These games and awards were decided during the Ward Podcast’s Best Games Played 2016 episode, where we considered any and all games played by the members of the Ward Podcast in 2016, even if they weren’t released that calendar year.
Oxenfree wins the award for Best Personal Interactions, both creatively and mechanically. Creatively, it tells the tale of teens lost on an island, fighting an evil presence, and trying to use their pubescent communication skills to save and connect to one another. At the same time, Alex, the protagonist, tries to grapple with the past loss of her brother and to connect with her newly-minted half brother, Jonas.
Mechanically, the narrative system, of being able to move and talk as humans do, evokes the now-trademark Grand Theft Auto series’ use of dialog during driving sequences, as well as the use of walk and talk shots in television and film. It’s a story perpetually in motion, best exemplified by the fact that Alex is constantly moving.
The dialog options appear as speech balloons above Alex’s head, invoking the idea that these are all the things she wants to say, but what it’s up to the player to decide the best course of action. Alex – like Geralt of Rivia, Henry, and Maxine Caulfield – speaks for herself, you’re the angel (or devil) on their shoulder. Sometimes, she interjects when something important is on her mind. Other times, she waits for there to be a lull in the conversation. At all times, you and her are trying to help make the situation better. Rarely does it work out.
Night School Studio has created a ghost story as a way to deal with personal loss, and because you have the somewhat shy, teenage Alex as your vessel, you must work together to say what’s on your mind.