There is a distinctive combination of characteristics that makes games and their play unique and quite powerful. When it comes to assessing a game, I think two of the most important aspects to consider are narrative and immersion. Narrative in games is very unique in that developers can break out of the traditional mold of telling stories with words. Instead, they can utilize the idea of “environmental storytelling” where the pieces of a story are infused into the physical space of the game using sounds, textures, and dialogue to communicate themes and produce an emotional impact. When discussing a game, it is imperative to address the narrative or the story that is crafted by all its aspects. One thing that makes narrative such a significant part of video games is that it helps build immersion. Immersion is a vital part of games because this medium gives the players opportunity to have agency and make choices in ways that other mediums, like literature, cannot. Therefore, the level of immersion that a game can produce is a significant point to discuss when assessing a game.
One game that I think exhibits these two criterion quite well is Undertale. In this game you play as a human child trapped in a world of monsters who is trying to escape. You form relationships with various reoccurring characters as you navigate puzzles and enemies. The puzzles themselves are very simple, they can be crossword puzzles or labyrinths that require you to take particular paths or press a number of switches. And the enemies are defeated by using the mouse cursor to move your small pixelated heart out of the way of projectiles.
What made this simple platformer game engaging for me was the fact that it brought in narrative by having the various characters talk to you. The actual “game” aspects of Undertale, meaning the puzzles and defeating enemies, could have been played without any narration, but the story elements that it created made the game much more immersive and fun to play. It is difficult to immerse yourself in a game where you just walk around and try to find the right path, but the narrative of this game paved the way for immersion by making the game an emotional experience. While playing, my main motivation for getting to the next place was to learn more about the characters like Toriel, Sans, and Papyrus. The addition of their narratives made a simple problem-solving game into a fun and immersive role-playing game with characters that make you fall in love with them.