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Seeing some games pushing the envelop so far makes it hard for me to commit to other games (Mutazione)

Content of the article: "Seeing some games pushing the envelop so far makes it hard for me to commit to other games (Mutazione)"

I come to different video games with different expectations. Finding the right expectations helps you enjoy all kinds of games. If it's something like a JRPG I come in expecting to go on an adventure and meeting a colorful cast. If a game promises to be thoughtful, I expect it to explore themes and to help me relate to new experiences, fictional or non-fictional. Some games I simply expect them to have an interesting moment-to-moment (intricate challenges, tactics, strategic planning, etc.)

Games can meet the expectations you set for them, they can fall short, they can exceed them, or they can resist and challenge them in novel ways. A game, say like Undertale, doesn't resonate the same way to someone with clear expectations about classic RPGs, than someone without such expectations. Outer Wilds can hit some people harder than others because it betrays the archetype of the video game protagonist and agency.

I want to talk Mutazione, a game that not only surpassed my expectations I had for it, but also my expectations about what stories and themes video games can and should convey.

Though this is a post about Mutazione, I'm not trying to sell anyone on it. This is a slow game where the moment-to-moment consists solely of reading, gossip, and tending to gardens. It explores themes of small communities and cultural appropriation. It's not by any means a story that will have you at the edge of your seat, but instead it's tactful and incredibly ambitious and authentic in its themes. Instead of boring you with the synopsis, I basically just wanted to rant about how hard it is to return to the kinds of games that promise (or at least try) just this: to be thoughtful. Isn't that just the promise of something like Detroit: Become Human? Or Life is Strange? Or Firewatch? Even Celeste, which I love deeply as a game, can be very clumsy in the way it conveys its themes. Some games promise and don't even try (I'm not giving any names, but you know which ones I'm talking about).

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After playing Mutazione it's not my expectations about video games that changed, it's my standards. And the next time I pick up a game in this vein it'll be hard to see them fumble around its themes and ideas knowing that video games can be tactful and authentic, with the right vision. Presenting meaningful themes is no simple task, it involves research, introspection, tact, creativity, and personal experience (a life's worth? a hundred lives' worth?).

Yet here's hoping for more innovation, ambition and courage in games that explore interesting and meaningful themes.

Final quick aside: the last time a game raised my standards about how themes can be presented and explored in games was Night in the Woods.


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