Ruminating On The Novelist

The Novelist Logo

The Novelist is a video game which was recently released by Orthogonal Games on Steam. To simply look at it from this perspective is incredibly short-sighted, though.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when starting up the game for the first time. My thoughts conjured up some sort of pretentious experience with overwrought storytelling. What I ended up with was an experience that really struck me in ways that made me feel uncomfortable. It’s not as if I attempt to hide emotions, but having them well up in response to a game was hardly anticipated. Somehow, as silly as the tagline on the official site “telling you something about yourself” seemed, I think it turned out to be true.

The Novelist Screenshot 2

Playing through The Novelist in a span of three hours thrust the reality of my actions and personality right back in my face. After all, this is a game about choices. You choose for a father named Dan whether he will work on the novel he is tasked with finishing or if he will spend time with his wife or child. Initially, I approached the game from a very methodical standpoint. I would simply alternate my choices between work, Linda, and Tommy!

Then I started to empathize with the characters and their situations. Linda was worried about the marriage ending in divorce. “My” wife could possibly be gone after the vacation was over. Then there was the son who desperately needed any attention that the busy father was reticent to give. Perhaps it was because I’ve yet to experience being a parent, but I pushed aside my expected strategy in favor of pleasing Linda, leaving poor Tommy with scant positive memories.

Through bending over to most of her wishes, I quickly saw the parallels to my own life. I, too, often push aside pressing matters of my own in order to satisfy the wants and needs of others. When it comes to romantic relationships, this is pushed into even higher gear. My own happiness is enhanced (or controlled?) by pleasing a significant other. It was a reality I have been aware of but more than happy to keep out of mind. And yet, playing The Novelist brought it right back to me. Here I was making the same choices I do in reality for a fictional relationship’s benefit.

The Novelist Screenshot

It was weird and unnerving. About two-thirds through, I wanted desperately to stop playing. Things had started to feel too real for me, as I continued to procrastinate on writing the novel to simply help Linda. Sometimes the choices made obvious sense. For example, how could any husband not go to the funeral of a person important to his wife? Polygonal Linda’s breakdown in the kitchen, having her sob something along the lines of “just be with me” was too much. I reasoned that she was top priority again and again.

The parallels to reality became too much, and I did stop playing – but only for a while. I figured if the break took too long it would be simple enough to pack the game away eternally. Soldiering on, the concluding choice halted me once again. Here was a chance to prove myself as being able to put my own needs first. Again, I bowed to the pressure of others. Perhaps I’m not ready to leave my comfort zone.

To say that The Novelist was a good or bad game is an attempt to appraise it by the wrong metric. Yes, it is a game, but it does something not particularly game-like. It makes one consider the choices they make in life. It’s not in that ham-fisted way that AAA titles do that for some reason receive massive praise. It’s the stark, realistic depiction of a family that makes it innately relateable for many. It affected me and made me think, which is more than can be said for almost any other game released this year.

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