Your wit’s got to be twice as sharp as your sword

“Swordfighting is kinda like making love. It’s not always what you do, but what you say.” Anyone who’s played The Secret of Monkey Island is likely to recognise this smooth line from Captain Smirk and be familiar with insult-swordfighting.

For May’s EXP Share collaboration, DanamesX over at Tales from the Backlog is asking everyone to share a gaming-related thing that they’re good at or proud of. For example, are you great at identifying voice-actors without looking at the credits, do you hold a record for a speedrun or have you 100% completed a video game series? It’s none of these things for me – but what I can do is remember every insult response from the first Monkey Island release.

As Smirk himself continues: “Any fool pirate can swing a sharp piece of metal around and hope to cut something but the pros, they know just when to cut their opponent with an insult, one that catches ‘em off guard. You see, kid, your wit’s got to be twice as sharp as your sword.” Wannabe pirate Guybrush Threepwood must complete the Three Trials to fulfil his dream of becoming a buccaneer, one of which is to defeat the mighty Sword Master – but as his mentor teaches him, it’s more than just how you handle your weapon.

Our hero must track down opponents on the roads of Mêlée Island and challenge them to a duel to improve his skills. Sometimes they’ll shout an insult he has never heard before and so he’s forced to reply with a poor ‘I am rubber, you are glue’ before losing ground. It’s not necessarily a negative thing though: it means he now has a new line to test out on his next rival and, if they manage to respond successfully, he can add another move to his insult-swordfighting repertoire.

These lines are legendary among adventure gamers. The most well-known is ‘You fight like a dairy farmer’ because it’s one of the first Guybrush learns, but other favourites include ‘I’ve spoken with apes more polite than you’ and ‘People fall at my feet when they see me coming’. Throw one at a true Monkey Island fan and they’ll immediately counter with the correct retort: ‘How appropriate, you fight like a cow’, ‘I’m glad to hear you attended your family reunion’ and ‘Even before they smell your breath?’.

The reason I love the insult-swordfighting mechanic so much is because of how well it fits into both the Monkey Island world and adventure genre as a whole. It’s believable to see pirates duelling on the roads of an island somewhere in the Caribbean and the lines used perfectly sum up the humour that runs through the entire series. It’s such a great way of adding a touch of excitement to a point-and-click without resorting to a horrible action sequence or tedious minigame.

The Secret of Monkey Island, video games, Guybrush, insult-swordfighting, pirates

LucasArts captured the cerebral nature of an adventure game along with the thrill of a classic movie battle while letting us express our inner swashbucklers. The formula is mixed up later in the game when Guybrush is finally good enough to take on the Sword Master; you can’t just use the lines and responses you’ve already heard in the same way and instead must consider what would be the best comeback to her challenges. ‘How appropriate, you fight like a cow’ becomes the flawless retort for ‘I will milk every drop of blood from your body’.

The mechanic makes a reappearance in The Curse of the Monkey Island but with a twist. As explained by Rene Rottingham after he boards Guybrush’s ship: “On the sea we fight it a little differently. On the sea, all your insults have to rhyme. So when I say ‘Every enemy I’ve met, I’ve annihilated!’, you say ‘With your breath, I’m sure they all suffocated.’” It also appears in Escape from Monkey Island – but our hero is utterly defeated when he doesn’t understand his opponent’s Australian-themed insults.

Regular Later Levels’ visitors will already be aware of just how much The Secret of Monkey Island means to me and how it introduced me to adventure games as a kid. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve played since then, most recently for its 30th anniversary in October last year, but I’ve spent enough time on the roads of Mêlée to be able to know right insult response off by heart. I’m not sure any other mechanic in a point-and-click has captured the attention of gamers as much or been so suited to its setting.

If you’d like to brush up on your skills, head over to the online insult-swordfighting game created by Karza. And by the way: soon you’ll be wearing my sword like a shish-kabob!

My blogging-friends and the games we’ve shared

Valentine’s Day is the celebration of love – but that doesn’t necessarily mean that feeling must be romantic. Love can encompass all sorts of relationships, from family members to good friends, from people you’ve met through blogging to your cat.

This is recognised by DanamesX from Tales from the Backlog in February’s EXP Share event. The subject for this month is ‘Share a story that involves someone special to you’ and as he points out himself, this can be ‘a significant other, older or younger sibling, parent, close friend, your Twitch chat, the voices in the wall or your pet’. I’ve decided to give a shout-out to the people who have been keeping me sane during the lockdown and share some of the video games we have in common.

Ellen from Ace Asunder

As covered in my post for the #CreativeChristmasCollab, the awesome Ellen is now someone I speak to every day and share hundreds of cat memes with. Our friendship was tested when we participated in a game-swap last year and she made me play Final Fantasy XIII in return for Her Story. I’m just joking: after over 50 hours of gameplay, getting hit with instant death attacks by the final boss several times and a 03:00 finish, I’m still talking to her. And that’s even though she doesn’t like full-motion video (FMV) heroes Poe and Munro.

GD from Gaming Diaries

When I decided to revisit a nostalgic game as part of our 50-day challenge for GameBlast20 last year, GD was one of the only people who supported my decision. Sure, Herdy Gerdy is an old PlayStation 2 title that not many people have heard of and won’t be to everybody’s tastes: there’s no action or explosions but there are plenty of cute little animals. It’s funny how it’s now become a running joke in our Twitch chat and GD champions the return of Herdy Gerdy while everybody else groans.

Luke from Hundstrasse

Luke and I have known each for ages through the blogging community, but we finally met in person for the first time at the Rezzed expo in 2018 where we watched a talk by Tim Schafer. When COVID-19 put a stop to our plans for meeting up at the London Gaming Market in March last year, we decided to do a game-swap by post and this saw me working my way through crazy platformer Whiplash. This game sums up Luke’s sense of humour: random, hilarious and absolutely perfect.

Teri-Mae from Sheikah Plate

Although Teri-Mae and I met through blogging, it’s pretty rare that we talk about video games nowadays. We’re more likely to discuss politics, world events, social commentary and baking. Saying that though, I’ve recently been trying to persuade her to give The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim a go after she decided to pick up something different and play Uncharted. Hopefully we’ll soon find Teri-Mae sneaking through Tamriel as a Khajit, going undetected and stealing all the sweet-rolls.

Kevin from The Lawful Geek

I’ve known Kevin since I started blogging in 2013 and he finally convinced Pete and I to try our first tabletop RPG towards the end of 2019. A year later and we’re still surviving in Shadowrun thanks to the support of fellow players Kat, Ozzy and Diane. Head over to the The Lawful Geek on Twitch every other Thursday to find out how we’re getting on – and you can also join Kevin there for an evening with special guests in support of GameBlast21 from 20:00 GMT this Saturday.

Friend-of-the-blog Phil

Sometimes it’s hard to believe I’ve known Phil for over 15 years. We first met when I started working at our current workplace in London and now he’s making himself known on Twitch (although we still haven’t managed to convince him to start up his own blog yet). Our shared love of FMV games started when we had the chance to meet Her Story creator Sam Barlow at an expo in 2015 and he streamed it shortly afterwards, and now we both keep an eye out on Steam for upcoming releases in the genre.

My stepson, Ethan

He used to be so cute and then he turned into a teenager… still, at least he realises how good the classics are. Ethan and I have shared many gaming memories over the years but my most recent one is us playing The Secret of Monkey Island together for its 30th anniversary. He spent the first hour or so of the stream talking in a Russian accent (I have no idea why) and no doubt he’ll return for another one soon. Unfortunately I can’t tell you which voice it will be next time though.

My husband, Pete

One of the questions Pete asking me during our first conversation was who my favourite Street Fighter character was. Since then we’ve played plenty of video games together and I have fond memories of us huddled together over a laptop in my small flat when we first met. The one we probably spent the longest on was The Witness; he even went to the trouble of making a physical board and pieces that replicated some of the puzzles in the title so we could solve as many of them as possible. There’s nobody else I’d rather be tackling these challenges with.

Thank you to DanamesX from Tales from the Backlog for a heart-warming subject this month. If you’re interested in joining in with February’s EXP Share, you have another week until the deadline and can find all the details in this post.

We’re taking part in GameBlast21 to support SpecialEffect, the gamers’ charity.
Making a donation will bring you great loot, increase your XP by +100 and make you immune to fire.*
(*Not guaranteed.)

Sharing the gift of gaming

What better gift to give to someone special than gaming? Whether it’s introducing a loved-one who’s never played before to the world of video games or helping a gamer-friend through a genre that’s new to them, we enjoy sharing our love for our hobby.

Last month, DanamesX from Tales from the Backlog launched the EXP Share: a monthly community event designed to encourage us all to share our experiences around a particular subject connected to video games. The topic for December is: ‘A story where you shared the gift of gaming with someone, or someone shared it with you.’ It’s a lovely subject for this time of year and a nostalgic one perfect for Christmas, so here are some of my favourite gaming memories.

1990: an Amiga 500 and The Secret of Monkey Island

genericI’m sure everybody already knows the story of how I originally got into gaming as a child. My dad’s Commodore 64 and the Usborne coding books made me curious about games with narratives more in depth than ‘save the princess’; and then an introduction to The Secret of Monkey Island after receiving an Amiga 500 kicked off a long-lasting love of the adventure genre and a crush on wannabe pirates. In fact, you can read all about those events it in my previous EXP Share post.

2013: the joy of video games

I first met the SpecialEffect team in 2013 after coming across their stand at the EGX event and have been volunteering for the charity since. They believe it’s everyone’s turn to play and experience the joy of video games. They put fun and inclusion back into the lives of people with physical disabilities by helping them to get involved, and use a range of technology such as modified controllers and eye-control software to find a way for individuals to play to the very best of their abilities.

2014: Cards Against Humanity

When Tim from Timlah’s Texts & Unity3D Tech and I realised we were both due to be in Birmingham at the same time, we immediately arranged to meet up for a drink in a pub at the NEC. It was still a bit of a surprise when he walked in dressed as Edward Elric and handed me a card saying something rude though – I had no idea what Cards Against Humanity was back then. We’ve been friends ever since, and my other-half and I have missed not being able to see him and his partner Jake this year.

2015: a PlayStation 4

Rezzed, video games, gaming, expo, EthanMy stepson’s reaction when he dived into his Christmas stocking and pulled out a box containing LittleBigPlanet 3 was a confused one: “I’ve always wanted to play this game, but it says it’s for PlayStation and we don’t have one.” It was at this point that I surprised Ethan and Pete with another box containing a PlayStation 4. We spent most of the holidays that year playing video games and letting the kid stream them on Twitch, so friends and family could stop by and say hello in chat.

2015: The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO)

The Elder Scrolls Online, video game, tankard, inn, drink, woman, barmanFriend-of-the-blog Phil kindly lent us a batch of titles including ESO so we were geared up and ready to play with our new PlayStation 4 – but then Pete came down with flu and passed out on the sofa for several days. That meant I was left to entertain myself in between fetching him tea and paracetamol, and it’s here that my on-off addiction. It’s a game I find myself returning to every few months and returning to Vvardenfell for some fishing has helped pass a few hours during the COVID-19 lockdown.

2016: Journey

Journey, video game, mountain, stranger, dessert, sky, star, sand, cloudsWe didn’t expect Ethan to be fascinated with Journey as soon as we handed the controller over to him. After climbing the snowy mountain and reaching the end, he said: “So I’m the star… and the next person playing right now will see me in the sky at the start of their game. That’s cool.” Getting the chance to show him that video games don’t always have to be about guns and explosions, and hearing him say that line inspired a post and went on to shape the content I wanted to write for Later Levels.

2018: the PlayStation VR

Ethan, Pete, Christmas, PlayStation VRAfter he fell in love with virtual reality (VR) at his first Rezzed expo in 2017, our families decided to club together to gift Ethan a PlayStation VR for Christmas. The look on his face as he unwrapped it was priceless and, unlike with the PlayStation 4 above, I had my camera ready this time. The headset now comes with us to family events so everyone can get involved and no doubt it will make an appearance again this Christmas – and my non-gaming sister-in-law can put us to shame with how great she is at VR Luge.

2020: game-swaps

When Luke from Hundstrasse and I had to cancel our plans to meet up at the London Gaming Market in March thanks to COVID-19, we decided to send each other the most bizarre PlayStation 2 games we could find. This is how I was introduced to Whiplash and the game-swap series started. Thanks to some lovely blogger-friends, I’ve played games and genres I’ve never experienced before: Metal Gear Solid 2, Final Fantasy XIII, Banjo Kazooie and most recently, VA11 Hall-A.

Thank you to DanamesX from Tales from the Backlog for another excellent topic this month. If you’re interested in joining in with December’s EXP Share, you have until the end of the month and can find all the details in this post.

We’re taking part in GameBlast21 to support SpecialEffect, the gamers’ charity.
Making a donation will bring you great loot, increase your XP by +100 and make you immune to fire.*
(*Not guaranteed.)

Why I fell in love with video games

On 15 October 2020, The Secret of Monkey Island turned 30-years old. This classic point-and-click is a one which had a huge impact on me as a gamer, so I celebrated its personal significance by publishing a tag post and streaming a complete playthrough on Twitch.

The timing of the first EXP Share event over on Tales of the Backlog was therefore very convenient. This new collaboration is the idea of DanamesX and was designed to encourage us all to share our experiences around a particular subject connected to our hobby. The topic for November is ‘The video game or moment that got you into gaming’ and today’s post is going to start with a response to this: here’s how it happened for me and why I fell in love with the adventure genre.

I was lucky enough to receive an Amiga 500 from my parents for Christmas when I was nine-years old. After spending most of the morning trying to hook it up to our television, my dad asked me what I wanted to play first; and it was a set of floppy disks in a cardboard box showing a mysterious skull and fierce-looking pirates which was chosen. I remember us both being slightly confused when the game loaded up because it didn’t look or behave like anything we’d seen before.

My granddad got roped into playing too and we eventually came to the section where you must break Otis out of the prison cell so you can add him to your crew. We struggled with the puzzles for a while until the grown-ups eventually drifted away from the screen. I was so proud of myself when I managed to figure out that you needed to use the various mugs scattered around the Scumm Bar with the grog, all on my own – something had clicked and it was like I finally understood what the game wanted of me.

A question asked by JMNelsonPhilpot over at Video Games as Art last month is related to the topic of November’s EXP Share, so now let’s move on to why it was this moment that made me fall in love with video games. My family had owned a Commodore 64 and NES before my Amiga, the former being bought as my dad had a hobbyist’s interest in coding at the time. It was something I then became curious about myself because I enjoyed anything to do with maths and logic puzzles a kid.

That’s why I started checking the Usborne coding books out of the local library. After going through several entries in the introduction series, I came across the four adventure books and it’s Island of Secrets that I remember most fondly. Getting the code to work in its entirety always seemed impossible and I never did manage to play any of the games; but I did teach myself a bit of BASIC and realise I could find story snippets hidden within the program listings.

Island of Secrets, book, television, monitor, CRT

They were far more exciting than any of the platformers my dad and younger brother had been playing on the Commodore. Rescuing a girlfriend from demons or finding a princess in another castle was boring – I wanted to explore fantasy lands and save the world from evil curses. These narratives were more in line with the sort of fiction that was my favourite back then, and I don’t think it had ever occurred to me that it was possible for similar stories to exist in video games.

That was until I played The Secret of Monkey Island. My young mind was blown: pixels were able to bring those stories I’d enjoyed reading in books alive on the screen in front of me. There wasn’t any platforming to frustrate me, no fights to get into or anybody who needed rescuing. But there were plenty puzzles to wrap my head around and keep me occupied, along with a plot about wannabe pirates, vengeful ghosts, kickass governors and mystical legendary islands to get sucked into.

LucasArts’ project made me see that all the things I enjoyed – tales that were far removed from reality, logic puzzles, stupid humour and even coding, to some extent – could be combined into a single thing. Why had nobody told me before that something so absolutely awesome existed? It ended up being the first video game I played truly for myself, all the way through to the end without a lot of help, and the one which sealed my fate as a fan of the adventure genre.

I went on to other point-and-clicks as soon as I’d completed The Secret of Monkey Island. I saved wizards from evil forces in Simon the Sorcerer; jumped between linking books in Myst; and explored alien planets and tried to get back home in The Dig. When I was slightly older, I scared myself silly while trying to recapture the Ixupi in Shivers; and I went on a quest to restore the Balance in what would turn out to be one of my favourite adventures, The Longest Journey.

The Secret of Monkey Island, video game, pirates, Guybrush, Carla, leather jacket

It remains my preferred genre to this day and I return to it frequently. Adventures may have changed since the 1990s and evolved into new forms, incorporating elements from other types of games, but there are many new releases which keep the heart of the point-and-click beating. If I hadn’t have been for that Amiga 500 and discovering The Secret of Monkey Island, or trying to learn coding for the Commodore 64 and finding those Usborne books, I might not be the gamer I am today.

Thank you to DanamesX from Tales of the Backlog and JMNelsonPhilpot from Video Games as Art for giving me the chance to share this post today. If you’re interested in joining in with the first EXP Share, you can find all the details here.

30 years of The Secret of Monkey Island

My beloved The Secret of Monkey Island is now 30-years old. Since being released back on 15 October 1990, it has grown become one of the most well-known and loved point-and-click games and is often cited as an inspiration for modern adventures.

Regular Later Levels’ visitors are likely to know why I adore this title and how much it has influenced my gaming habits over the past three decades. That’s why I’m celebrating Guybrush Threepwood’s birthday today with a tag post that any pirate would be proud of! Whether you played back in the 90s or have only recently discovered it, everyone is invited to answer the prompts below and share their love for The Secret of Monkey Island. And if you haven’t played it yet: what are you waiting for?

How did you first come across The Secret of Monkey Island?

The Secret of Monkey Island, Monkey Island, Guybrush Threepwood, Elaine Marley, pirates, monkey, swordsI was lucky enough to receive an Amiga 500 from my parents for Christmas when I was nine-years old. My dad spent most of the morning trying to hook it up to our television before asking me what I wanted to play first; and I pointed to a box showing a mysterious skull surrounded by a ghostly ship, fierce-looking pirates and a young swashbuckling hero. The rest of that day was spent exploring Mêlée Island and meeting the other characters, all of which blew my young brain because it was as if the books I’d been reading had come alive on screen.

What’s your happiest memory of the game?

The Secret of Monkey Island, video game, prison, jail, Otis, Guybrush, pirates, cells, candlesMy granddad got roped into playing with us on that Christmas day and we came to the section where you need to break Otis out of the prison cell so you can add him to your pirate crew. We struggled with the puzzle for a while before my dad and granddad eventually drifted away. I was so proud of myself when I managed to figure out that you needed to use the various mugs scattered around the Scumm Bar with the grog on my own– something had clicked and it was like I finally understood what the game wanted of me.

Who’s your favourite character?

The Secret of Monkey Island, Elaine Marley, woman, pirate, face, Guybrush ThreepwoodMy favourite character from the entire series is Murray but, if we’re sticking to the original title for today’s post, then Elaine Marley comes a very close second. Guybrush can be a bit of an idiot sometimes and it’s the poor Governor who has to put up with that crap. If was she who saves the day in The Secret of Monkey Island before her partner comes along, mucks it up and manages to defeat LeChuck through sheer luck – and I think that makes her worthy of being a playable protagonist in her own game.

What’s the best location in the story?

The Secret of Monkey Island, video game, map, top-down,  Mêlée IslandAlthough it’s not really a location in itself, the scene I liked most as a kid was the moment you were given access to the top-down map of Mêlée Island. It felt as though the whole island had suddenly been opened to me and I was so certain that places other than the obvious landmarks were concealed within the trees, that I spent ages searching every path for hidden entrances. I loved the part where you had to follow the Storekeeper through the map and into the forest to track down Carla.

What’s your favourite puzzle?

The Secret of Monkey Island, video games, Guybrush, insult-swordfighting, piratesLucasArts perfectly captured the cerebral nature of the point-and-click along with comedy in a puzzle which let us express our inner-pirate: insult-swordfighting. Guybrush must track down opponents on the roads of the map mentioned above and challenge them to a duel, picking up new insults and testing out collected responses to build his repertoire. The formula is then mixed up when you take on Carla when you can’t just reuse the same lines and if you end up being good enough, you’ll be rewarded with an ‘I beat the Sword Master’ t-shirt.

Which is the most confusing item in your inventory?

The Secret of Monkey Island, video game, voodoo, dead, head, eyeballs, Navigator HeadForget the rubber chicken with a pulley in the middle – for me as a kid, the most confusing item was the Head of the Navigator. I appreciated the How to get Ahead in Navigation pamphlet pun but was a little grossed out by the fact that Guybrush would have to carry around a wrinkly face wrapped in an eyeball necklace. It did prove to use useful though: without the Navigator, I’d never have found my way through the underground lava maze on Monkey Island and then been able to turn myself invisible to hide from the ghosts.

Give us your favourite quote from The Secret of Monkey Island

The Secret of Monkey Island, video game, pirates, Guybrush, Carla, leather jacketMy favourite line has to be ‘I’m selling these fine leather jackets.’ This originally came from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in 1989 when Indy tries to talk his way out of danger and then went on to be parodied in every Monkey Island game afterwards. Guybrush uses it in the first title when he greets non-player characters (NPCs) and in the sequels to try and get himself out of trouble. It’s now a quote that I occasionally throw out myself when I’m not sure what to say!

What’s your favourite soundtrack from the game?

The Secret of Monkey Island, video game,  Mêlée Island, night-time, stars, skyIt’s hard to pick just one track; I immediately want to go and play a point-and-click whenever I hear any of the music from The Secret of Monkey Island now. The opening theme is probably the most memorable and easiest to recall though, and I’ve always like the Scumm Bar and Voodoo Shop themes too. I think they’re excellent at capturing the atmosphere of their locations and the characters within them – you’d immediately know what sort of place you were in without even seeing where you were.

What’s the most memorable moment in the game for you?

The Secret of Monkey Island, video game, fight, yak, Governor's MansionAfter getting past the piranha poodles outside Elaine’s mansion, you’re confronted by the evil Fester Shinetop. The great thing about this battle is that it takes place in another room you can’t see so all you can go on is sound-effects and imagination. Verbs appear in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen as though Guybrush were selecting them himself, and I thought him ‘using a stapler on the tremendous dangerous-looking yak’ and ‘using gopher repellent on the gopher horde’ was hilarious when I was a kid.

Do you own any Monkey Island merch?

home, picture, LeChuck, Cave of PixelsWhen we went to the London Gaming Market in early 2018 (back when you could attend a physical event and COVID-19 wasn’t a thing), I came across the stand for Cave of Pixels and immediately snapped up two of his works. The bead-art pictures of Guybrush and LeChuck have hung on our hallway walls since. At some point we’ll be creating a dedicated gaming space at home and I’ll move the frames into there, and I’d love to be able to pick up an additional one of Elaine to finish the trio if it’s ever made.

Has The Secret of Monkey Island shaped your gaming habits in any way?

genericI’ve adored point-and-clicks since first playing The Secret of Monkey Island 30 years ago. It showed me back then that the kind of stories I thought only existed inside of books could be brought to life through a video game and inspired me to go on to try other adventures. The genre remains my favourite to this day and is the one I find myself returning to most frequently. You could definitely say that Guybrush and the rest of the crew turned me into the gamer I am now – and gave me a lifelong love for wannabe pirates.

Create your own swordfighting insult!

“Being around you is as tedious as using the WordPress block editor.”

Got a good comeback for my insult above? Then leave your response in the comments below! And if you’re looking for more Guybrush goodness, why not join us over on Twitch tomorrow from 15:00 BST for The Secret of Monkey Island 30th anniversary stream. Bring your three-headed monkey along – he’s going to love it.

The video games that define me

We all have at least one video game which defines us. It’s understandable that this could be the first we ever played although this isn’t always the case. Other releases might also make our lists thanks to their narrative, protagonists, or just because they’re a whole lot of fun.

After being tagged in a tweet from Alex Sigsworth at the beginning of April, this was a subject I ended up thinking about for a few weeks before hitting the keys on my laptop. Which four titles would make my defining list and why? Some I knew immediately, while others I had to think harder about to make sure I picked those that felt as though they’d had a lasting impact on me as a gamer. Join me as we take a brief journey through my gaming history and look at the releases which define me.

1990: The Secret of Monkey Island

The fact this game has appeared in today’s post will come as no surprise at all to regular readers. It wasn’t the first I ever played, because my family had a Commodore 64 and NES before I was given my Amiga 500 by my parents for Christmas, but it’s one that’s had the most lasting effect on my gaming habits. You can read the full story here if you’re interested. Suffice to say, The Secret of Monkey Island was what kickstarted my love for video games and made me an adventure fan for the thirty years following.

I might play other types of releases nowadays but it’s point-and-clicks that I regularly return to. I’ve always adored stories and there’s just something about the way the narrative is so inextricably linked with the gameplay in these titles that makes me adore them as much as I do. Although some may feel that the adventure genre is a relic of the past and the only thing keeping it alive now is nostalgia, for me it’s still evolving and adding new elements – just look at Unavowed, Stories Untold or The Red Strings Club as great examples from recent years.

2004: Fable

If the entry above made me fall in love with video games initially, Fable was the one which reminded me of that after being made to feel as though gaming wasn’t a suitable hobby for a young woman for several years. It’s thanks to a friend turning up at my apartment with an Xbox and a copy of the game that I finally realised I didn’t care what anybody else thought about what I did. After turning on the power and getting lost in the world of Albion for a few hours, I had the revelation that this was what I’d been missing out on.

The thing that fascinated me most about Fable was the sense of character development as it was the first time I’d seen anything with such an important alignment mechanic. I spent the entire game trying to make my Hero as good as possible and that’s still something I do today; the paragon route is always more appealing and I find being an evil protagonist difficult. It’s Fable II which is my favourite in the series as it took what I adored about the first game and made it even better, and this is something I hope happens again with Fable IV.

2011: To The Moon

I was pretty late to the independent scene and To The Moon was one of the first indie releases I ever played. It hit me hard. The gameplay might be limited and not to everybody’s taste, but that story: I really did cry at the end. It made me see that video games don’t have to be about action and explosions, or puzzle-solving and humour in the case of point-and-clicks. Narratives can be more than just simple tales about saving princesses and they have the power to make you feel some pretty strong emotions.

Since then I’ve preferred indie games because their developers have the freedom and creativity to experiment, and they give me the kind of unique stories I want to experience. I’ve played very few big-budget releases since beginning to blog in 2013 and don’t see that changing right now. The third instalment in the To The Moon series is due to be released at some point this year and you can expect a marathon stream of all the titles when that time comes – along with a few tears on Twitch.

2019: Eastshade

Eastshade is the latest release to earn its place on my list of favourite games. I fell in love with it very quickly because it’s such a lovely take on the RPG genre: imagine playing something like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim but where the pressure of any kind of combat is removed, so the exploration and conversation elements are enhanced as a result. It’s a simple and beautiful concept that managed to have a huge impact on me and I was genuinely upset to leave the title when the end credits rolled.

I want more games like this. Ones which take an established genre and then provide something new and unexpected; give you something you didn’t realise you were missing; and offer players a space to relax and clear their mind. Eastshade is possibly the most calming gaming experience I’ve ever had and one I won’t forget. The developer has said they have no plans to make a sequel which is a little sad but if this is what they can do with the RPG genre, I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with next.

Two years ago, I wondered whether defining titles were going to become a thing of the past. What effect do short attention spans and endless distractions have on video games? Could failure to reach the ending cutscenes and those associated moments of realisation mean an end to gamers experiencing a release which sets them off on their future digital path? I still don’t know the answer to these questions but maybe they’re ones I’ll put to my stepson when he’s in his early twenties to see how he responds.

In the meantime, I’m curious to see which game will make it onto my favourites list next and perhaps become a title which defines me personally. And what about you: which four releases would you choose?