I’ve been playing the PC game, The Novelist on and off for a couple of weeks.
You play as a formless entity, possessing the house that Dan Kaplan and his wife and son move into. Dan is a writer and is dealing with a bad case of writer’s block. His marriage has seen better times and his son is having trouble with bullies in school. All of them hope this move is a new beginning, but each brings their own baggage along to insure that does not happen.
As the player, you lurk around the house, reading notes, diaries and even the memories of Kaplan family. In this way, story lines evolve and you eventually are placed in the situation where you must decide what Dan will do and what will be left undone.
Will you work on your novel? The deadline is looming and it’s nowhere close to ready. Will you spend quality time with your wife, or your son? Both are feeling neglected. Ultimately, you have to prioritize what things Dan will do and what he won’t do, and be prepared to live with the consequences.
Clearly, this is not a conventional game. No matter what decisions you make, someone will be disappointed. That is the intriguing hook, a life lesson and also the game’s downfall. It’s like real life – making compromises and setting precedence of a thing or a person over another. Repeatedly.
Unlike games that are an escape and allow the player to play as incredible, super-powered heroes having fantastic adventures, The Novelist opts to show you the third-party perspective of what real life looks like, including the disappointments. Especially the disappointments.
While I dig the writer theme, sensible presentation and smooth, arty graphics, the game served as a constant reminder that I was playing a game where a primary goal was for a game character to write, rather than writing, myself. It’s a PC game about the difficulty of balancing writing, career and family. As if I needed a game to experience that.
As an interesting concept, it works. As a fun game, it fails.
Your mileage may vary.