Knowledge as a mechanic - my favourite trend in gaming

in hive-140217 •  6 days ago 

The beauty of the interactive medium is that it can be anything, bounded only by the creator's imagination and the device's hardware capabilities. Oh, and of course, budget. One of the key mechanics throughout gaming is some form of combat or the other. It's easy to see why - combat offers great possibilities for engagement, puzzle solving or just pure thrills.

Some games go a different way, though, featuring no combat. An even smaller subset of these games has taken things to the next level by making knowledge a mechanic.

Let me explain. In Subnautica, sure, you have the whole base building mechanic reminiscent of Minecraft. But the core single player experience outside of building is through exploration and discovery. There are no markers, no hand-holding - you are left free in the open world, and it is now your job to find out what happened. To do this, you have to go exploring. At each turn, you'll discover and learn new narrative plot points, which in turn will help you explore deeper and further. Of course, building will offer you the tools required to proceed. So, in a sense, you are not told a story, you discover the story.

A more abstract interpretation of this idea would be Hypnospace Outlaw. The game is basically a simulator of 90s internet, and that's pretty much the only mechanic there is - flipping between web pages. But on each page, there lies secrets and information that you must discover to proceed. Sure, as a cop, you'll get some clues along the way, but ultimately, the game's primary mechanic is learning through surfing the web, and using that information to progress.

Telling Lies or Her Story takes a similar approach, but with a different medium. Once again, you play a cop, but this time, instead of websites you have peruse through archival video footage. No one tells you how to go about it, you only have one way to find footage - type in keywords. Through watching the videos, you learn more about the situation, and find more things to search for. Indeed, in this game, knowledge is the only mechanic.

Heaven's Vault has many of the free-form exploration-oriented style featured in the above mentioned games, but it takes things further by introducing a whole new mechanic that's based purely on knowledge. Essentially a language simulator, you progress through the game based on information you learn, which in turn is based on your proficiency of the language. Of course, it's been sufficiently gamified to be accessible, but the thrill of learning the language and subsequently discovering secrets is hugely rewarding.

Return of the Obra Dinn is another game where knowledge is the only mechanic available. You not only discover the story, but you have actively solve the story through deduction and logic. This is perhaps the ultimate expression of making narrative a gameplay mechanic in itself! And lastly, there is Outer Wilds. You are given every tool you need at the start of the game. Very much like the games mentioned above, it's a free-form exploration game where you can go anywhere, at your own discretion. While it's more of a story discovery process than story-as-a-mechanic as seen with Return of the Obra Dinn, the act of exploration is tied to your knowledge of the tools. So, while the tools remain the same, you need to learn how to use them properly to progress further into locations that'll reveal further knowledge you need to learn the story and finish the game.

These games approach the same idea in different ways. The central idea being, stories need not be told, but rather, discovered by the player. Sure, it does require engagement from the player - some may prefer a more casual, expository narrative experience. But for those who are looking for a different, almost purer form of storytelling, knowledge and discovery is the most powerful game mechanic there is!

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