For anxious people, conversations can feel like video games with permadeath – say the wrong thing when meeting someone for the first time and there’s no do-over. First impression: ruined. Games don’t often think about these stepping stones, those intricacies in talking to people.
That’s not to say they don’t do that at all – there are some great games about having conversations. I will always recommend Bithell Games’ Subsurface Circular, available on PC and Switch, to anyone even remotely interested in conversational mechanics, and the recent We should talk. by Insatiable Cycle, available on PC, uses an interesting modular conversation system. But right now, my favourite game about having conversations is Signs of the Sojourner.
In this deckbuilder, which released on PC last year (and which you may already own if you bought the Itch Bundle for Racial Equality) and which came out on Switch a few week back, you’re playing a cat-eared person travelling with a caravan, going from city to city to learn more about the world out there and to collect different things to sell at your local shop in a bid to keep your town’s economy alive. The heart of Sojourner is trying to navigate conversations with different people, an act represented by a card game. You and your conversation partner put down cards after one another in a straight line. Cards feature symbols on the right- and left-hand-side, and you always want to match the symbol facing you. The game itself isn’t difficult to learn, but what I like the most about it is how each play you can make corresponds to a way of talking. You can start to chatter, which means putting down several cards in a row before the person opposite you can interject, you can clarify your meaning by placing a new card in an earlier part of your conversation, and you can reach a state of being in accord by matching the same symbol together several times. After every conversation, you replace a card in your deck with one from the other person’s deck.