Updated: Oct 26, 2020
What's going on everyone?
One of my favorite games to teach with is Gone Home developed by The Fullbright Company. I remember the first time when one of my classes finished the game, a number of my students asked what else the developers had created. Well after several years of procrastination, I finally got around to playing The Fullbright Company's second game, Tacoma. After about ten minutes I realized this would be the perfect game to teach about nonlinear storytelling. You can find the lesson plan for Tacoma here.
Tacoma falls into the walking simulator genre. A walking simulator is an adventure game focused on gradual exploration and discovery through observation, with little in the way of action. The gameplay focuses solely on telling a story. Tacoma is a sci-fi narrative adventure set aboard a high-tech space station in the year 2088. You explore every detail of how the station’s crew lived and worked. Ultimately, you must learn the fate of the crew after disaster strikes the station.
You travel through various sections of this space station watching augmented reality recordings of what had previously transpired. You can pause, fast forward, and rewind every conversation that has taken place. The game lets the player choose the order in which the events are revealed. The crew may all be talking together at one moment, but then scatter across the ship a minute later. You get to decide which crew members to follow around and who to eavesdrop on during their conversations. Once you are all caught up, you can reset the recording back to the beginning to learn about the other characters. Each new recording also notes how many days have passed since it was captured. It's the player's job to keep chronological track of each moment in the game. It's a mechanic I have never encountered myself before and I believe this is a completely unique experience that really needs to be played to fully understand.
Telling a story nonlinearly can be tricky. When I think of the concept I am brought to movies like Memento, TV shows like Westworld, and video games like Her Story. While all three are fantastic, they can often be difficult to follow. I have taught with Her Story before and it was more challenging than I anticipated for my students to keep track of everything that was transpiring. Tacoma does not seem to have these similar issues. You can pause every recording and replay it as needed. It is super accessible, especially for my English Language Learner population.
I always try and find games that are inclusive of different communities, especially since I teach students of very diverse backgrounds. This isn't really related to nonlinear storytelling, but it is worth bringing up about the characters in the game. We learn and connect with people of various backgrounds and ethnicities. I won't say who, but there is also a same sex couple on the space station. None of these additions feel like pandering. They are just a part of the world without attention ever being brought to them. It's interesting playing this game so soon after teaching with Gone Home. In Gone Home, it takes a couple of hours of playtime for a teenage girl in the story to admit she has feelings for another girl. InTacoma, there is no need for a build up. The difference being one game takes place in the 1990s and the other in 2088. One could only hope that by the time we reach 2088 the world will be as accepting of each other as the characters are in Tacoma.
A playthrough of Tacoma will come out to be around three hours. It's a quick story with likable characters and could serve as a great addition to any classroom. The mechanics are very unique while also being very simple. It's a game that could easily be played together as a class instead of each student needing their own copy. I can't wait to teach with this game in a couple of months when I get the chance. Check out this game even if you don't plan on using it in your classroom. I hope The Fullbright Company has a long history of ahead of it. After Gone Home and now Tacoma, I can't wait to see what they make next.
Thanks for reading,