I bought The Banner Saga when I was still actively engaged in the Go For Rainbow podcast; one of my co-hosts talked about how much he really loved the game. In addition to his personal endorsement, it seems to me that it was always just one of those indie games that I was hearing about, all around. Therefore it seemed like a great reason to pick it up and give it a whirl. A few months ago, I took to Twitter to ask what game I should play – The Banner Saga or some other game, which is what I ended up playing. But in response to the tweet, Stoic Studios (creators of the game) replied to me and said “Banner Saga but we might be biased ;)” which further confirms that it was a game worth giving a shot.
Two days ago I streamed a 4 hour chunk of the game (twitch.tv/LittleSisGaming) and got through that first part of it, although I have to say it kind of felt like I was towards the end of the game. I realized it was odd that I had heard so much low-grade hubbub about the game but never ended up watching any of it in Let’s Plays or anything. The slight surprise in my voice when I see that it’s a tactics game was audible, heh. I thought it was the end of the game because it was the last battle of a large city, and while HowLongToBeat.com said the game should take about 11 hours, I was playing HORRIBLY and lost most of the tactics battles (which lead me to hypothesize that maybe you go through the game faster if you’re just constantly losing, heh).
Far and away, the game is beautiful – in it’s visual art, music, and storyline. Playing it in a small room with multiple lights, I can’t lie that the rising temperature might have been bringing my energy and engagement level down a little bit. Even still, the game is primarily working through a choose-your-own-adventure, watching simple 2D animations, and the exact same gameplay (including the exact same enemies) for the whole game. It dawned on me though that this might be an instance of proceduralism in games, whether intended or not.
Proceduralism (i.e. procedural rhetoric) in games refers to the mechanics of the game enforcing the feel or message of a game, rather than just the visual assets or visual style, or the written dialogue or exposition. One of the primary examples is a game called “The Marriage” – the mechanics of the game reinforce the message from the creator, that marriage gives and takes and the two “characters” balance their existence together, affecting each other. It isn’t just that there is a narrative point-and-click adventure (for example) trying to capture the struggle of a balanced partnership in marriage – the player has to actually struggle with it while navigating external factors.
To be honest, I doubt Stoic Studios was aiming for proceduralism, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the aesthetic they were aiming for included a little bit of mid-game drudgery to further communicate the trudging through snow at the end of the world scenario in The Banner Saga. Is there a space for that kind of game in the commercial world? Usually proceduralist games are hyper-indie – art games, really. Could there be space for a game where the mechanics are unenjoyable because they’re communicating something deeper than “Play game, have fun”? It’s an interesting question; I doubt the AAA space will ever get there but entertainment indies could be approaching. Let me know what you think in the comments; I’m interested to hear some different opinions about proceduralism and The Banner Saga!