Recently as a part of my studies in Digital Games, Learning, and Pedagogy (ETEC 565S) for my Master of Educational Technology, I was tasked with analyzing a digital game of my choosing by creating a series of game logs reflecting on my experiences with the game. The game I chose to analyze and create a case study around was 80 Days.
You will find a link to each of the game logs I created in my analysis of this game below.
Game Logs from my Analysis of 80 Days
80 Days, the Video Game
First Impression and Trepidations with 80 Days
When I first picked 80 Days for my digital game analysis, I did so with the hope that it would be a little like Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, a favourite digital game from my youth. I wanted a game filled with adventure, mystery, and intrigue. Also, given the current pandemic, I’ve been missing travel, so my hope was that 80 Days would provide me with that and give me the opportunity to learn about the history and culture of different areas around the globe.
I had two trepidations in delving into this game.
- The Goal of Attempting to Get Around the World in 80 Days – as I am a slow traveller, who likes to take the time to explore the places I visit, that is what I thought I would wish to do in each city visited in the game. While some travellers are missing the transport of travel in the present pandemic, and modes of transit are certain to be an important aspect to 80 Days, as they were in Jules Verne’s novel, for me it is the place and people that I am missing.
- The Presentation / Perception of Women and Different Cultures Around the World – this game was after all based on Jules Verne’s novel Around the World in 80 Days, an adventure undertaken by two European men in 1872 at a time when the British Empire saw themselves as the white saviours and women were portrayed as the weaker gender, who were in need of men to look after them.
I discuss these trepidations in my initial game log and my glimmer of hope that possibly the female writer of the game, Meg Jayanth, who while British, was born in India, had found a way to craft a more worldly perspective on a story of two European gentlemen that was set in 1872, rather than disinterest or as Ian Bogart frames it in How to Do Things with Videogames, a disconnect between violence, sexism, racism, classism, and empathy. I just wasn’t quite sure how she was going to do that and maintain historical accuracy. These are all things I discuss in this video on my first impressions of the game.
First Playthrough of 80 Days
How wrong I was in my initial assumptions! While I did get a game filled with adventure, mystery, and intrigue with 80 Days, I got those things in a very different way from what I was expecting.
You see what 80 Days is an interaction fiction game, like a choose your adventure novel, only with multitudes more choices of directions to take in the game that lead to different plots and narratives. I have to admit that a few weeks ago, I did not understand how a choose your own adventure story could be a game. After playing 80 Days, my perspective on this has changed, as this is most certainly a game (and a story, at the same time). The choices you make at the markets on goods to purchase or sell, routes to take, conversations to have, responses to those conversations, all have an impact on the narrative, plots presented, and upon Fogg’s health within the game. There is strategy in the decisions made, and repercussions to the decisions chosen. And ultimately, the unpredictability of those repercussions and the surprising narratives that ensued are what kept me reading and playing.
In playing, my trepidations disappeared, I discovered I enjoyed the race and was not as prone to dilly dally as I thought I might be. I found that the anticipation of a journey, the sound of a steam whistle, and the chug of an engine all left me with a feeling of anticipation and of nostalgia. By blending the story of Around the World in 80 Days with a reimagined steampunk 1872, it gave writer Meg Jayanth the artistic license to craft a new storyworld with an imagined political climate, new characters, and different gender roles and jobs. While this meant that we interacted with many more women in 80 Days the digital game, then Phileas Fogg and Passepartout did in Jules Verne’s novel, this is not to say that the 80 Days video game avoided real issues around politics, sexism, racism, religious intolerance, classism … etc. Quite the opposite, 80 Days addressed these cleverly throughout the stories of the everyday interactions in travel. I know that I myself, playing the role of Passepartout, have already inadvertently made a woman feel unsafe, and learned that she has in some way been assaulted in the past; have helped a woman captain give birth to her new child, so as not to need to present herself to her crew in a vulnerable state; have been rendered unconscious by a nun, in an attempt to gain my aid in political plots at play; had a bomb explode in my soup, after taking a bit of culinary advice; and been pickpocketed by a little girl in a wheelchair that I thought I was enjoying an innocent exchange with. Needless to say, this is a whole new world from Around the World in 80 Days.
In the debate as Bogart puts it in How to Do Things with Videogames, is this a game or art? It is both a game and art, just as it is both a game and a story.
In discovering this, I decided to try my hand at creating my own playthrough broadcast, which is not as easy as it might seem, and involves both strategic decision making and storytelling. Gametubers is a niche that I have watched curiously for years, as a digital video creator and having been invited into a number of discord gamer communities, as a result of sharing my videos on Vidme. While I understood from conversations in the discords that there was the potential for generating revenue through gameplay videos, I did not find gameplay videos particularly engaging and had no idea the revenues could be as lucrative as T.L. Taylor cites in her book, Watch Me Play: Twitch and the Rise of Game Live Streaming. This however seemed like a good opportunity to experiment in the niche of gameplay videos, so you can see my first take on such a video below:
Which leads me to …
Watching a bit of 80 Days Gameplay
While being somewhat skeptical of this form of entertainment previously, I have to say, 80 Days and Paragon Plays have converted me. In watching Paragon Plays’ Mutiny Aboard the Waterlily | 80 Days [Interactive Novel Gameplay], you will discover from the video below that I become somewhat of a Gameplay Video Convert. When done well, as is the case of Paragon Plays, this is an art form and a story genre, as pointed out by T.L. Taylor in Watch Me Play: Twitch and the Rise of Game Live Streaming. Having said that – something that is also touched on in Watch Me Play, there is a lot more work that goes into being a financially successful gametuber / streamer than crafting entertaining videos. Gavin of Paragon Plays created wonderfully entertaining videos, yet he never really gained the audience needed to financially benefit from this story niche, which may be why his channel now lies dormant.
Aside from my admiration for Gavin from Paragon Plays’ narration, strategic storytelling in editing his video from both past gameplay and present additions that include backstory to the game, gameplay tips, and story insights from Jules Verne’s Around the Word in 80 Days, I learned a number of things from watching Gavin play that were not expressively told to me. From watching, I observed the benefit in gameplay and broadcast in making quick decisions, I realized that the gameplay and story snippets were richer with familiarity to Jules Verne’s novel, and I gathered that by making bolder choices, the story got that much richer and more suspenseful. In the words of Passepartout in Around the World in 80 Days …
Fortune favours the bold.Passpartout
I now understand why people both make and watch gameplay videos – for the personalities and storytelling, as well as for tips in terms of gameplay. These observations have made me want to dabble more in the creation of gameplay videos myself. I think what I’d like to do in this bent is to create a serialized ‘bedtime story’ from chapters of a full game playthrough of 80 Days. Thinking this might be especially fun to do as a team project with my nieces and nephews. For the first game playthrough, I think I’d like to follow the route of travel from Around the World in 80 Days to see if I stumble upon any similar plot lines to that of the novel.
Exploring Societal Discomfort in 80 Days
One other thing that struck me in watching Gavin play and reflecting on my own gameplay, was that the player seemed to be rewarded with a favourable outcome when making decisions that respected female characters in the game and that respected different cultures and religions, although only after a number of ‘tests’ as to the player’s sincerity. Despite this being my observation, writer Meg Jayanth does discuss in a talk at the 2015 Game Developers Conference the importance to her that the storylines in 80 Days not lead to the notion of the ‘white saviour,’ like they might have with the story of Aouda, the widowed princess in Around the World in 80 Days, whom Fogg and Passepartout save from her husband, the Raja’s, funeral pyre. Meg speaks about this from 23:37 to 24:43 in the video below.
For me, the placing of the player into scenes of discomfort and moral dilemma is what not only makes 80 Days a nuanced piece of storytelling, but a provocative examination of society, our believes, and our actions and inactions within it, all whilst enjoying a bit of gameplay in an imagined world. This is where the learning happens within the gameplay for me, as in this way 80 Days evokes empathy in it’s players towards the ‘other’ in the game, much as Bogart reflects on in Chapter 2 of How to Do Things with Videogames. I’ll be curious to observe how these moments of discomfort and moral dilemmas impact my nieces and nephews as we play and read together, and the discussions that ensue as a result.
Bogost, I. (2011). How to Do Things with Videogames (1st ed.). University of Minnesota Press.
GDC. (2015, November 5). 80 Days & Unexpected Stories [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Apa7Klu8Trg
Jayanth, M. (2015). 80 Days [Interactive Game]. Inkle. https://www.inklestudios.com/80days/
Paragon Plays. (2016, May 23). Mutiny Aboard the Waterlily | 80 Days [Interactive Novel Gameplay] [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=orOdVFMydjE
Watch Me Play: Twitch and the Rise of Game Live Streaming
StoryToGo. (2020, August 12). First Impressions of 80 Days [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=joSLFXnbkXI
StoryToGo. (2020b, August 21). First Playthrough of 80 Days [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pw3WX7_3tV0
StoryToGo. (2020c, August 30). Embarking on 80 Days with Paragon Plays [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VUBMl-yWKok
Taylor, T. L. (2018). Watch Me Play: Twitch and the Rise of Game Live Streaming (Princeton Studies in Culture and Technology). Princeton University Press.
Verne, J. (1873). Around the World in 80 Days. Pierre-Jules Hetzel.