This is an ongoing series where I talk about what it’s like to play video games with my wife, who does not play a lot of video games.
****MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD***
“You’re like an old-timey insurance adjuster. There’s this ship? And you have to figure out what happened on it.” This pitch, despite my mangling it, was enough to convince my wife to give Return of the Obra Dinn a shot with me, after we made it through a few puzzle-platformer games together. We had played a chunk of this game last fall, but when quarantined really settled in a few months back, we started over and committed to fully completing this game.
My wife loves mysteries and the mystery genre, from Agatha Christie to Nancy Drew, and I’d had this game recommended to me enough times that I knew I would love it. So about a year and a half ago, I picked up this game for my birthday (the best birthday presents are the ones you pick out for yourself) with the intent that we could play through it together. Moreover, I’d heard one of my favorite podcast hosts recommend Obra Dinn because he had recently played through the game with his girlfriend and they had a blast.
For the uninitiated, Return of the Obra Dinn is a first-person investigative journey. It was made by one person, Lucas Pope. He had only made one other game before this one, the critically-acclaimed Papers, Please, a game that I could never get into as much as I tried. I like to think that I appreciated what he was doing in the indie game space, but mainly I just like to pretend that I know what’s what.
Playing Obra Dinn is relatively simple. My wife liked that she could move around pretty easily; nothing in this game is reflex-based. There are two main parts to controlling this game: moving around the ship in a first-person view, interacting with doors and corpses, and referring to a little black book to unravel mysteries. But to me, the most interesting part of this game and part of why it resonated with both of us is that most of the “playing” of it takes place in your mind. We exercised parts of our brains that we weren’t used to and it felt incredible.
While I had originally bought this game on Steam, we both hate playing games on a laptop, so I picked it up again on Switch. We used the pro controller and it was perfect. We were pretty much able to switch off back and forth, though I would say I was a little more adept at navigating the journal by the end of the game. The game gives plenty of options to make bookmarks in the journal but since we completed this game relatively quickly, a few sessions over a couple weeks, we didn’t really use those options.
I imagine playing this game by yourself is a completely different experience. The two of us moving through together were able to bounce ideas off of each other, or argue about different outcomes, or simply yell with relief when one of
us (I’ll be honest, her more often than I) hit upon the right combination of phrases needed to solve a particularly difficult case. We spent a lot of time being stumped, had a few moments where it was smooth sailing, and then back to being stumped again. The last ten or so cases to be solved were difficult but also showed that we were smarter than we thought possible. The difference from the embedded picture to the below picture was like night and day and we were absolutely ecstatic when we got there together.
Playing video games with a significant other isn’t always easy. Some couples keep their interests separate, and there’s nothing wrong with that. For us, my wife has always expressed interest in my hobby, but the actual playing of games doesn’t come naturally. Return of the Obra Dinn is truly unlike any other video game I’ve ever played, and one of the most memorable and enjoyable experiences I’ve ever had with my partner. Everyone should play this game. And if you’ve got a partner to bounce ideas off of, so much the better.