It can be hard to find time to finish a video game, especially if you only have a few hours a week to play. In our biweekly column Short Play we suggest videogames that can be started and ended in a weekend.
When presented with different information points, the human brain naturally tries to fill in the gaps. Several games take advantage of this, like indie game Gone Home. When you start the game, you enter a massive home only knowing that your family lives there, and that mysterious ones are not there. The rest of the experience is used to unite why everyone left, based on the information you find both open and hidden throughout the house. Use these gaps in their understanding to attract the player creating a mysterious atmosphere similar to that of a thriller that appeals to the desire to fill those gaps of knowledge.
Octavi Navarro The Librarian is a bit like Gone Home in this respect, but mixed with a classic LucasArts adventure game point-and-click like Maniac Mansion or Monkey Island. (Navarro worked as an artist in Thimbleweed Park a classic-style adventure game from Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island creator Ron Gilbert). begins with the words "something is wrong in the library", scribbled on a note. It is the only narrative text that appears throughout the game. The rest of his understanding of what is happening derives from the art and architecture of the game's environments, the riddles and the elements he finds and uses to solve those riddles. And even with all that, there is still not much explanation about what is happening.
At first, you find a dry corpse near the entrance door of the library, and when you pass the mouse over them it says: "former librarian". This raises a series of questions. Did the previous librarian send you the note you received at the beginning of the game? How long has it been since they died? What or who killed them? The game does not really provide explicit answers to any of these questions, but rather constantly creates these moments of uncertainty and curiosity.
But it still works. Everything that happens is a new clue about what this library is and what is happening. Instead of a simple and traditional narrative, the story is something like a puzzle. But because there is too little to continue, it becomes meditative; All your energy and concentration are focused on trying to discover something that does not have a real solution. If the game was longer, this could be frustrating, but since it only takes about 30 minutes to finish, the concept does not get longer.
In spite of its aesthetics, the experience seems less an adventure game, and more similar to the video game equivalent to a poem. The librarian uses the structure of a game to evoke emotions and ideas in the same way that a poem does with the structures of written language. I'm not sure if this poetic structure was intentional, but the game has been a good reminder of how young video games are a medium. We are still a long way from fully understanding the different forms the media takes, and it is exciting to see how it develops as we begin to discover what games can do.
The librarian was created by Octavi Navarro. You can get it Itch.io to pay what you want (Windows and Mac OS) . It takes approximately half an hour to finish.