Indigo Prophecy’s unique approach to story-telling

Indigo Prophecy is a cult videogame that released in 2005 and is the only game I’ve played that can be classed as a thriller. What I like most about this game is that the entirety of its game-play is dedicated only towards telling the story. Not one iota of game-play is self-sufficient, the game-play relies on the plot to grab the player’s attention. Indigo Prophecy also contains some narrative devices I’ve never encountered before and I’ll discuss them a bit more thoroughly.

A screenshot of Indigo Prophecy.The game isn’t built around the game-play, it is quite the opposite, the game-play is only used to tell the story. The main objective of the game is to prevent the main characters from losing their willpower. If the detective characters lose it, then they will resign and if Lucas (main character) loses it, then he will either turn himself in to the police or commit suicide. Using character development as the key game-play object provides a unique narrative experience. Even though the game-play portrays the characters well, it still portrays the psychological state of the characters through aesthetic elements. When Carla is made tense due to a grim psychic reading, she still tells the player later that she was made tense by it.

The suspicion mechanic is also a notable narrative device, when police are near Lucas and trying to find any sign of criminal behavior the level of suspicion is used as a game-play element. This increases the level of suspense quite dramatically. Of course, like the psychology mechanic, the suspense is still portrayed through aesthetics.

A picture showing interaction between the characters of Indigo Prophecy.If you were to take away the story, aesthetics and characters away from the game and judge it only by game-play, you would get bored very quickly. The game-play is a monotonous sequence of button-mashing and tedious tasks. The game-play are only used as a means of conveying the story and portraying the characters. Unlike most games nowadays, the game isn’t marketed to provide a fun and visceral game-play experience. It is aimed at providing an experience that tells you the story in a way that is immersive and to portray realistic lovable characters that the player can relate to and care about. The characters are not presented merely for practical reasons in game-play (read this).

Lukas breaking out into sobs. D:In previous posts I have spoken of games that place the player in a certain position of authority. I spoke about games where the player executes the will of the protagonist (Half Life), games where the player is the will of the protagonist and the protagonist is the executor (Deus Ex) and games where the player is merely an adviser (Machinarium). In Indigo Prophecy the player is the protagonist’s source of willpower.

Whenever the protagonist is under an immediate level of stress and hardship, the player is responsible for keeping the protagonist on track. There is a moment in game-play where the player needs to press a sequence of buttons quickly enough in order for the character to succeed. These quick time events require good concentration and it causes the player to be as focused as the character. The buttons that need to be pressed also fit with the movement in relation to the player’s viewpoint.

Whenever the protagonist is under physical strain, the player also has to exert physical effort. There are moments when the player has to repeatedly mash buttons in rapid succession, in order for the character to exert physical effort. As you can imagine, this synchronizes how the player is feeling and how the character is feeling as far as strain is concerned.

Whenever Carla (one of the main characters) is in a fearful situation, the player has to control her breathing so she doesn’t panic. Carla happens to be claustrophobic. In one level, Carla goes to an underground police archive in order to retrieve some files. The player has to control her breathing and look for the file at the same time (a tedious task). If the player fails to control Carla’s breathing than she will storm out of the archive and the player will have to start again. The importance of controlling fear is of narrative importance for portraying Carla’s dedication to her work and the importance of monitoring her fear is of metaphoric importance.The metaphor being that; even when we try to focus on an important task to take our minds off of the fear, it doesn’t seem quite possible and actually focusing on the task can actually make the fear worse.

A screenshot from a very eerie scene in Indigo Prophecy.Criticisms (spoilers follow)

This game seems to be more focused on the development of the characters than the development of the back-story. The back-story of Indigo Prophecy is about a conspiracy behind what started civilization and how it is related to a passage between differing worlds. A conspiracy following two conflicting groups that have shaped the world around us, orange clan and purple clan. Indigo Prophecy seemed to introduce these concepts into the game only at the very end, which made the game feel rather rushed.

Maybe the plot was only a way of portraying the changes in characters, this might make the actual lack of back-story portrayal a positive. Maybe this was what David Cage was aiming for when he made this game, this would also explain why the game-play makes the player complete such mundane tasks that don’t relate to the story as a whole (eating, having a shower etc).

Conclusion (end of spoilers)

This game is a thriller, because it puts the player in a position of responsibility that causes the player to feel the suspense and stress of a scene. It is a thriller, because it is a game built for the genre and not a typical game archetype. It is a cult video game, because it does not appeal to players of a particular gaming genre, it doesn’t even specifically appeal to gamers. Unlike most conventional games, Indigo Prophecy is written first, designed second (which is how it should be). This game is a true work of art, I wouldn’t exactly call it a masterpiece though, but it is good enough considering it’s rather unique nature. When I get a PS3 I’ll get Heavy Rain and dissect that.

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