There are thousands of video games out there; some classics, some obscure, and others new to me and maybe new to you too. I’m going to take a little time to highlight what’s great about games that I love and want to share; games that are worth your time, along with some tips to get you started.
The game Beholder is a 2D side scrolling game, but it is miserable. Now hold on, it’s miserable in a good way! I like games that make me feel something, and holy cats! Does Beholder nail that feeling of oppression, misery, and looming dread.
The plot is that you’re a citizen in a totalitarian police state. You have been injected with drugs by the government making you no longer need sleep, and your job is to manage an apartment building and keep tabs on the people living there and report them for “various crimes” using the government phone in your government paid for basement apartment where you live with your wife and two children. The previous manager gets dragged away in the opening cutscene, and now this is your job.
Do a good job.
Some of these crimes are things like bank robbery and murder, and that’s how the game starts. What is genius about this game is that those are actual crimes done by what seem like objectively bad people. The state arrests them and rewards you so the state doesn’t seem oppressive, at first. But as the game goes on, those crimes might be things like having a green tie or just the government needing SOMEONE in the building to be arrested and if you don’t choose anyone, they’ll arrest you. Do you get to know the residents and find the “worst” person or is it better to not get to know them at all and just plant evidence and move on? Do you say no, knowing you and your family will be punished?
It is at this point where you realize that you’re not the foot on the neck of the people, you’re just the boot and can be thrown away just as your predecessor was.
You spend time spying on people, trying not to be caught, and trying to raise money to keep your own problems at bay. Will you escape, will a resident shoot you for breaking into their apartment and installing cameras to watch them to see if they listen to prohibited music? These problems stack up and are punctuated by moments of calm, making the pace chaotic in the best way.
Your character can’t sleep, but when everyone else is dreaming the night away, you’re left alone to pace around the rather small building, worry if the government phone will ring or now, think about what your answer will be when asked to do an increasingly reprehensible task, and reflect on what you did.
This game should be mandatory for anyone wanting to learn about the history of the 20th century, and the 21st, as it makes you feel that noose of the state tighten around you as a player. There’s really nothing like it in gaming that I’ve experienced.
Tip: You have a small window to loot an apartment when someone gets arrested. The police just need to see evidence to make an arrest, they don’t need to gather it. This is a great way to retrieve contraband and gain money by selling it to the shady contraband merchant.
For another look at an obscure game, check out Chris's article on Braid.