That Was a Dumb Game: The Graveyard

I was introduced to Tale of Tales, a video game making company, through the game The Path. The Path wasn’t a particularly fun game, most of the time it was downright boring, but it was at least thought provoking enough for me to write a post on the subject of art and video games. It was interesting enough that I thought I’d check out some of Tale of Tales other games. I just completed their 2008 game ”The Graveyard”.

It was dumb. It was stupid. It could be on of the dumbest games I’ve ever played in my life. I wasn’t even planning on writing a blog post about it, but it was so bad that I just had to. The world needs to know how dumb this game is. This is the developer’s description of the game:

The Graveyard is a very short computer game. You play an old lady who visits a graveyard. You walk around, sit on a bench and listen to a song. It’s more like an explorable painting than an actual game. An experiment with poetry and storytelling but without words.

This is the description you’d read before buying the game. This description, combined with the screenshots give away the whole game. There are no surprises to be had after having read that description. Literally nothing else happens.
”The Graveyard”. This is the whole game. There is nothing else to see. Literally.

When I originally wrote about ”The Path” my argument was that video games are not art. That video games don’t need to be art, because they are already an important part of the humanities. They are ”’games”’. Much like the Olympic Games of the Ancient Greeks and the NBA playoffs of today, video games shape our culture and our heritage as members of the human race. Some argue that that isn’t enough, that video games must be “art” in order to matter. Some say that unless we can attach the same connotations to video games that Michelangelo attached to sculpture, that video games will only be the playground of losers and dorks. To that I say, “Nay”. I say that those of us that play video games are no different from the gladiators of Ancient Rome. Okay, well, maybe a little different. In any case my argument is that a little bit of video game playing isn’t a waste of time, any more than any other form of entertainment or sport is a waste of time. I digress.
Attempting to make the old lady do some ”exploring”. (The old lady is to the right of the screen.) There really isn’t any point in doing this. There’s nothing over there, and the camera angle doesn’t change.

”The Graveyard” was a waste of time. ”The Graveyard” was trying to be art. ”The Graveyard” was trying to be something that a video game shouldn’t be. Recall the description. The developers call it an ”explorable painting”. That’s basically a lie. When I read the description, I thought that you could spend some time walking around the graveyard, looking at some tomb stones, reflecting on things, then take a moment to ponder. You can’t. All you can do is walk towards a bench and sit on it. The camera doesn’t even change. It just zooms in. If by “explorable painting” they meant that you can stand far away from a painting, and then walk closer to it to make it look more zoomed in, then walk away to make it look less zoomed, then sure it’s an “explorable painting”, but then ”every” painting is explorable by that definition.

Probably one of the worst parts of the game is that you can’t even finish it. The lady usually dies. From the description of the game, you’d think that she only dies sometimes, but she dies pretty much every time. And after she dies, ”you can’t quit the game”. You heard me right, there is no option to quit the game. You are stuck playing the game forever. As a joke, someone on the support forums said that that was part of the game, and if you wait long enough she eventually decomposes. That was good for a laugh, but seriously, you should be able to quit a game from an in-game menu.

I know the the game is supposed to be metaphor, it’s supposed to be poetry. That pretty much seems like a load of crock to me. I read one critical response stating that it’s frustrating how slow the old lady walks, but then maybe that brings insight into how frustrating it must be to be old. Where everything you do is slow and not by choice. I’ll grant the game that one. I actually think that is one merit of this game. How frustrating it must be to be old. But honestly, who hasn’t played a game, ”that was mostly fun”, that didn’t have some frustratingly slow parts. I remember when I played ”Mass Effect”, I had to wait in the elevator for a frustratingly long amount of time in order for the game to load. And who hasn’t experienced a checkpoint right before a long unskippable cutscene. I’ve already experienced frustration in games. I don’t want to play a game this is basically just standing in an elevator and waiting for it to get somewhere.

You listen to a song in ”The Graveyard”. It’s not a very good song. It’s downright bad. Annoying, even. I don’t know if it is an original song for the game, or one that was just picked as the soundtrack, but it doesn’t matter, it’s still not good. The movie ”Wristcutters: A Love Story” also has a really bad song in it, but the fact that the song is bad is part of the narrative of the film, and that makes the song good on a cerebral level. The song in ”The Graveyard” is probably supposed to be sentimental. It seemed to be about a lot of sad things, perhaps the old lady’s history, but it was hard to care about that with how ear-wrenching awful it is.

They sell this game for five bucks. That’s shocking to me. When I was sixteen, I worked a minimum wage job for five bucks an hour. I would expect that five bucks would give me one hour of entertainment. This game is worth maybe one dollar. The longest you can really play it for is about six minutes. You can complete it in as short as 6.8 seconds. I know, because I completed it that fast. (I played it multiple times hoping to find something more in the game than was presented at first glance. There isn’t anything more.)

I played ”Dear Esther” as well. Which has little narrative, and the gameplay basically amounts to walking around, the same as in ”The Graveyard” and ”The Path”. Something about ”Dear Esther” made it volumes better though. A more beautiful environment maybe, a better soundtrack perhaps. I don’t really know, but what I do know is that it’s possible to make a game, where all you do is walk around, that is entertaining. ”Dear Esther” is entertaining enough that I played it multiple times. Entertaining enough that I will still go back and visit ”Dear Esther” from time to time. I’d never replay ”The Graveyard” again. ”The Graveyard” is the kind of crap that a gamer ”might” play to say he is cultured, but I’m pretty sure that no gamer is saying they are cultured after playing this game, because it’s a dumb game. Oh well, now I’m off to play one of Tale of Tales other major releases, ”Fatale”.