When you think of video games, you probably don't think of the poetry of Keats or folktales of Alaskan natives, but thanks to the rapidly evolving world of digital entertainment, you can. With 97 percent of kids playing video games (including an estimated 94 percent of girls), they are more popular than ever. That's encouraging their designers and writers to explore new, interesting territory (or revisit old territory in new ways). With that in mind, here are five, each costing less than 20 dollars, that challenge the idea that video games can't be art. Oh, and they're a ton of fun.
The poetry of the title is fitting, as this game has you exploring three doomed planets styled after the works of Byron, Shelley and Keats. But the little explorer you're controlling isn't there just to sightsee. You have to write down reports to send back home. These reports range from completing the poetry of the poet who inspired the world, to an atmospheric version of "Mad Libs," all the way to a full-on free-form writing prompt. The controls are smooth and the style is beautiful. As an added bonus, there are also educational prompts that tell a story and ask the player to correct the spelling and grammar.
Made in collaboration with the Alaskan Native community, Never Alone is the story of an Iñupiat girl and her arctic fox companion exploring her people's rich folklore. Gorgeous and atmospheric, the game allows players to control the protagonist Nuna or her companion Fox. Even better, you can play cooperatively with friends and family, taking turns at controlling both at the same time. Full of puzzles, the game also has more than 30 minutes of interviews with Iñupiat elders and storytellers.
This game has been around for a while, but it is still easily the most profound story of friendship, the human condition and sacrifice ever to be told by a handful of colorful quadrilaterals. At its core, Thomas Was Alone is just an incredibly satisfying puzzle platformer, like Mario. But wrapped around that satisfying game is an incredible story with flawless narration by Danny Wallace and a beautiful soundtrack by David Housden. Even though it's old, Thomas Was Alone recently got a new (free) expansion. So there is plenty there to enjoy.
This enchanting role playing game is worth a look, if only for the incredible, painterly graphics. But they're used to tell a truly unique story, of a girl sucked into the fairytale world of Lemuria. You play as Aurora, a girl from 1895 Austria, who is here to restore the sun, the moon and the stars after the Queen of Night stole them. It's a story of strength, growth, loss and resilience that's told completely in verse. You'll meet a rich cast of charming characters as you help Aurora find her true destiny.
This unique take on war games is much darker than those above. Most games in this field have you playing a hyper-masculine warrior mowing down waves of enemies in some war-torn hellhole. In This War of Mine, you control a ragtag band of survivors trying to make it one more day in a besieged city. As you scramble through the ruins searching for scarce supplies, you'll get a better understanding of the human cost of war. The setting is eerily reminiscent of Eastern Ukraine, but the game's overriding message seems to be that war is awful.