Games where you play as someone who's playing a game


#1

Hi folks, long time lurker/first time poster! (I’m “puff” on the Discord; I suppose I should change my name here to match.)

I started watching a longplay of the first .hack game recently (a series I have spent almost zero time with) and I am fascinated by the functional frame of the game — without spoiling anything, you play as a person who themselves plays an MMO, and the functional areas of the game include not only the MMO itself, but an out-of-client chat board, as well as a “Log Out” link which, when you choose it, has your character stop playing for awhile.

Some aspects of this framing are familiar; the chatboard reminded me a lot of the Balamb Garden messageboard you read through at the very beginning of FFVIII, for example. Her Story or Digital: A Love Story have you play as someone unseen who, through you, manipulates an interface (though they aren’t playing a game). But the explicit “game about playing a game” nature of .hack has been really striking to me, especially as someone who themselves plays A LOT of an MMO. (Shoutout to the Malboro FFXIV server!!!)

Are there any other games y’all can think of where you play as a character who is themselves playing a game? Do those games take advantage of that framing to do interesting things (e.g., moving the plot forward when the character elects to take a break from playing)? Are there other not-strictly-game-in-game “interface games” unmentioned here that you wanna shout out? I’m all ears!!


#2

SUPERHOT is probably the best example of this I remember. Without revealing too much it’s basically a game about playing a game called SUPERHOT and getting addicted to it. It is presented in a cool way and elevates what is already an interesting game. The VR version also has you put on a VR headset in VR, which is an oddly rad thing to do.

Other fun examples I can think of is the Demontower game in Night in The Woods and Celeste Classic in Celeste (which actually runs on PICO-8, an emulator for an imaginary console).


#3

Oh man, I hadn’t thought about the .hack games in ages. They looked so cool in concept, but by the time I got a PS2 they were like three games deep and I felt too overwhelmed to start. How do they hold up nowadays?

As for a game I like where you play as someone playing a game, I always liked the maps in Titanfall 1 & 2 that start you out in a VR chamber and generates a level that breaks the logic of the game’s “physical” reality. They were a fun distraction from the standard maps.


#4

Retro Game Master on the DS was a lot of fun, you are trapped as a kid trying to beat challenges in faux famicom games ( some of which are really good!). You don’t have to have seen the show to enjoy it, but it definately adds some context as to who this laughing polygonal head guy is.
Yep, it sucked that the sequel was never localized.


#5

Consortium is The Good Shit, you play as someone hijacking the mind of someone in another dimension, a mid-ranking officer aboard a spaceship. It plays with that really well, everyone assumes you know What’s Up but obviously you don’t, so you have to wing it in basically every conversation. My fave example: At one point the captain orders an escape pod launched to trick the Resident Baddies into thinking the crew has left on it, and I ask weather they can’t just scan it for life signs. She takes the piss out of me for watching too much Star Trek, because that is not a thing you can do.


#6

Does Pyre count here? You’re not playing a video game there, but it is very much a game about playing games and the way that we imbue them with meaning and significance.

Without giving too much away there, I think what makes Pyre really interesting is how it so closely ties the gameplay elements into the story even though they initially appear to be two totally different things. Or at least how it makes it initially appear that the gameplay elements exist because of the story and how it inverts that as the story goes on and the gameplay starts informing the narrative.

It puts those two things into conversation in a really interesting, fairly novel way.


#7

Stories Untold (an anthology horror/adventure game) opens with you playing an interactive fiction game on an old computer, and manages to make that sequence extremely effective and scary.


#8

Heck yeah Consortium! It turns your lack of understanding into a storytelling asset rather than the obstacle it usually is in games. I think there is even Steam achievement for revealing that you are a guy playing a game. With all the emergent simulation talk on Waypoint it really is a game that should get more attention, especially with a more ambitious sequel on the way.

Duskers is the other example that comes mind. It’s a rougelike where you are remote piloting drones through derelict spaceships searching for parts, fuel, and information. The game plays out through a retro command driven interface with you typing commands to open doors, pilot drones from room to room, deploy tools and weapons, and scan. Sometimes you even get interference on your monitor and are forced to input a degauss command. It fully commits to the fiction of your character being a guy at a computer terminal.


#9

Pony Island! You’re playing on an old arcade cabinet consumed by a demonic presence (it might actually be straight up Satan, can’t recall) and you’re cooperating with the soul of a previous player to get through a bunch of super difficult puzzles set by the demon. It’s half psychological horror and half genuinely funny commentary on our relationship with games, difficulty, and grinding. It’s dark and clever and really worth giving a shot.


#10

Let it Die. It doesn’t really do anything interesting with this conceit, and I didn’t like the actual game enough to play for more than a handful of hours, but chilling in the arcade with the silly characters was fun.


#12

The Magic Circle is a must-play for that: you’re a beta player stuck in an unstable build of a game that was never finished, and have to undo/“patch” the code so you can dig deeper and find out what’s really going on. It’s even got a “game dev simulator” bit at the very end which is hilarious in context.


#13

Given that Kate Gray wrote a fantastic article about them for Waypoint, I’m surprised no one’s mentioned Cibele or Lost Memories Dot Net yet, both of which tell personal stories about young women coming of age on the Internet, depicted through virtual desktops, text IMs with other characters, and centerpiece mechanics of either playing an in-game MMO or using a in-game site-builder to style the player character’s personal blog.

There’s also the excellent Tentacles Growing Everywhere, a coming of age Twine game about three alien teens who discover the restrictions of their society’s gender trinary, which sorts everyone into jock/nerd/artist buckets, all told through editing Livejournal-style posts and excerpts from an in-universe guide to alien puberty.

Ultra Business Tycoon III is a Twine game about playing an old edutainment game, trying to push against its ideological and technical boundaries, and experiencing both the joys and limits of escapism. (Emily Short wrote a great piece about the game’s intentional split between player and player character.)

Guilded Youth is a text adventure game where the player character recruits guildmates from an online role-playing chatroom to explore and loot an old, condemned house in the real world.

The Second Amendment is a more comedic predecessor to Stories Untold’s framing device, tasking the player to type commands into a spooky in-game text adventure by open-palm-slapping an onscreen keyboard one key at a time. (Sadly, it’s not currently available online, but there’s a YouTube playthrough in the previous link.)

Let There Be Smite is a game where you play as the Old Testament-era Judeo-Christian God individually choosing which sinners to forgive or smite via an Apple II-style interface that is very much not up to the task.

Rara Racer is a minimalist arcade dodging game visually presented as a YouTube playthrough, with the metafictional YouTuber’s commentary changing depending on your own actions.


#14

Does the Assassin’s Creed series count? No one’s mentioned them yet in this thread, and it’s kind of their whole shtick. Yeah you play specifically as Desmond in the first 3, but in 4 and Syndicate (didn’t play Unity so I can’t speak to it) you’re just an unnamed character jumping into the animus.

Uplink and Hacknet are movie-style hacking simulations that are very good. You’re an unnamed character using a fake PC interface to hack the planet.

When Giant Bomb played this on stream a few weeks ago, I was reminded Kill.Switch used this as a plot device. You weren’t actually playing as the dude running around shooting dudes. You were a controlling him remotely somehow. I played through it roughly a decade ago, and I don’t remember whether it actually did anything clever with that premise.


#15

.hack confirmed for goty for allowing the player to log off

i’ve never played it but recently i was reminded of Little Inferno, which uses a “playing a game within the game” framework to provide commentary on free-to-play facebook style games. the tone seems suuuper saccharine for my tastes but its a neat concept and cool that someone was trying that level of commentary back in 2012 (iirc?) given how the free-to-play stamina system has only gotten more popular and pervasive since then


#16

I second SUPERHOT. Superhot is the most innovative shooter i’ve played in years