Despite the fact that video games are an interactive medium, I often find myself put off by games that don’t provide enough structure.
It could be that the past few years as a college student have made me less liberal with my free time, and the idea of making a seemingly infinite commitment to a game like “Minecraft” seems horrifying to me. Maybe it’s that I often seek out strong narratives in the games I play, which by necessity often require an extensive scripting of events to maintain the pacing and presentation of the story.
For whatever the reason may be, my love and appreciation for order and structure greatly contributed to my time playing “Coma.”
Released in 2010 by indie developer Thomas Brush, “Coma” is a 2-D platformer in which the player takes on the role of Peter as he attempts to traverse and wake up from the strange dream space he has come to inhabit.
Immediately, the stripped-down format of the 2-D platformer lends itself to a highly structured experience along with the way the structure lends itself to presentation. While the player only has the ability to jump and move from the left or right of the screen, each frame of the game is filled to the brim with beautiful animation and clever character design.
The benefits of this format are also evident in the way in which this structure allows the game to corral and anticipate the player’s movement. This allows Brush to implement dynamic shifts of the game’s music as the player moves through each stage.
Despite the fact that this stripped-down approach definitely lends itself to a highly scripted experience, the fact that this much detail and content was produced by a single designer is extremely impressive.
However, as much as I crave experiences that give my game-play purpose and direction, if “Coma” is a game about waking up there definitely seems to be something problematic in its inclusion of so many rules and restrictions.
After all, while the benefits of such a scripted game are undeniable, the player ultimately interfaces with its design mechanically, which in turn becomes detrimental to the identity they can express throughout their play through.
If you watched multiple walk-throughs of “Coma” and “Skyrim” back to back, each of the former would be nearly inseparable from each other, while each of the latter would clearly reflect each of its players.
Of course, this notion is constantly touched on throughout Pete’s traversal of the game’s world, with messages like “This world is a lie” and “You need to wake up Peter” ominously appearing in the background.
And ultimately, while rules and structure may be crucial for any storytelling medium, video games as an art form are defined by empowering their viewers to become players and co-authors of the narratives they inhabit. As far as “Coma” is concerned, without this autonomy a video game just isn’t a video game, only a dream of one.