When one typically thinks about video games, there are a few images that generally come to mind right away. Maybe it’s the red shirted plumber hopping across impossible levels, a rugged soldier running into the fray with guns blazing or maybe the brave knight and his comrades questing to slay evil. All of these images we conjure up are action based, situations where our characters physical prowess is put to the test over and over. What about dealing with our mental and emotional prowess in video games though?
That’s what Firewatch makes you think of. The game, which is the debut title for both the developers at Campo Santo and the publishers at Panic, is set in the Wyoming wilderness following the events of the Yellowstone fires of 1988. We find our hero Henry volunteering at a fire watch the year following the Yellowstone events in order to get some space from his wife who is dealing with early onset Dementia.
The only real communication you get in the game is through a walkie-talkie which connects you to Henry’s supervisor Delilah. Dialogue options come up during a number of events, such as finding new areas or just passing by some plants. You can choose to ignore Delilah or answer, but be warned, what you say affects the tone Henry will use.
So how is it that a game that has absolutely no combat or rigorous physical activity can become so popular? It’s because Firewatch is with the rise of many other games like it, which focus on the mental side of your character’s journey instead of the physical side. Games like this with a heavy narrative are more like an interactive story time adventure than a typical game, but I think that’s what the consumer really enjoys.
It’s a break from the norm that makes us look inwardly at our own life more. The choices we make in games like Firewatch, Gone Home or one of the many TellTale stories can haunt us hours after the game is off. There’s a defined effect there on how the stories and characters grapple with our brain and when it’s all said and done, maybe it will make someone think twice about things that they used to do without a thought. There’s a good chance that storyteller games like Firewatch are doing more for human morality than any karma system thrown into an RPG. It’s good to see more games with a heavy narrative taking the spotlight they so deserve.