Quizzing the effect of gaming on wellbeing

Whether it’s a politician declaring them to be responsible for encouraging violence or a news station claiming they’re going to result in the downfall of our children, a lot of negativity has been thrown at video games and the people who play them.

It feels like things are changing though. More people are beginning to realise that gaming can help improve our mental health and every gamer has a personal story about how a certain title helped them through a tough time. Video games are gradually being seen as something of worth rather than the ‘mindless entertainment’ view frequently held by those who don’t play, and spending your weekend playing the latest release can be just as worthwhile as watching a movie or reading a book.

Every now and again though, something happens to make you question just how quickly opinions are shifting. Here’s a recent anecdote for you. To make sure all staff are aware of the importance of the Data Protection Act (and that the company doesn’t get hit with large fines and reputational damage), my employer recently signed us all up for ‘an exciting learning programme’. It means everyone must complete a ‘monthly bite-sized learning module’ – basically, ten minutes of slides followed by a short quiz every few weeks.

The first of these arrived earlier this month. Covering the subject of ‘home working’, it featured sections on how to protect your personal network along with maintaining your well-being and productivity while working away from the office. One of the questions in the test at the end of the session was: ‘Which of the following is a great way to boost your mood with endorphins and maintain physical wellbeing?’ And the multiple-choice answers provided were working extra hours, exercise, online gaming and caffeine.

Yes, you read that right: online gaming was given as one of the options which were clearly supposed to be negative. After having to sit through several slides telling me that exercise is good and I should keep it up even while I’m working from home (no shit), that I should avoid caffeine and drink plenty of water (no shit again), and that I should avoid making my work hours bleed over into my personal time (one final no shit), the fact that the author had decided to choose gaming as a bad response really got my back up.

To be fair to my employer, they’ve tried to do a lot for their employees’ mental health during the lockdown. Over the past year we’ve had access to regular webinars on numerous wellbeing subjects, personal coaching sessions and meetings with counsellors. The favourite among staff has been the introduction of a two-hour ‘protected time’ period once a week, where we’re allowed to turn off our laptops and do an activity we enjoy without interruption from colleagues or meetings.

We’re supposed to do something ‘for ourselves’ during these extended breaks. For example, a colleague on my team goes to the gym or for a swim, while another takes a long walk through the woods close to their house. Someone else has been able to study for and pass their technical exams, and I’ve heard of other teams getting together online to watch box-sets and films. But if I were to admit to using my protected time to play a video game: should I now assume that my employer would view this negatively?

They obviously haven’t heard about any of the recent reports which highlight the positive effects of gaming. For instance, a study completed by the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford last year revealed a positive relation between gameplay and affective wellbeing. What made this so important was that it was one of the first to be conducted using data provided by publishers rather than relying upon participants to estimate how much time they spent playing, giving credence to the claim that video games can be good for our mental health.

And there’s also the experiment completed by a small international team using MMORPG ArcheAge in 2017. When confronted with an apocalypse scenario, players acted more nicely to each other and banded together to work as a team rather than focusing as much on their individual successes. The researchers found that instead of wreaking havoc, most chose to spend their time hanging out with fellow virtual comrades and being social over character advancement and progression.

What has the past year been if not our very own apocalypse scenario? It has highlighted the benefits of gaming with more people taking up the hobby since the first lockdown in March 2020. For some, it was a way to fill the free hours brought on by being furloughed from work. For others, video games provided a means to escape from everything going on in the real world when they needed a break. And for a lot of us, playing online with friends and family meant we were still able to spend time with those closest to us.

I’m not sure how well I’d have coped with the past 12 months if I hadn’t had gaming as a source of entertainment, social connection and stress relief. Hanging out in various Twitch chats with other bloggers gave me the chance to get to know them better, so much so that we’ve now become friends outside of streaming and blogging. Playing games with them online and being able to talk about what’s happening in our part of the world has made all the rough days a little bit brighter.

Perhaps I’m biased as a gamer but I do think it’s unfair of my employer to lump ‘online gaming’ into the same negative bracket as ‘working long hours’ and ‘caffeine’. Too much of it can obviously be a bad thing and staying active is important for your physical wellbeing – but picking up the controller for an hour or so does wonders for your mood. When used in a positive way, video games can be a great tool for helping to manage your mental health and boosting your happiness.

The person who wrote the questions for that quiz should give them a try. Now there’s a suggestion for their next session of protected time.

The Balthazar Stone: pieces of great

A year in lockdown has given my other-half and I very little opportunity to visit escape rooms recently. It hasn’t ruled them out completely however, because there are now many escape-room-in-a-box experiences which can be completed in your own home.

These have been having a successful time on Kickstarter lately. In March I backed Calling Card, a detective-thriller where you must use evidence in both document and digital format to find a killer; along with The Paper Labyrinth, a choose-your-own-adventure book where the answers to puzzles lead you down certain paths. Back in August last year, I made a pledge to The Mystery Agency’s campaign for The Balthazar Stone and finally had a chance to play it last month after receiving my box in February.

A loose narrative binds it together as with most escape rooms and I have to say that story here is one of the most well-paced as continues throughout the experience. Part of it takes place in the current day where you’re an agent for The Mystery Agency who has been given a curious case to solve, while the other half is set in the Golden Age of Piracy where Elsa Winslow journeys to Sharkstooth Island to find her family. The result is an ominous stone which curses anyone who possesses it and slowly drives them insane…

The game starts after logging into website using a password, where you’re given the starting details for your investigation. Here you can select to either go up against the clock or take your time (we chose the latter for a lazy afternoon and a bottle of wine). A message from your superior points you to a newspaper article which can be found inside the box you’ve received along with an archive website – but to get to the information from that, you’ll need to figure out the pirate Balthazar’s real name.

Opening the box reveals a wooden chest closed with a padlock, and you should be able to deduce the correct combination needed to open it using the clues you’ve been given so far. It’s an attractive thing and I can imagine a lot of players using it for something else after they’ve completed the game. There’s more crammed in than you realise at first thanks to compartments and additional locks, and it feels far more like a real escape room than some of the other experiences we’ve tried over the past year.

Within the chest is a range of items including aged documents, feathers and keys. Each of them plays an important part in the puzzles to be solved and none were included in the chest simply for show or to bulk it out. It’s lovely playing a game which uses physical objects instead of just paper alone for once, because everything is incredibly tactile and well-made; for example, an inventory list is stained and rough around the edges, while the treasure map feels as though it’s going to crumble (but it doesn’t).

The Balthazar Stone, escape room, wooden chest, straw, hay, newspaper

Speaking of the puzzles, there’s a nice mix between these physical items and digital elements presented in the form of websites, and almost everything combines well within the narrative. There was only one challenge which didn’t entirely make sense in terms of the story. If some of the brightest minds have been unable to open the physical chest in centuries, then how come a clue is hidden inside which gives the password needed to unlock a protected file on a modern digital archive?

This in no way spoiled our experience though. We had to grab a hint from The Mystery Agency website early in our game but this isn’t a reflection of poor puzzle design; it’s more a case that, as with experiences in a range you’ve never tried before, we needed a little push in the right direction to help figure out the kind of answers expected. There’s a nice level of challenge and it took us around two-and-a-half hours to complete The Balthazar Stone – I’m putting that down to the bottle of wine consumed while playing.

My pledge to the Kickstarter campaign in August was for £40 and this is the same price for which the boxes are now available. Some people may see that as expensive for an experience which you could in theory complete in an hour but when you consider the cost of physical or online escape rooms, along with the quality of the items, it’s not bad at all. Providing you don’t draw on the documents, there’s also the possibility of re-boxing the items and passing the experience on to a friend.

I won’t be doing that though: the wooden chest is just too lovely to let go of! I can see my other-half and I attempting to unlock it again in a few years’ time once we’ve forgotten the solutions. We’ve also placed an order for our second experience from The Mystery Agency: The Ghost in the Attic, where terrible things have happened to those who have played a haunted board game released in the 1950s. The only way to solve the mystery is to now play it for yourself…

The Balthazar Stone, escape room, cat, Zelda, wooden chest, documents, papers, locks, notes

No doubt we’ll go on to pick up The Vanishing Gambler too at some point. The Balthazar Stone has been one of my favourite rewards received through a Kickstarter campaign and probably the most fun Pete and I have had with an escape-room-in-a-box so far (Zelda got involved too, as you can see from the photograph opposite). It would be great to see The Mystery Agency go on to create further experiences in the future – follow the team on Twitter to find out what’s happening.

Good moaning: my favourite zombie games

It’s Zombie Awareness Month so we’re talking all things undead. Following on from Monday’s look into why we find the living dead so fascinating, on Wednesday we shared the best survival advice to get us through the coming apocalypse.

But we haven’t even talked about video games properly yet! There are currently over 1,400 titles listed under the Zombies tag on Steam right now so there are plenty of them to discuss. Although the majority fall into the action or horror genres and these aren’t ones I’d usually go to myself, this doesn’t mean I haven’t played my fair share of games where the undead make an appearance. My final zombie-related post for this month’s celebration features a few of my favourite releases, some you may not expect.

Corpse Killer

I really enjoy full-motion video (FMV) games but I’d never heard of Corpse Killer until it was kindly gifted to me by Ellen from Ace Asunder in March. It definitely comes under the so-bad-it’s-good category that’s the standard for FMV releases from the 1990s: hammy acting, cheesy lines, an unconvincing female character thrown in as a love-interest and plenty of badly-dressed actors. It looks like a bunch of extras turned up on the day not knowing what they were going to get into, and it’s perfect.

Dead Rising

Dead Rising is great for several reasons. Not only does it take place in a shopping mall, a location which features in many an apocalypse fantasy, but it teaches us that any object can be used as a weapon during such dire times. Grab a baseball bat, bass guitar or a lawn mower – and make sure you’re wearing the Servbot Mask while you’re doing it. It might sound like a comedy, but the fact that the game must be completed in 72-hours (six hours in real time) adds to the pressure and keeps you on edge.

Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge

LeChuck has been killed so many times during the Monkey Island series that it’s difficult to keep track of his deaths. But this doesn’t stop him and he just keeps on fighting: knock him down and he’ll get right back up again in the form of a ghost, zombie, demon or even god. He’s constantly getting blown up both mentally and physically, and yet he keeps coming back for more. This sign of resilience and determination is surely the mark of a true protagonist and shows us that real heroes never quit.

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

I love the way Resident Evil 7 uses flashbacks to flesh out its story because it’s not as simple as sitting back and watching a cutscene. Ethan comes across VHS tapes that can be played using VCRs around the Baker family’s plantation; and ‘played’ is exactly what I mean, as you’re able to relive and control the events of the footage you witness. This mechanic not only offers insight into people other than the protagonist and reveal sinister secrets about the Bakers but also provides some excellent gameplay.

Strange Brigade

Sometimes a release is made even better thanks to a good narrator and this is the element which stands out for me is Strange Brigade. What more could you want when shooting the undead in a cursed tomb that someone saying things like ‘Tally-ho!’ in a posh English voice? Though he may come across as sarcastic and as if he’s not taking the situation too seriously, the narrator is shown to be concerned about his team’s wellbeing and offers the player hints and tips on how to progress.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

In The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, investigator Paul Prospero receives a letter from 16-year old Ethan and is inspired to visit his hometown of Red Creek Valley. He begins encountering some unsettling phenomena immediately after his arrival, along with evidence of recent violence in the deserted mining village; but does this really have anything to do with zombies? Getting attacked by the corpse in the mines scared the hell out of me because I totally wasn’t expecting it to appear in a narrative game.

To The Moon

To The Moon is an incredibly emotional title and so it may therefore seem strange to hear that zombies feature in a particular section. After the doctors have a disagreement about how to proceed with their patient, Eva creates several zombie versions of herself to stop Neil from progressing through the school and foiling her plan. It’s a scene which provides some comic relief before building up to a conclusion which never fails to make me cry, regardless of how many times I’ve seen it.

The Typing of the Dead: Overkill

Rather than blasting away at zombies with a gun using a controller, in Typing of the Dead: Overkill you use your keyboard to enter words and fire shots instead. I really shouldn’t like it for several reasons but somehow it manages to suck me in every time and that’s why it’s my guilty-pleasure game. I mean, come on: you’re fighting a boss called Meat Katie who’s a zombified cow-person while being confronted with phrases such as ‘udderly delightful’ and ‘sirloin surprise’. How can you not laugh at that?

So there you have it: a week of undead-related posts in celebration of Zombie Awareness Month. Hopefully you’re all now prepared for when the apocalypse hits – and have a range of zombie games to play while you wait.

How to survive the zombie apocalypse

On Monday we looked at why zombies remain so popular in video games. The reason which resonates the most with me relates to the ‘uncanny valley’ concept: the more something resembles a human, the more it provokes feelings of eeriness.

Continuing the celebration for Zombie Awareness Month, it’s now time for another undead subject. A study by the University of Leicester a couple of years ago worked out that it would take only 100 days for zombies to take over the planet, and a mere 300 people would be left alive and uninfected at the end of this period. Video games have taught us well when it comes to making sure we’re one of them, and here’s some of the best advice for ensuring you’re prepared for the apocalypse.

Don’t rely on the UK government

Did you know that the Pentagon has a military response plan to protect humanity from the walking dead? There’s no way the UK government are so prepared though. Based on recent behaviour, it’s obvious what they’d do: deny the apocalypse until increased zombie sightings meant they had to come clean about what was going on, then order a series of knee-jerk reactions to the horror of scientists while maintaining that everything is under control. It’s probably best if we don’t rely on them to get the situation sorted.

Ignore the general press

It’s wisest not to listen to the general press either. Regardless of the undead threat level, you can guarantee that reporters everywhere will over-hype every little development to get as many views as possible. Seeing as a lot of people believe everything they read in the newspapers, the result will be widespread terror, panic-buying of toilet-paper and the breakdown of society. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stay informed however; just choose your courses carefully and stick to reading updates from the bloggers you trust.

Pack a survival kit

Days Gone, video game, zombies

If your local area becomes overrun and you need to skip down, don’t leave home without a survival kit. Grab some fresh water, cans of food, a knife, string, a first-aid kit – treat your rucksack as though it was a point-and-click inventory system so you’re prepared for anything. A 2018 survey found that nearly 25% of the British population have a plan to survive the zombie apocalypse and one in six have considered putting together a bug-out bag to see them through the first 72-hours.

Don’t go it alone

Although many video games have shown that it’s often riskier leaving with others, there’s a lot to be said for not going alone. Being part of a group increases the skills and knowledge available to you, has the potential for better decision-making, means there’s always someone to back you up in case of injury and keeps loneliness at bay too. Just make sure they’re likeminded people you know you can rely on, and only consider leaving on your own as a last resort.

Get out of the city

Dyas Gone, video game, zombies

The biggest tip we’ve learnt from zombie stories: get out of the city as quickly as possible because the odds are stacked against you from the start. Not only will urbanised areas end up having the densest populations of the undead thanks to the number of people who live in them, they won’t be habitable once the technology that supports them disappears. Head for isolation and stop by a camping shop on the way for supplies; and don’t rely on smartphone maps, because you’ll lose signal once the power-grids go down.

Find weapons as soon as possible

Video games have taught us that the most effective weapon against the living dead is a bullet straight to the head. But guns can be difficult to get hold of depending on where you are in the world, so what should you consider using instead? Remember that anything can be a weapon if you combine it well. Take inspiration from releases such as Days Gone: a baseball bat and nails, a table-leg and nails, chemical fertiliser and nails… basically any object and nails.

Track down food and water

Your bug-out bag may get you through the first few days but it’s not going to keep you alive for long. Assign members of your group to scavenge for food and bottled water in supermarkets and petrol stations as you leave town, while the others keep watch; and build the biggest stash you can once you find somewhere suitable to ride out the apocalypse. You’re not going to be able to get your hands on any KFC for a while so you want to make sure you’re not worrying about where your next meal is going to come from.

Build a good barricade

Once you’ve got your new base set up, consider reinforcing it with a strong barricade to keep those pesky zombies out while you sleep at night. You’ll need heavy items for this to work effectively so you’ll be grateful for those extra pairs of hands here if you took the advice above about not leaving down on your own. Get windows and glass fronts boarded up quickly so they can’t be smashed open, and avoid staying above the ground floor without an escape route in case the building is overrun.

Create an infection plan

Days Gone, video game, zombies

How are you going to respond if any member of your party becomes infected? This is something you need to discuss as early as possible and get everyone to agree on, because tough decisions need to be made for the good of the group. Will you selflessly search for a cure, try amputating the limb that was bitten, chain them up before they turn or just put an end to their existence immediately? Be prepared for a late night and a few arguments – you’ll be glad you saved that coffee from your bug-out bag.

Remember that the zombies will keep on coming

If zombie video games have taught us a single useful lesson, it’s that the living dead will never stop coming. The sooner you come to terms with that, the quicker you can get on with surviving and making sure you’re one of those last 300 humans! Take the advice given in today’s post on board, get as far away from civilisation as possible and find somewhere safe to live out your last days in peace. Just remember to pack a console and power supply before you leave home.

Thanks to video games, we’re more educated than ever about survival during a zombie apocalypse. If there’s any advice I’ve missed, please feel free to leave it in the comments below so we have a comprehensive survival guide in case of the end of the world.

It’s Zombie Awareness Month. Running since 2007 and coordinated by the Zombie Research Society, this annual campaign is designed to raise awareness and prepare us all for the apocalypse which is inevitably going to happen.

It’s often mistakenly thought that the first zombie movie was George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead back in 1968. It was actually Edward Halperin’s White Zombie almost 40 years earlier in 1932 – but even that was based on a book published in 1929, The Magic Island by William Seabrook. The undead have therefore been shuffling around in our nightmares as well as our media for over 90 years and it doesn’t look as if there’s any sign of them stopping yet.

It’s believed they made the transition to video games in 1984 when Sandy White created Zombie Zombie for the ZX Spectrum. Forget the usual advice of shooting them in the head though: the player had to use a helicopter to build platforms and then fool the living dead into falling to their doom in this isometric 3D-adventure. Both technology and story-writing have improved and become far more sophisticated since then, but developers and gamers still regularly turn to the undead to get their digital kicks today.

What do you think of when you hear that word? The image we usually conjure up is that of a horde of reanimated corpses, dragging their decaying limbs towards us in the overriding desire to munch on our flesh. This traditional view has been depicted in video games with apocalyptic settings such as Dead Rising and Dying Light, along with lighter-hearted releases such as Plants vs. Zombies. They may be slow, but they have all the time in the world while you only have so much energy and limited ammunition.

The living dead don’t always fill this role in their current interpretations, however, and over the years creators have experimented with their forms to challenge players in new ways. We now have runners, crawlers, screamers and exploders among others; consider all the various types used in titles such as Left 4 Dead, World War Z and Days Gone. This variety is good because it keeps players on their toes – but it also means that aiming a gun at the skull might not be enough to save you any longer.

Then there are releases where the undead appear almost out of the blue. They ambushed Drake and Elena in the underground cavern in Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune; were used by Eva to terrorise Neil in To The Moon; and stalked the player in the mines during The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. Whether their presence has been introduced to cause excitement, humour or fear, it’s usually more welcome than other enemy types and our obsession with them continues.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, video game, zombie, face

So why is this? I’ve been doing some digging around in the graveyard for and I think I’ve found a few possible answers. Several online sources discuss the fact that developers like using the zombies as non-player characters (NPCs) because they ‘cover a multitude of programming sins’. We expect them to have a low mentality and therefore be oblivious to the impact of bullets, and so we usually put their inhuman movement down to them not being alive rather than poor code.

Programmers aren’t the only ones who love the shuffling corpses: they’re a goldmine for writers too. They can be used as a narrative element to tap into many of our fears – violence, cannibalism, and infectious viruses for example – and then taken even deeper to look at subconscious terrors including mindless consumerism, the loss of the people closest to us and confrontation with our own mortality. The living dead have got you covered If you’re looking for an enemy which can be used as a metaphor.

You can’t overlook the fact that the undead are almost guaranteed to make a profit also. Game development is an expense business and publishers are usually very risk-adverse; why chance losing all the cash you stumped up when you can go with something you already know will be popular with your consumers? Zombies are a proven commodity, so much so that themed downloadable content (DLC) has been created for titles where there were no living dead in the first place to make a bit more money.

That’s the game industry but what about the players themselves? Well, it could have something to do with what’s referred to as the ‘uncanny valley’. The concept suggests that the more something resembles a human, the more it provokes feelings of eeriness and revulsion in observers. I remember a sensation like this when visiting the AI: More Than Human exhibition at the Barbican a couple of years ago and coming face to face with a robot called Alter 3. I wasn’t sure whether to be amazed or hide in fear.

Left 4 Dead 2, video game, zombies, clown, gun

I think it’s a similar sensation with zombies. We view them as a threat because they’re so much like us – indeed, they once were us before everything went to hell – but there’s something not quite right about them and it puts our senses on high alert. Our reaction is to stop them by whatever means necessary, but there’s no need to feel guilty about our actions because they’re already dead. This means we can continue firing without feeling guilty or having to question the morality of the gameplay.

We’re not just fighting to stay alive though. There are bigger consequences at stake: we have to stop ourselves from turning into a mindless undead thing like those who form the shambling horde in front of us. Transforming into the living dead is usually depicted as something worse than death in any media, and it’s during those scenes that we’re asked to consider how much courage we have. Would we be brave enough to end it all if we had been infected?

Let’s sum up our fascination with the undead with a quote from Simon Pegg. In an article for The Guardian in November 2008, he wrote: “Zombies win out over vampires and werewolves when it comes to the title of Most Potent Metaphorical Monster. Where their pointy-toothed cousins are all about sex and bestial savagery, the zombie trumps all by personifying our deepest fear: death. Zombies are our destiny writ large. Slow and steady in their approach, weak, clumsy, often absurd, the zombie relentlessly closes in, unstoppable, intractable.”

It’s the primal nature of the zombie which fascinates and scares us in equal measure. It’s safe to say there’s plenty of life left in them yet.

Zombie Awareness Month 2021: life left in them yet

LudoNarraCon 2021: Lake

What’s this: a post about a title from this year’s LudoNarraCon which isn’t focused on being a detective? While Murder Mystery Machine and Song of Farca were about gathering evidence and tracking down criminals, this one offers an entirely different experience.

I wasn’t entirely sure Gamious’ project was going to be for me though while checking out the Steam page during the event at the end of April. The screenshots for Lake were pretty enough and I liked the idea of there being ‘no right or wrong answers’; but the description made it seem as though it could be, well, a little boring. After watching the trailer however and enjoying the way the narrator made the whole thing sound like an American television show, I decided to give the demo a try.

The story takes place in 1986 and begins when 40-something Meredith Weiss, a successful software developer, leaves the big city and returns to her quiet hometown of Providence Oaks in Oregon. She’s there to fill in as the local mail carrier for her dad for two weeks so this is quite a change of pace. It’s up to you to decide who she talks to, along with who to befriend or even start a relationship with, and at the end of her stint she’ll have to make up her mind: return to her job in the city or stay in the town she grew up in?

The setting is instantly recognisable as small-town America even to players who don’t live in the country. The shops dotted around Providence Oak, such as the General Store and Mo’s Diner, and wooden-cladded houses instantly make you think of television shows such as Dawson’s Creek or Gilmore Girls. Throw in some 80s nostalgia and an atmosphere which reminded me of something like Firewatch, and you’ve pretty summed up that trailer I mentioned earlier.

Chapters in Lake come in the form of days and each morning starts with a chat with your colleague Frank at the post office. He has already kindly loaded the van so you jump in and check your map, then stop at various addresses along a circular route around the lake to drop off letters and parcels. During my hour with the demo, the most ‘shocking’ things that happened were the song changing on the radio and some birds flapping overhead as I drove around a corner.

In some ways, the title isn’t that different to an RPG because it gives you a reason to travel to locations, complete a task and then return to your base. It’s this for this reason that I couldn’t help thinking to myself: ‘This is like Grand Theft Auto but without the crime and violence.’ Funnily enough, lead writer Jos Bouman referred to Lake as ‘some sort of anti-GTA’ during an interview with The Escapist, saying: “We just want to have a game that makes the experience sincere and mature. And we don’t want macho bullshit.”

LudoNarraCon, Lake

It’s not just about delivering the post though. I struck up conversations with several interesting characters met during my day on the road and perhaps even started a few new friendships too. A parcel delivery to the video rental store resulted in owner Angie giving me a copy of The Postman Always Rings Twice; and there was a trip to Mr Mackey with sick cat Mortimer too. (Hopefully it’s just Meredith feeing him cupcakes again rather than something more serious.)

There are apparently around 20 people to meet and interact with, of different ages and backgrounds who, according to Bouman, ‘have made decisions or are about to make decisions in their life’. Not everyone is going to be friendly or happy though. The development team wanted to make a game which is true to life and so tried to include a whole range of personalities in their non-player characters (NPCs), all mixed up with moments of joy, humour and sincerity.

Your nights in Providence Oaks can vary depending on the relationships you build. I found myself in front of the television on my first evening and then watching that video borrowed from Angie on the next; and it seems as though you can decide to meet up with other people at different locations if you’ve made arrangements. This day-night cycle adds some variety to Lake and makes a nice change from delivering the mail, as well as giving the player a sense of progression.

Perhaps the best thing about Lake for me during the demo was just how well everything fits together. The 1986 setting is during a time before mobile phones and the technology which now pretty much rules every aspect of our lives; and a job as a mail carrier gives Meredith the perfect opportunity to meet so many people. It therefore means real conversations with people rather than emails and text messages, and the whole thing feels completely natural as a result.

Bouman said in The Escapist interview: “In Lake, one of the most important decisions you have to make in the end is – are you going to stay in the village and say goodbye to your career in the big city? Or are you going to decide that you want more out of life? You make decisions that feel best for you… There is no right or wrong ending.” Unfortunately I had to miss the end of the demo thanks to a family barbecue, but I’m eager to see more after completing through the first three days.

I remember playing Eastshade back in 2019 and not wanting to leave when I reached the end of the title. It was just such a calming experience: no violence, no chance of getting attacked in the woods, just a desire to get to know the people on the island and help them if I could. This is the same impression I got from the short time I’ve spent with Lake so far. I might not have thought it was going to be for me while reading the Steam page, but it was added to my wishlist immediately after the demo.

The game is due for release on PC this summer but, if you want to get your hands on it faster, it’s going to appear on Xbox a little earlier. Check out Gamious on Twitter for the latest details.