Many multiplayer games offer cooperative modes or team-based play, but for a truly collaborative experience, check out the We Were Here series, which includes We Were Here, We Were Here Too, We Were Here Together, and the forthcoming We Were Here Forever. These action-oriented puzzle games were specifically designed for two players, where each player has only half the information needed to solve each challenge. Players cannot see each other’s characters and must communicate using walkie-talkies. Only by working together to decode ciphers, assemble arcane machines, and dodge treacherous traps can they hope to escape a horrible fate.
Successfully executing a mechanical skill or a strategic play is central to many game genres, from platformers and adventure titles to real-time strategy and battle arena games. For a game that explicitly rewards quality, however, look no further than New Pokémon Snap, a first-person photography game. In New Pokémon Snap, players travel to different locations in the fictional Lental region to find and photograph different Pokémon in their natural environments. The player’s photographs are stored in an album called the Photodex and rated based on a variety of criteria, including whether the Pokémon is in frame and facing the camera. Photos that capture shy Pokémon or rare behaviors are awarded higher scores. Because the Photodex holds a limited number of pictures and new locations require specific cumulative ratings to unlock, players are actively encouraged to evaluate and re-shoot their photos to achieve better scores.
Simulation games made up the lion’s share of last year’s recommendations, and it would be remiss not to mention at least one here. Like Minecraft, Cities: Skylines, and Oxygen Not Included, the 2018 game Eco is about creating a civilization on a virtual planet. What separates Eco from other multiplayer survival games is an emphasis on balancing resource collection and technological advancement with environmental impacts. For example, hunting animals or harvesting plants too aggressively can cause species to go extinct, and cutting down trees without replanting can limit the players’ ability to mitigate air pollution. Eco encourages players to develop trade, create currencies, form governments, and enact laws that restrict or incentivize different actions with a focus on living sustainably.
In Papers, Please, the player takes on the role of a border agent for a fictional country. The player inspects the documents of each traveler crossing the border and determines whether they meet an increasingly complex list of criteria for entry. The player must then choose whether to admit or reject each immigrant, or choose to detain or arrest them if criminal activity is suspected.
What elevates the game from an exercise in bureaucracy to a “dystopian document thriller” (the game’s subtitle) is the pressure to work as quickly as possible. The border agent earns money based on how many people are processed, and their pay is docked for mistakes. If they don’t earn enough money each day for rent, food, and other expenses, their family suffers.
The player is presented with several moral dilemmas throughout the game. For instance, do they accept bribes from travelers with potentially forged papers so they will have enough money to keep the heat on at home? What about admitting an immigrant’s spouse despite having incomplete papers at the risk of accepting a potential terrorist? These situations and others challenge players to examine their beliefs about duty, order, and doing what is “right” when there is no clear or easy path to being a good person.
The Novelist is single-player game that explores interpersonal relationships within the fictional Kaplan family, who have taken a vacation together. Husband and father Dan Kaplan is a novelist trying to overcome writer’s block and turn in a promised manuscript to his impatient agent. Wife and mother Linda wants to work with Dan on their foundering marriage and develop her career as an artist. Meanwhile, Dan and Linda’s son Timmy is lonely and struggling to get attention from his distracted father.
The player, a ghost-like presence that haunts the cabin the Kaplans are renting, learns about the family’s desires and anxieties through notes, letters, and drawings. The player can also access the characters’ memories and witness specific experiences that reveal more of their personalities. Throughout the story, the player uses the information they gain to influence decisions each family member makes, often choosing between guiding the characters toward satisfying their individual goals or compromising to achieve a degree of interpersonal fulfillment. Respect for both individual autonomy and collective happiness are core to the game.
While it may seem like an unconventional pick, the social deduction game Among Us thrives on community and reveals some of its quirkier tendencies. Best played with a group of eight to twelve friends or acquaintances, Among Us places the players on a space-themed map and divides them into two groups: crewmates and imposters. Crewmates move around the map trying to complete task-based mini games like filling gasoline cans and emptying trash. Imposters try to assassinate crewmates, biding their time between kills by pretending to do tasks. Suspected imposters can be eliminated from play by a plurality vote, which takes place whenever a player reports a dead body or calls an emergency meeting. Crewmates win if they complete all tasks or eliminate all imposters; imposters win if the number of crewmates is equal to the number of imposters, or if a critical sabotage goes unresolved.
On the surface, Among Us is a race between two opposing groups to achieve their respective victory conditions. The real meat of the game, however, is in the crew meetings, where plucky crewmates try to piece together a story from incomplete information, and devious imposters try to conceal their crimes or frame other players for them. Crewmates can become unwitting accomplices or unfortunate casualties of these spirited conversations, and sometimes even an as-yet innocent imposter is eliminated because they seem suspicious. Accusations and antics abound, revealing who has a flair for persuasion and where the group has unexpected blindspots.
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