• Zack

Why You Should Teach With Call of the Sea

What's going one everyone?


Call of the Sea is interesting. It's a walking simulator akin to games like Gone Home and What Remains of Edith Finch, but it's also a puzzle game. The game focuses on telling a strong narrative that is explicitly tied to the discovery and solution of puzzles within the game's world. Described by the developer Out of the Blue Games as a Lovecraft inspired but not horror game, Call of the Sea tells the story of Norah, a woman dying of an unknown disease in search of her missing husband who left to find a cure. The search takes place on a mysterious island in the South Pacific, filled with secrets begging to be discovered. It's a tale of mystery, adventure, and self-discovery. While I was playing, it occurred to me how fantastical the world and environments are- and how they add to the narrative of the game. For example, the environments themselves tell a story that does not need to be explicitly mentioned in the game's dialogue. So here is a curriculum for how How Call of the Sea utilizes environmental storytelling to add to the overall narrative of the game. You can find the lesson plan and slides here.


Almost every game has a tutorial section to teach the players how to engage with the game. In Call of the Sea this comes in the form of a prologue. We begin in Norah's cabin on a ship headed towards an island. Within this room we are introduced to each game mechanic that will be necessary to progress through the rest of the game. You can interact with each of the objects strewn across the room and we are introduced to the games first puzzle, opening up a locked suitcase. It's not a puzzle in the sense that you need to figure out how to solve something, but more in that you need to locate the combination and understand that you have actually found it. The game will never outright tell you that you have come across an answer. You must deduce that on your own. Right off the bat you must take in and observe your environment in order to find the combination. This room tells us a story about Norah and you need to find a number within one of her photos that ends up being the solution. So just as this room acts as a tutorial, it also acts as a place to model what environmental storytelling is to your students.


Over the course of the next six levels the game expands greatly in scope. What starts off as a simple trip looking for your husband turns into a grand mystery about the very nature of the island and the people who lived there in the past. As the story grows, so do the puzzles. Some are small and can be solved in a single room, while others span entire levels of the game and require you to make several trips up and down an entire mountainside. There is one puzzle in particular where you need to figure out how to properly play an organ the size of a mountain. And just like the puzzle in the prologue, none of them can just be solved by thinking. You actually need to observe the game's world and environment. Everything is explicitly created and designed as to aid the player in finding a solution. Every piece of paper and campsite contains materials for the player to investigate in order to move forward. It should be noted that some of these puzzles can be hard and even time consuming. I even found myself looking online for some help a couple of times.


In that regard it might be best to not play this game together as a class unless you are explicitly going to walk them through the puzzles. When I teach with games I will often only have one copy and project it in the front of the room. When this is the case, you need to make sure that the students watching remain engaged since there would only be one player at a time. That can be challenging with a game like Call of the Sea if the player ends up spending a lot of time trying to solve a puzzle. If you want them to solve these on their own, then it would be best to play individually or to assign as an optional text in one of your units.


Besides just the puzzles, the lore of the world is a lot of fun to unearth. It is very clearly Lovecraftian and more than once I thought about how this could be set in the world of Guillermo del Toro's Shape of Water. A lot of those details will not be explicitly told to you unless you choose to interact with different aspects of the game's world; like the murals in these images. Choosing to explore more rewards the players with added information and side stories. Choosing to plow through the game could still be enjoyable but half of the fun is learning about the island and the mysterious cultures of its past. I did not 100% the game by any means, but I did end up spending a couple of hours just exploring any nook and cranny I could find. Part of the appeal of this game is that the story and lore are tied to the puzzles and gameplay, like the aforementioned organ puzzle. Taking the time to examine your surroundings will help find solutions the puzzles all the while revealing the island's many mysteries.


The game is gorgeous by the way. Every time you think you have settled into the world, something new shows up that makes your jaw drop. Forget the educational capacity of the game for a minute and just think of it as a work of art. Every game I make curriculum for here is worth playing on its own. You don't need to teach with Call of the Sea, but you should definitely play it. It is beautiful to look at, the voice acting is top notch, and the story itself is very solid. Give it a try and then decide for yourself if it could fit somewhere in your curriculum.


Thanks for reading,

Zack


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