Having brought The Novelist quite a while ago during another Steam Sale, I decided it was finally time to site down with this intriguing indie game and decide for myself whether it deserved all the praise and attention it got upon its release.
The game focuses around a small family comprised of the father (the novelist himself) Dan, the mother, Linda, and their child, Tommy, as they retreat to a getaway house in the forest whilst Dan works on his latest Novel. Whilst the main character is technically Dan, you start to realise that everyone has their own wants and needs, and it isn’t only about the father completing his book in order to achieve greatness.
Whilst you don’t control the characters in the house directly, you play as a ghost that observes the family, and can read their thoughts as well as past memories to figure out what they all want in a set of different situations. Once you’ve observed enough you can make a decision on what the family as a whole should do going forwards by whispering to Dan whilst he’s asleep. Once the decision has been made you’ll be shown what the outcome of your decision was, with some family members being happy at the decision, and others dreadfully sad.
Compromises are a central theme of The Novelist, with constant different wants and needs affecting each and every one of the family in different ways. In one example, the family get some inheritance from a cousin, leading each of the family members to come to different conclusions on what should be done with the money. Dan wants to use it to advertise in magazines by himself, without the help of his publisher, which would motivate him to work harder on his novel. Linda would like to use the money to join an art community in the town near their getaway home so she can get properly back into her painting. Tommy on the other hand would like to use the money to go on a camping holiday, ensuring he can meet other children his age rather than being isolated out in the forest with only his parents as company. No matter which decision you make, you’ll always make the other two family members upset, so you best pick the best option for your family as a whole rather than concentrating on individuals.
After making your decision, The Novelist even gives you the chance to compromise with another family member, ensuring that they don’t get too upset about not having their first choice chosen. In the example above, I chose Dan’s method of spending the inheritance money over others as I knew it would benefit the family more in the long run if the book sold well due to the advertising they purchased. I was then given the option to give a compromise to either Linda or Tommy, to which I chose Tommy as he wasn’t doing too well in education and could have done with more attention outside of the house. In doing this, I made Linda upset that we had no money to support her becoming a member of the art community, which in turn put a strain on hers and Dans relationship.
I could see great symmetry in The Novelist and my personal life in the previous year since working on Twixel. Every decision that was made would have an impact on another family member, through no fault of my own, something I never thought about in my own world which working on Twixel. I’m sure many would be able to sympathise with this notion, as we’re all quite self centred most of the time, but through playing The Novelist it’s opened my eyes to that selfishness. For the most part I was on Dan’s side throughout the game, being annoyed at Linda for wanting to take time away from Dan’s book, whilst also being annoyed at having a needy child in Tommy. But it soon started to dawn on me that my actions in prioritising Dan were affecting the rest of the family, something I know all too well in Twixel’s development process whilst I shut everyone out of my life and made no sacrifices. It was a thought provoking game, and one which I feel may better me as an individual going forwards for bringing this all to my attention, something I can rarely say for other forms of media.
So should you play The Novelist? Absolutely. It’s a fantastic game that puts you in some very awkward moments, pushing your feelings for the family as well as drawing memories from your own life into view. Some may find the 2 hour playtime a little short and the graphics a little mediocre compared to many games on the market these days, but both do the job perfectly of getting the point across that compromises are made in every situation you ever find yourself in, and that nothing is ever as clear cut as you’d expect. I can’t recommend the game enough, and hugely encourage anyone who wishes to feel moved or touched by the media that they play to go out and buy The Novelist now, you won’t be disappointed.