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Is there a name for games like these, with minimal interaction and no branches in the story?

I've seen the term "interactive fiction" around but I'm not sure if it fits.

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    screensaver would be my guess – Wandang Jan 16 '14 at 14:54
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    When I think of "Interactive Fiction", I think of single button press games like Heavy Rain, The Walking Dead, or other recent Telltale games that basically only ask for a little walking and some dialogue choices/quicktime events from the player. These games seem more to do with exploring an environment, primarily in the first-person. Only instead of shooting, it's just exploring. So, maybe a First-Person Exploration game? – Zibbobz Jan 16 '14 at 15:05
  • Or First Person Narration – WizLiz Jan 16 '14 at 15:07
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    I hardly see how answers to this will not be based on "facts or references". Classification of games follows specific criteria. I suppose there is some gray areas between genres, but it's not like I'm asking "are these games real games or what?"... – Timst Jan 16 '14 at 16:22
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    Asking the genre of a game is a well-established allowable question. gaming.stackexchange.com/search?q=genre – au revoir Jan 16 '14 at 17:34
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Such games have long been established in Japan where they are commonly referred to as Visual Novels.

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    I would agree on the principle however Visual Novel are mostly a succession of static picture whereas Dear Esther (for example) where the player is free to go in the full environement. – WizLiz Jan 17 '14 at 8:37
  • As WizLiz said. However, maybe VNs are a subpart of the wider category I'm looking for? – Timst Jan 18 '14 at 18:00
  • Visual Novels are more related to Anime, its like a interactive Power Point really, and all the gameplay is based around dialogue choices, not exploring a 3D enviroment like Gone Home or Dear Esther. – FullMetal AlcheBlitz Dec 15 '14 at 16:04
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    @TheLorderrr. VNs are not related to Anime at all. It's just that some times VNs get an Anime adaptation, just like regular novels get a video adaptation (Harry Potter and Game of Thrones, to name a few). Also, gameplay in VNs vary from game to game; for instance in 999 and Virtue's Last Reward, you get to solve puzzles every now and then. In the Ace Attorney Series you even get to "explore" crime scenes in an effort to gather evidence for you case. RPGs aren't all about stats, levels, gears and skills either; that's just narrowminded thinking. – Nolonar Dec 15 '14 at 17:58
  • @Nolonar Yea, i know, i love the AA games, i just mean that the concept of a VN game is tied in Anime culture (its where it started, its what most people think about when talking about VNs), and the overall style is very specific (mostly "static" scenes with no 3D movement, focus on story and dialogue options). I wouldn't say the games OP mentioned are VNs with that in mind. – FullMetal AlcheBlitz Dec 15 '14 at 18:17
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First-Person Exploration Game.

Where most first-person games wind up being shooting-based (hence an entire genre for those games), these games largely follow the same interaction style of those games, but cut away the 'shooting' aspect in favor of exploration and interaction with the environment.

Now you could say that First-Person-Shooters can also have a wide degree of exploration, and you'd be correct. In these games however, the primary action is in exploring the game, rather than shooting things in the game, so Exploration becomes the defining part of identifying the genre.

The Stanley Parable is defined as a First-Person Exploration game, and it's a very good name for such a game (which bears similar gameplay style to the three games you've listed).

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    Well, To The Moon isn't first-person based. And it's less about exploration than unraveling a story. What I'm looking for here is a name for games where the player has very limited to in-existent impact on the narrative, and little to no interaction. – Timst Feb 26 '14 at 16:00
  • @Timst I'd call To The Moon a "whatever prespective it has" exploration game then. I don't think there IS a specific name for games with 'little to no interaction', because interaction is an intrinsic part of video games. – Zibbobz Feb 26 '14 at 16:04
  • Although I have a different answer of my own on this page, on reflection I think I prefer this one. I was arguing for 'walking games', but I guess a similar style of game could use flying or any form of movement to achieve similar things. Exploration is more fundamental to them than walking. – Jonathan Hartley Aug 8 '16 at 16:34
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According to wikipedia :

  • Dear Esther is qualified as First Person Art Video-Game
  • Gone Home is qualified as First Person Interactive Story (which I think suit better for the genre)
  • To the moon was nominated "Best indie RPG of 2011" which tend to prove it's an RPG.

Those games are quite rare but First Person Interactive Story describe the first two quite well.

  • "Interactive story" maybe, then? I just give those three as example, I suppose there are others around maybe... – Timst Jan 16 '14 at 15:51
  • @Timst Yes maybe, "The Stanley Parable" on steam follow the same principle and is also qualified as First Person Interactive Story. I guess we will have to wait for the genre to become more populare to be able to qualify it for good. – WizLiz Jan 21 '14 at 9:26
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First of all, a word of warning. Everyone out there uses different genre taxonomies, so there can be no "right" answers to questions such as this one. Some of the bigger taxonomies out there are found on Wikipedia and MobyGames, but both of them are highly inconsistent and self-contradicting. Please also note that loads of actually existing subgenres have never been named anywhere.

While all that is true, it's still interesting to explore in what ways the mechanics differ between these games and where they fall into the existing gaming ecosystem. So I hope the following assessment will still be valuable for you.

The first question one has to answer is whether these specific games are adventure games or not. Now, following Ernest Adams in Fundamentals of Game Design Wikipedia defines adventure games as follows:

An adventure game is a video game in which the player assumes the role of protagonist in an interactive story driven by exploration and puzzle-solving.

So, the requirements are a story to progress through (while the term interactive is used, this does not mean it actually can branch!), and that you progress through this story by exploring the game world and solving puzzles in it.

Wikipedia also lists specific components of adventure games:

  • Problem or puzzle solving
  • Narrative
  • Exploration
  • Player assumes a role
  • Collection or manipulation of objects

Now, what's really interesting here is that it seems as if puzzles are a must-have component of adventure games. However, defining it like this results in lots of problems. For one, there is no main genre which encompasses narrative games without combat and without puzzles, so if games without puzzles are not adventures, we are in need of new main genre (Interactive Story?). Also, imagine a game like Secret of Monkey Island, but strip it of all puzzles. You just progress through the same story with the same point and click interface. Is that really a different main genre (e.g., a difference as big as between shooter, RPG, adventure and fighting games)? I'd argue not, and recently have been similar arguments in the community (e.g. see http://www.adventuregamers.com/articles/view/24000/). You'd also have to come up with an artificial barrier between both main genres. Where do you draw the line between interactive fiction and text adventures then, if only the latter is an Adventure?

The bottom line for me thus is that puzzles might not really be a necessary part of adventure games.

Anyways, on to your examples. IMHO they fall into different subgenres:

Gone Home tells a story, has light puzzle elements and object manipulation and uses a first-person perspective with direct avatar control. As such it is clearly part of the adventure genre. Other than having only light puzzle/object elements, it isn't all that different from other direct-control first-person adventures. I call these First-Person Adventure, although that term has sometimes been used for the Myst type of adventures employing indirect point and click control (which I have another name for).

Dear Esther tells a story, has no puzzles, extremely light object manipulation and uses a first-person perspective with direct avatar control. Whether you still call this an adventure or not depends on the puzzle problem I explained earlier. If you think puzzles are mandatory, you obviously need a different subgenre for it. You could call it First-Person Story. If you don't think puzzles are needed for it be an adventure, you could still call it that and make it a different subgenre of adventures. Or, you place it in the First-Person Adventure subgenre like Gone Home, arguing that this is just at the extreme low end of puzzle-density of that subgenre.

To the Moon tells a story, has puzzles, has object manipulation and uses a third-person top down perspective with direct avatar control. It clearly fits within the Adventure genre but the change in perspective makes for a vastly different gameplay experience, warranting its own subgenre. I call it Direct Control Adventure. Actually, this is nothing new. Other examples of it would be Escape from Monkey Island and Grim Fandango.

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"Walking games"

i.e. They don't emphasise many of the most conventional videogame activities, such as shooting things, solving puzzles, powerups or defeating enemies. Instead, the one mechanic that they do prominently contain is that the player walks around from location to location.

If you had to summarise 'Dear Esther' as quickly as possible, 'A stroll around a Hebredean island." would be a pretty good start.

Hence, I've heard these referred to as 'walking games.'

  • I guess on reflection, I could imagine games like this which didn't feature walking, per se, but instead some other form of movement which was used to explore an environment. (such as flying, or the wind blowing mechanics from Flower.) So maybe exploration is more fundamental than walking. – Jonathan Hartley Aug 8 '16 at 16:32
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There is no defined category or genre for these games yet. However, its safe to assume that To The Moon is a puzzle-adventure game. Dear Esther is getting the label "Virtual Installation", its more of a interactive picture, VERY light on gameplay or objectives. Gone Home is "like" Dear Esther, but presents more "gameplay elements", like a objective, mechanics other than walk around, a clear plot and in some respect a failure state, so its more of an adventure-puzzle game with more focus on story than gameplay.

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These type of games are generally, tongue in cheek, labeled as walking simulators. Which is what I prefer to call them, while being completely serious and rather liking the genre. You could call them Dear Esther-likes. Their is most often quite a prominent strain of exploration, which they all share which can make calling them "Exploration" games or even Myst-likes work (though of course Myst-likes is already taken and commonly used to describe completely different mechanics)

There really is not an official genre title as of yet, but I can hazard a few good ideas which I have used in the past to describe them. "Interactive Story" would probably be the best title for them. I used "Interactive Poem" to describe the original Dear Esther once upon a time, which I think fits it better than "story" as it really does not have one in a traditional sense.

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