'Coming of Age...' in videogames?

bsjezzbsjezz Registered User regular
edited September 2016 in Help / Advice Forum
I'm an English teacher and for an upcoming unit I'll be focusing on 'Rites of Passage' narratives, especially those that explore the transition to adulthood. In our scope and sequence there's a call to focus on multimedia and visual texts: my class of teenage boys has been pretty good this term so I'd like to push forward with something new and engaging for them and look at a videogame or two, if I can find some.

I'm looking for games that explore this as a primary theme. I'm searching my head and not coming up with much. Passage comes to mind: indie games like this are optimal because often the mechanics are part of the discussion about how ideas are represented, rather than just a shooter or an adventure game with a coming-of-age element to the cinematics. Can anyone else think of anything that might fit the bill?

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  • EncEnc A Fool with Compassion The Land of Flowers (and Dragons)Registered User regular
    Off hand, The Witcher 3 is entirely about a parent's perspective and letting go of a child as they come into their own. There is a lot of scholarly criticism about it especially due to how the mechanics of the game change based upon your decisions as a parent in how much freedom and responsibility you allow Ciri to have.

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  • AldoAldo Hippo Hooray Registered User regular
    Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons comes to mind. It is all about growing up and learning to stand on your own. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brothers:_A_Tale_of_Two_Sons

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  • SatanIsMyMotorSatanIsMyMotor Fuck Warren Ellis Registered User regular
    Gone Home for sure.

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  • bsjezzbsjezz Registered User regular
    Enc wrote: »
    Off hand, The Witcher 3 is entirely about a parent's perspective and letting go of a child as they come into their own. There is a lot of scholarly criticism about it especially due to how the mechanics of the game change based upon your decisions as a parent in how much freedom and responsibility you allow Ciri to have.

    It's also got a prohibitive classification, sadly

    Gone Home is a super good idea. I haven't played it myself but I might give it a run through to see what I can come up with

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  • WordLustWordLust Registered User regular
    edited September 2016
    Gone Home might be a good one, though I felt like that game's themes were more about coming to terms with one's sexual identity / coming out etc. If we're talking strict classic bildungsroman, I think Gone Home is perhaps missing a few elements, though it was several years ago that I played it, so I might not be remembering it very clearly. If you're checking out Gone Home, I'd say Life Is Strange is perhaps another one maybe worth checking out.

    Not sure how mature you want this to be, but Broken Age kinda meets a lot of the bildungsroman tropes. You've got two adolescents living in their parents' world/structure, who reject that structure and try to escape it or surpass it, get themselves into trouble in the process, grow a bit away from their parents in the process, begin to recognize their parents as just ordinary flawed people instead of superbeings etc. However, the treatment of all of these themes is extremely light, so I don't know how well it would work for an in-depth classroom discussion.

    Psychonauts by the same studio also has bildungsroman elements. The lead character runs away from his parents' home, which he feels trapped by, finds a new "voice of authority" / surrogate parent figure to look up to, gets himself mixed up in a lot of trouble, makes up with father at the end, etc. But once again, the bildungsroman elements are very light, so not sure it makes for a good classroom discussion in that respect. All the "video gamey stuff", which has little to do with the bildungsroman stuff, takes front and center for 98% of the game.

    Most JRPGs (Chrono Trigger, Earthbound, etc) could be seen as a bildungsroman (they're basically japanese anime The Goonies with monsters and hit points). But again, there probably isn't anything super substantial in there for a great discussion.

    I think Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a pretty strong recommendation, and it might even make for better discussion since there is no actual text---everything in the story is sort of emoted or implied through behavior. That could make for good conversation as everyone discusses how they interpreted in any given situation what each brother was going through and how each brother changed based on observed behavior. (For example, if you haven't played the game,
    the younger of the two brothers begins very immature, can barely focus on the task at hand because he just wants to play games and pranks all the time. He just wants everything to be playtime, basically. The older brother starts off in that awkward adolescent place of still being young but trying to assert one's self as an adult. As the journey progresses and their behaviors start to change, you see the younger brother recognize how soberingly dangerous the world/life actually is, and you see the older brother sort of realize that being an adult means something more than acting assertive/self-important.)

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  • XaquinXaquin Right behind you!Registered User regular
    Child of Light maybe?

    Caedwyr
  • CelestialBadgerCelestialBadger Registered User regular
    Life is Strange

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  • flowerhoneyflowerhoney Registered User regular
    I would recommend Never Alone!

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Never_Alone_(video_game)

    It's about a young indigenous Alaskan girl overcoming trials to save her village. There's narration rather than dialogue, but overall I really enjoyed this game.

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  • Mr KhanMr Khan Not Everyone WAHHHRegistered User regular
    EarthBound actually does integrate a bit of the coming of age themes into the actual mechanics, like Ness' random homesickness or how his father works away from the family to provide for your journey.

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  • WordLustWordLust Registered User regular
    edited September 2016
    Mr Khan wrote: »
    EarthBound actually does integrate a bit of the coming of age themes into the actual mechanics, like Ness' random homesickness or how his father works away from the family to provide for your journey.

    Does that make it an actual coming-of-age story, though? Or just a story about a young boy's particular situation?

    Usually these stories have a number of tropes in common, give or take:

    --Young person's parent(s) is either dead, becomes dead at the beginning, or else is otherwise absent for all or most of the story. (It's debatable whether Earthbound meets this one.)

    --Young person grows weary of the values and way of life at home (may even resent their parents / authority figures) and so they reject it and set out to prove they can do things on their own and make their own ideal life with their own values, etc etc. (Earthbound: Set out on their own? Check. Rejecting parents' life/values? Not so check.)

    --The young person often goes on a journey that takes them from "small quaint place" to "huge urban/foreign place". It doesn't have to literally be traveling from the farm to the big city, but that is usually the visceral feeling of the journey undertaken. (Earthbound: Check.)

    --Young person faces a number of challenges on the journey, but their greatest struggle is against themselves. (Earthbound: Facing external challenges: check. Facing internal challenges: Other than homesickness, not so check.)

    --Heavy emphasis on achieving independence / being independent all throughout. (Earthbound: Debatable. This is a game where you regularly suffer from homesickness and have to call your parents and ask for money, etc, and this is characterized as a positive thing--i.e. as opposed to independence from this being the positive thing.)

    --Reflection/Introspection (Earthbound, and video games generally, don't seem to do this often or well.)

    --Usually there is an ultimate "moment of truth" where a thing happens that suddenly puts everything into perspective for the young person. Often times this moment of learning will be accompanied by an explanation or reflection from an adult-surrogate-parent figure as the young person is still in the moment of coming to terms with this growth. (Earthbound: can't think of one.)

    --Young person often reconciles with parents' (or other authority figures') values / way of life in the end or sees their parents' values / way of life from a new, more appreciative/understanding perspective. (Earthbound: Nes never really struggles against his parents or the world in an internal way, so this never really happens.)


    JRPGs present themselves as coming-of-age stories in all the external ways. Kids set out on their own, go on a journey, there are struggles, there are no parents, they learn things about the world, there is an "ultimate" moment at the end (final boss confrontation!!!) etc. But the problem with JRPGs is that they are entirely concerned with the external and/or interpersonal, whereas coming-of-age stories are all about personal growth. JRPGs give you levels and experience points that simulate "personal growth" as a quantity, but that strips everything meaningful from personal growth. For this type of story, there is a lot going in the character internally, but JRPGs (and video games generally) are not usually very good at (or particularly concerned with) conveying that part of the story.

    (Note: Sorry for huge walls-o-text, but it is very rare that I encounter people talking about games in a literary way so when I see it I get a little ENTHUSIASTIC.)

    WordLust on
  • BouwsTBouwsT Wanna come to a super soft birthday party? Registered User regular
    Reading the OP, Broken Age definitely came to mind, though I've only finished Act 1. Brother's was an epic and hits right in the feels. Also, very appropriate classroom length, I would think.

    I shall be telling this with a sigh
    Somewhere ages and ages hence:
    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference.
  • bsjezzbsjezz Registered User regular
    Great ideas! Especially because I think I've got Never Alone and Broken Age on my PSPlus games list already. Brothers will be high on the list though: we'll probably also watch Stand By Me and it'll link very nicely. Though Life is Strange, Going Home and Never Alone change it up with more diverse gender representation...

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  • TerrendosTerrendos Decorative Monocle Registered User regular
    Ocarina of Time has a literal representation of coming of age by becoming an adult. It does have that whole issue with not knowing the thoughts of the silent protagonist though.

  • NorgothNorgoth cardiffRegistered User regular
    Fair warning, Brothers has a fairly sad ending. That might if anything, might make it actually better for this.

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  • AstaerethAstaereth In the belly of the beastRegistered User regular
    Oxenfree is a pretty good game (with minimal gameplay to get in the way of the narrative) about a group of teens who have to confront their past and learn how to make their own choices while spending the night on an apparently haunted island. It's really well done and the way the game focuses on how little choices and your general attitude towards others add up to big decisions in the way you deal with problems and relate to people seems like it would make the game a great fit for your class.

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  • DuffelDuffel jacobkosh Registered User regular
    WordLust wrote: »
    (Analysis!)

    The coming-of-age elements in the MOTHER series, including several that you mentioned, are a little more explicit in the first and third entries. I think they also have a bit more literary merit than Earthbound itself, much as I love it.

    Itoi likes to infer things indirectly, and his coming-of-age is a bit more Hemingway-existentialist (a beginning in innocence, with adulthood coming about through exposure to death, loss, assumption of responsibility for others) than the more Romantic/Byronic thing that a lot of traditional coming-of-age stories do.

    As far as more traditional coming-of-age stories go, the first one that pops into my mind is ICO.

  • EmperorSethEmperorSeth Registered User regular
    Don't all of the Pokemon games qualify?

    Also, it's pretty much omnipresent now, but Undertale works.

    You know what? Nanowrimo's cancelled on account of the world is stupid.
  • CantidoCantido Registered User regular
    edited September 2016
    Persona 4. But not the anime, and not if the player chooses to be a marty stu slut. Otherwise its about a boy becoming a man-among-boys. The main character's relationships reward him with power, not the other way around.

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  • bsjezzbsjezz Registered User regular
    For practical reasons I'm not really big on the idea of a JRPG, or an RPG in general really. Not that I think they're without merit, they're just not quite right for how I envision sharing with the class. Quick playthroughs or interesting / meaningful mechanics make the most sense.

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  • WiseManTobesWiseManTobes Registered User regular
    Thomas was Alone could work tangentially kinda, it's more about coming to terms with existence itself, but hits a lot of similar notes.

    Is a shortish platformer that can be completed in a couple hours also

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  • KyouguKyougu Registered User regular
    Its a stretch, but the Uncharted series sees Nate really grow into adulthood, realizing that it doesn't mean it has to be boring, or you have to ditch your previous love behind.

  • CaedwyrCaedwyr Registered User regular
    edited September 2016
    Xaquin wrote: »
    Child of Light maybe?

    I agree with this recommendation. Child of light is, as per the writer/developer, a coming of age story told through a fairy-tale lens. However, it does have a 15-20 hour playtime, which probably won't work so great for a class. It might be possible to burn through in less time if you stay to the main story all the way through and play on easy.

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  • ChopperDaveChopperDave Registered User regular
    edited September 2016
    Walking Dead Season II plays out as a coming of age for Clementine, and it's themes ruminate on family and loss of innocence. It's quite a dark story, though, and the content is probably prohibitive.

    Definitely think the Mother series is the closest to fitting the bill, particularly Mother 3.

    The World Ends With You sort of works. Neku's arc involves growing up from a self-centered, asocial teenager and caring more about the people around him. The game also has some interesting things to say about how teenagers try on many different clothes and looks as they grow into their own personalities. I'm thinking of Shiki's arc in particular here.

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  • EmperorSethEmperorSeth Registered User regular
    Oh, I have a good example, though it is pretty obscure. Fragile Dreams for the Wii. A story about a kid wandering through post-apocalyptic Tokyo after nearly entire everyone on Earth died. It has RPG elements but is generally defined as a survival horror game. That said, it's not really scary as much as lonely, a "survival melancholy" if you will. I can't completely comment on the quality, but it is an experience. And it's all about the child protagonist shedding parental figures, making friends, learning to live in the world, all that good stuff.

    Another, simpler example is the Indie game "Loved." Basically a simple 2D platformer, but one with an overbearing authority figure (generally assumed to be a parent) issuing orders, and the world changes based on whether you follow those actions. That said, it's a short game, so you'll probably only get 5-10 minutes, possibly twice that if you get both of the endings.

    You know what? Nanowrimo's cancelled on account of the world is stupid.
  • chr1sh4ll3ttb3chr1sh4ll3ttb3 A dagger in the dark is worth a thousand swords in the morningRegistered User regular
    I would recommend Never Alone!

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Never_Alone_(video_game)

    It's about a young indigenous Alaskan girl overcoming trials to save her village. There's narration rather than dialogue, but overall I really enjoyed this game.

    Never Alone is a really rad game with co-op play, and if you want to know more about it you can just ask one of the developers, he posts on the PA forums (and he's also a mod).

  • CantidoCantido Registered User regular
    bsjezz wrote: »
    For practical reasons I'm not really big on the idea of a JRPG, or an RPG in general really. Not that I think they're without merit, they're just not quite right for how I envision sharing with the class. Quick playthroughs or interesting / meaningful mechanics make the most sense.

    Yeah good idea. Persona 4's got too much lol Japan anyways.

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