The following is a list of four narrative-based video games which tackle the topic of missing persons with sensitivity and emotional complexity.
In Gone Home, you play Katie, a young woman who is returning home after backpacking across Europe on a gap year. While you’ve been away, your family has moved to a cavernous house filled with secret passageways. When you arrive, nobody is home. Your goal in the game is to explore the house and find out why your sister in particular is missing. You encounter journal entries, mix tapes, artifacts, letters, and files, and slowly piece together a story of what has been going on in your absence, and an impression of what life has been like for your sister after your departure and after moving to a new town where she knows nobody.
The game feels a little creepy to me because you’re alone in a big house with all the lights off! It feels like something or someone is going to jump out at you (nothing does, it’s not that kind of a story), but the atmosphere is compelling as much as it is creepy, and it allows you to get completely engrossed with the house and the stories it tells.
On the surface, Virginia seems to be a straightforward detective game. You play a new FBI recruit who is assigned, along with a partner, to solve a missing persons case. You move through the world hunting for clues while at the same time realising there’s something off about your partner, so you investigate her as well. The straightforward narrative dismantles completely though. It becomes increasingly difficult to separate dreams from reality, and possibilities from outcomes. I can’t reveal much more about the game without spoiling it entirely, but in its fragmented, confusing nature, it explores the emotional landscape of not being able to solve or know everything about every case.
In Her Story, you’re given access to the testimony of a woman after her partner has gone missing. The testimony – which comprises of multiple police interviews – is fragmented and is not in any kind of order. You need to search the database for key terms in the transcript in order to slowly uncover what happened, piecing together random fragments. It doesn’t sound like it would be that interesting, but it really, really is. The story itself is so evocative and strange that you become engrossed very quickly. Interestingly too, every player’s journey to figure out the story is idiosyncratic and ordered by what themes you find most captivating and important.
Finally, in Life is Strange, many bizarre events are happening in the tiny town of Acadia Bay. You play Max, a photography student, who has recently moved back to the area to attend a prestigious academy. One of the strange events is that a beloved student, Rachel Amber, has gone missing. Another strange event is that you’ve recently discovered that you have time travel abilities. The point of the game is to use your powers to uncover the source of the strange happenings. But there’s other interesting parts of the game too, like rekindling your relationship with your childhood best friend, and otherwise navigating the difficult social world of high school.