Just a ride: how boat trips give games narrative breathing space

September 22, 2021
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I was recently asked to write a political piece. It was almost a rant, particularly as my exhaustion was similar to how I felt in late 2015. When a certain party leader was about to be elected here in the UK, and my family’s security was under ‘threat’, working at a political magazine in London made me feel weary. I touted my “I’m a tourist” line to colleagues and decided to ascend in a London Eye pod (iPod?) that weekend. However, the ferry ride afterwards proved to be the respite I was really looking for.

It was reasonably sunny, and, unsurprisingly, most of the passengers were foreign visitors. Besides absorbing the occasional fact and factoid from the overly-energetic tour guide through their microphone, I was primarily focussed on drowning out the noise with the help of Jack Johnson and other mellow tones. (I blame this on having to babysit my nephew several months earlier, who was very into the Curious George film.) I wouldn’t say I was lonely at the time, as I ended up making friends in the following weeks and months, but I was glad to have had a natural moment of reflection that wasn’t entirely self-absorbed.

In recent years, I’ve noticed that many games include sequences on boats to provide similarly quiet, thoughtful moments for their stories and characters. The lamest has to be Alan Wake, as there are only a few lines of dialogue, mostly ignoring the eponymous character being a tormented writer suffering from writer’s block. The opening ride in What Remains of Edith Finch, on the other hand, plays a wonderful trick by using a journal to dive straight into the beautiful and mysterious story of the Finch family.

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