We live in exciting times for videogame development.
The rapidly growing indie game scene has started to provide an antidote to the creative stagnation of the now mature videogame industry.
One such game is the recently released Device 6 for iOS, by Swedish duo Simogo, who describe the game as a “blend of puzzle and novella, to draw players into an intriguing mystery of technology and neuroscience”.
So why the stagnation in mainstream game design, and how are games such as Device 6 creating something new for gamers and non-gamers alike?
The way it was
Cast your mind back to the heady days of the 1990s and early 2000s, when everyone was excited about the promise of cyberspace, virtual reality and the information superhighway; when new media was, well, still new.
Back then, designers and artists were busy experimenting with new ways to make art and tell stories through these new and emerging digital technologies.
How would narrative work in these new environments? Experiments with interactive films and DVDs, such as [I’m Your Man](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I’m_Your_Man_(\film)), which had theatre audiences vote to determine the progress of the story, or hypertext fiction which used hyperlinks to create something akin to a digital Choose Your Own Adventure book, yielded novel, but not always compelling, characters or immersive narratives.
At the same time, videogame designers were creating increasingly artful and compelling experiences, moving from the very simplistic Pong to more sophisticated adventure games, such as Sierra’s Police Quest series or Cyan’s boundary-pushing Myst.
Released in 1993, Myst’s immersive and beautiful environments, stunning graphics (for its time) and mysterious story helped to make it a huge commercial hit. More importantly, it got people thinking about games as art and perhaps even as interactive narratives.
New media, old problems
These days, video games outsell Hollywood films in many countries. Massive commercial games such as Australian-made LA Noir, which drew heavily on filmic conventions, have successfully created an interactive yet engaging narrative.
However, as with Hollywood movies, the developers of many big ticket games are often more focused on making money than doing something original or experimental.
Worse, these games often reproduce the same problematic (or nonexistent) portrayals of women and minorities that we often see in Hollywood blockbusters.
There are exceptions, of course, such as Bioware’s 2011 release Dragon Age II, which famously allowed players to play whatever gender and sexual orientation they chose (much to the ire of some in the game community).
A new player
Enter Device 6.
The game opens with the protagonist, Anna, waking in a place she does not recognise, not knowing how she got there or why.
As the player, you begin to unfold the mysterious circumstances of her predicament by navigating the game in a way not unlike the way you might interact with an eBook, but with a bit more of a twist. That alone immediately makes the game a bit more accessible to those who see themselves as non-gamers but who are familiar with reading on digital devices.
As you scroll through and read about what Anna is seeing and experiencing, you also encounter audio snippets, pictures and videos interspersed in the text. These bits of media not only enrich the story and create atmosphere, they provide the clues and puzzles that must be solved in order to progress the story.
Device 6 also makes use of multiple directions of text, meaning you often have to play around with the orientation of your tablet or phone as you play. This probably draws some confused stares if you are playing on the bus.
Hypertext fiction 2.0
What’s most interesting about Device 6 is that it is an experiment in videogame storytelling that revists the “old” hypertext fiction model.
This time, however, there are important differences.
Back in the 1990s, hypertext fiction required sitting at a desk, staring at a computer monitor, occasionally clicking a link in the story. The player didn’t have any meaningful influence on how the narrative unfolded. The requirement for attention was high, but the reward was low.
By adding compelling puzzles that enhance and control the unfolding of the story, Device 6 gives players more reward for their investment of time and energy.
And thanks to the iPad/iPhone platform, Device 6 can be comfortably enjoyed on your couch or in bed, just like your favourite book or eBook.
Overall, Device 6 successfully picks up where the experiments with hypertext and multimedia left off.
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