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November 21st, 2021, 18:23
Tauriq Moosa (The Guardian) ponders on why detective video games bring a good experience.

Why detective video games are the perfect way to experience a mystery

Detective fiction tells a story pieced together by some clever person - and in a video game, that's you

In one of her best books, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Agatha Christie puts these words into the mouth of her least favourite character, Hercule Poirot: "Understand this, I mean to arrive at the truth. The truth, however ugly in itself, is always curious and beautiful to seekers after it."

All detective stories are an attempt to reflect this. Uncovering the truth through clever reasoning, observation and logic is wondrous. You are forced to look at the world anew: a misplaced chair is no longer just a chair, but indicative of a killer's escape; a removed lightbulb tells us the killer did not want to be seen. In the eyes of a detective (or a great detective writer), everyday objects are imbued with alien significance. They no longer fit where we think they fit and when we find their proper place, a clear picture emerges. Poirot was a great detective because he obsessed over order and was more sensitive to misplacement. Sherlock Holmes could see tiny stains on a hat and understand the entire life of its wearer.

Whether portrayed through literature, films, TV shows or video games, detective stories ideally invite us to participate in a grand puzzle, allowing us to slot the pieces into place alongside the characters. But sometimes, TV writers deprive us of the opportunity to do so. A classic example is when our detective flourishes some evidence he obtained from his almost magical sources. In the Sherlock Holmes TV adaptation Elementary, for example, Sherlock has access to a hacker group who can simply "obtain" necessary info. There is no way for the audience to have done that - we are held at bay, as though we were a magician's audience rather than the detective's companion.

In video games, though, the player has to solve the mystery themselves; there are no cheap parlour tricks here, and that necessitates some especially clever techniques when it comes to design. Detective games are sometimes sourced from the greats of literature, such as The ABC Murders, based on the book of the same name by Christie - but not always. The Bafta-winning Return of the Obra Dinn is a self-contained black-and-white mystery set on a merchant ship whose crew is long dead, and is one of the best detective stories around. Since Gabriel Knight in the 1990s - an endearingly trashy series of adventure games about supernatural investigators fighting evil - games have been refining the art of a great mystery story.

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