2013 IGF Finalists: Excellence in Narrative

Wondering what the most promising indie games might be? Have no fear. Each day this week we are covering a different category of IGF finalists and why they deserve to be played.

It’s that time of year again: the IGF is showcasing the best and brightest in the indie games field. This year, however, carries a new addition among the categories: Excellence in Narrative. These games are the best that the indie field has to offer in terms of emotional, relatable stories. Funnily enough, these games are also among the best in videogaming period, offering plots and characters outside the staid, tired standards of your average title. So here’s to the indie narrative, and all the uniqueness it carries with it.

Cart Life

It’s patently clear after starting the first character in Cart Life why it deserves a narrative nomination, and why it is one of the most interesting games I’ve ever played. The game follows the lives of a number of people as they trudge through the meaningless routine of the daily existence. The first character you are likely to play, a homeless Ukranian man with a poor understanding of English who shows up to take over a newspaper stand from another vendor, immediately sets the tone. It is bleak and depressive titles that uses the nature of games to explore the daily lives of those trying to juggle all the aspects of their life.

And this is a game, alright. But it’s a title more in the vein of Cactus’ semi-disturbing Norrland than a “fun” title. Actions are depicted in very rough, disjointed pixel-art format. Some actions, like smoking, are put into cutscenes both disorienting and fascinating. You must take care of your character’s needs, the needs of those dependent on you, your stand, your interactions with other characters, and a million other interconnecting and complicated subsystems. This is a game more about discovery than fun.

That sense of discovery is what really pushes the narrative forward. Different characters react in different ways to your humble vendor, and the message of the game is one of social stratification and ennui. It is a startlingly honest approach to the complex nature of the relationships we build with others, and its overall high learning curve only accentuates the hopelessness the player starts to feel very quickly. It may not be traditionally fun, but it’s a game worth sticking with. You can download Cart Life from the developer’s website for free, so there is no reason you shouldn’t be playing it.

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