is easy to pick up, but the game itself can be a bit confusing with little direction if you don’t follow a game walkthrough. It is good for discussion.

Made by: Producer: Devolver Digital; Developer: Nerial

Available on: Android, iOS, Linux, Mac OS, Microsoft, Nintendo Switch

Price: $2.99

Play time: 3-10 hours (average 5)

Questions about Reigns: Her Majesty:

  1. How does regular death in the game (the fact that part of play was your character dying over and over) affect your feelings while playing?
  2. How many of the choices you made in this game were based on what you would do in reality versus pragmatism of doing what you think would work best?
  3. When you did make pragmatic choices, did that make you feel differently about leadership and governance in the real world? How so?
  4. Was this game too complicated?
  5. Did you feel compelled to complete the game? For those of you who finished, was that completion worthwhile?
  6. There are other versions of the game that are not queen-centric. How do you think you might have responded differently to those games?
  7. The game has a sort of wry sense of humor. How did this affect your feelings and play?
  8. Did you enjoy the binary (yes/no) type mechanics? Was there something pleasurable in its similarity to non-game (swiping) apps?

General Gaming Circle Questions:

  1. What did and didn’t you like about the game?
  2. How much time did you spend playing? Did you play all at once or break up your time?
  3. Did you play during other activities, or dedicate time solely to playing?
  4. Did the game feel like a waste of time? A good use of time? Explain.

Links & Walkthroughs:

App Unwrapper (Walkthrough)
Touch Arcade (Walkthrough)

Florence

Synopsis:
Florence is an interactive story game about first loves, lost loves, and growing up. It is emotionally resonant, and its play feels like a short story.

Who Should Play:
Florence is a great first game for Gaming Circles. It is easy to play and available on different platforms. It is particularly a good fit for those who like story-based games.

Made by: Producer: Annapurna Interactive; Developer: Mountains

Available on: Android, iOS, Mac OS, Microsoft, Nintendo Switch

Price: $2.99 – $5.99 (depending on operating system)

Play time: 1-2 hours

Questions about Florence:

1.     Did you find yourself relating to Florence, as a character? Which of her experiences resonated the most with your own?

2.     The game uses a chapter structure, like a book. Do you think video games can feel literary by doing this? Should games emulate other fiction media, or be different?

3.     You had to do a lot of work on behalf of Florence to make the story go forward. Which of the chores felt monotonous and which ones felt like they helped you understand the story better?

4.     How was a romance story game different from other kinds of romances?

5.     How long did the game take you to play? Did you play it all at once or break it up throughout your day(s)?  Do you think the game should have been longer?

6.     What kind of emotions were evoked by this game story? 

7.     There was not much dialogue in the game. Do you think more dialogue would have helped you relate better to the characters, or did the visual language of action make you empathize with the story more?

8.     Florence is not particularly challenging. Did you feel like you wanted more challenge? Or were the easy game actions better for focusing on the narrative?

9.     If this story had been in another medium, would it have been as effective?

General Gaming Circle Questions:

1.     What did and didn’t you like about the game?

2.     How much time did you spend playing? Did you play all at once or break up your time?

3.     Did you play during other activities, or dedicate time solely to playing?

4.     Did the game feel like a waste of time? A good use of time? Explain.

Links & Walkthroughs:

Official Web Site
Polygon (Review)
AppUnwrapper (Review & Walkthrough)

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