It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. But sometimes words do not tell the entire story. Sometimes pictures do. Or, rather, pictures moving at a speed of sixty per second (or fifty, if you are in a PAL region). Sure, there have been games without pictures of any kind, comprised exclusively of text; a point I discussed just two weeks ago in an article on text-based PC games that was met with as tepid a response as I assumed an article on text-based games would be, unfortunately. And while I claimed throughout the article that I know how to both read and write in English, I think I have proved in the last couple of months that both of those claims are debatable. Ok, more than debatable. Truth time. Readers: I am basically illiterate. I know my pithy, insightful, often witty, and always delightfully whimsical writing belies this fact; but it is a fact, nonetheless. In light of this startling revelation (the part about being basically illiterate), I ask you, the reader, to consider just what happens if you want to play video games but can not read at a high enough level to understand the mumbo-jumbo of English-heavy North American releases? The answer is simple: play a game without any text. What is this? Can such a thing even be called a game, you ask? Are games with pictures and no words discriminating against the vision-impaired? Well, sure! But it has also been said that one can not make an omelet without cracking a few blind eggs. Let us crack a few now as we explore games without words!
The first game to consider is from cheekily-named developer thatgamecompany, who released Journey in 2012. The developer calls the game an “interactive parable”, and the stated objective to “experience a person’s life passage and their intersections with others” might not qualify this as a proper game. The artwork looks lovely, but this premise and the open-ended gameplay (or interactive parable-play) might not please everyone; particularly those of us who enjoy games with conditions for victory, and, you know, stuff like that. Still, there is something enticing about being able to “soar above ruins and glide across sands as you discover the secrets of a forgotten civilization”, and for those of us who suffer from developmental literacy impairments, especially, the lack of dialogue allows us to feel included, and special. Like a little flower, in fact. Speaking of flowers, the aforementioned thatgamecompany released a title with that very name, three years before Journey. Released in 2009, Flower was the subject of much conversation on the Lusipurr.com companion podcast in its inaugural year (yes, the podcast has been going virtually every week for seven plus years now). Some hated it, some could not stop gushing over it; but regardless of how one feels about a game (or not) that the developer calls “our video game version of a poem”, it is the only poem I know of that meets my particular needs: no reading required. Prepare to be enchanted as, to paraphrase the developer, the background parts of a game that most people ignore become the stars! Revel in grassy meadows! Cherish the sunlight like never before! Watch clouds move slowly across the sky for hours on end! And collect petals along the way, apparently! Again, no reading required.
With these rather ridiculous (or incredible, imaginative, and breathtaking; depending on your point of view) titles out of the way (not that I have anything against the offerings of thatgamecompany), I will continue this reverse-chronological list with the granddaddy of all home gaming: Pong. That is correct: the iconic, legendary (and many other superlatives) game of virtual table tennis was the first home video game that many people owned – even if it was more than a little reminiscent of the table tennis game from the Magnavox Odyssey, which was actually the first home video game console in 1972. So, really, the Odyssey is the granddaddy of all home video gaming. But who cares about the Odyssey besides Homer? (Answer: pretentious readers.) Far better than some snooty book, Pong was released by Atari as an arcade game later in 1972, and it was not long before the title gained popularity, eventually resulting in a home version in the form of a dedicated console with the appropriately-named Home Pong in 1975. (I must give thanks to the vast Lusipurr.com Internet Database for the facts relating to the history of this important game.) While most people are probably aware of Pong or have played it in some form at least once in their lives, the most important aspect of the game (for the purposes of this editorial) is the ability to play without reading anything. The core gameplay consists of a pair of paddles and a ball – kind of like table tennis. Ok, exactly like table tennis. But table tennis is fun, when you win. Or when you are too drunk to care about the outcome. In any case, moving about on a screen without ugly, ugly words interrupting everything sounds like heaven. Sign me up.
Is a would-be gamer destined to roam this earth unfulfilled, looking for gaming experiences in all the wrong places? If this would-be gamer was an illiterate (or blind – we cannot forget about the blind!), then this was once their fate. Tabletop games have an obnoxious reliance on reading (with the exception of chess, checkers, and probably many others), and for the non-readers among us (sorry, those of us with a developmental literacy impairment) it is reassuring to know that such games as those mentioned above exist. I have said it before, and I will say it again (after all, I am unable to write it): reading is overrated. Curl up with a good laptop and load up one of these games today, and get ready to feel feelings about things as you flutter about or search for sand castles or whatever it is that one does in a thatgamecompany game. Plus the laptop will keep you warm as it slowly overheats due to your blanket obstructing the air vents. Not feeling particularly “flowery”? Simply load up Pong and lose yourself in the multi-pixel (I think around five or six pixels are involved) action. For that matter, any classic platformer or metroidvania title is ripe for the non-reading picking, with such games as Super Metroid very playable without reading. Simply ignore the annoying text on the screen and voila! Pure bliss. Speaking of bliss, for an audio version of this editorial you can send $11.95 (plus $6.95 for postage and handling) to the editors (care of the Lusipurr Bank and Trust of Ohio, P.O. Box 4, Harpster OH) for an audio cassette version of this fine work. (Please allow 6 – 8 weeks for delivery.)