Waypoint Weeklies: The Fascinating Mundane

Howdy Folks!

Last week I saw Shenmue for the first time, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. I had always had a vague idea of what the game might be in my head, but upon seeing the actual game I was astounded at what it actually is. The game is so… fantastically mundane. I don’t know how else to put it. Once you are handed control in the game, you are just in your house, getting ready to leave for the day, grabbing some money off a desk, looking for any cassette tapes you might want to take to listen to on your portable cassette player. But the way it’s presented feels so over-the-top. When you open drawers, it zooms into first person, so you can look at your socks, jeans, or whatever else up close.

I am not going to pretend the game is incredible or anything, that doesn’t seem to be the case. And other games are focused around every day life as well. But the level of detail to which the game goes, for a game made in 1999 is a bit fascinating to me. I think a lot about the set of verbs I have available to me in a game, and it excites me to think about how many really haven’t been explored as deeply as they could be.


So my question this week is:

What sort of mundane / everyday activity would you like to see portrayed in a game?

Personally I’d love to see a game that makes me do laundry. Or have to make the best cup of pour-over coffee I can.

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I know Quadrilateral Cowboy takes a swing at it, but I think it’d be interesting to see a simulation of what professional programming is actually like. You have a lot of points in the language, points in luck, and points in general programming knowledge? Compiles and runs first try. Points in general programming knowledge and luck but not the language? You find a StackOverflow entry first try. Etc.

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I love the mundane in games. One of my favourite things about Red Dead Redemption 2 / Online is the ‘camp life’ stuff - cooking, making coffee, brushing and feeding your horse, petting dogs. They could take out all the crime and I’d still be happy if it got even more granular. Let me go full camping simulator: pitching a tent, hammering in stakes, gathering firewood - wait, I think I’m describing a Laid Back Camp game…

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I’d love a game that was just about cooking. Like, you add any ingredient, cook it any way, and see the results. As someone who loves to cook, I’d love to actually try a recipe digitally to see how complicated it is before spending a ton on special ingredients.

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The Darkness was a game that let you watch the entirety of To Kill A Mockingbird with Jackie’s girlfriend cuddled up next to you. I’d love to see more games incorporate that kind of intimacy

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Might I direct you to Heavy Rain and Detroit Become Human… Actually don’t. I think mundanity should be in every worldbuilder’s toolbox. It is so important I believe to deepening a player/viewer’s relationship with a story’s universe but David Cage misses the point of mundanity and presents these moments with emotional music scores and camera cuts, showing his implicit goal of manipulating you.

Red Dead Redemption 2 uses mundanity in the right way IMO, Here’s a real story about me doing laundry and making coffee: I’m riding North because Pearson pestered me about not donating enough and I realize it has been a while since I had. I spot a buck in the distance on a hill and pull out my binoculars to find it’s a 3-star buck and couldn’t help but think “Ooo, I better kill it” because it’s 1899 and that’s what you did. I hitch my horse on a tree a good distance away and start creeping up that hill and it starts raining. The buck is in the wide-open so I think I better not get too close and you take a shot with a bow and arrow from a good distance but it doesn’t land with a kill and the injured buck runs off and I give chase on foot only to stumble down the now muddy hill and cover myself in mud. I track the injured animal suffering amongst the trees a few hundred feet into the woods (it’s rough and I feel bad for not getting a cleaner kill and letting it suffer). I end its suffering, skin the buck, and set up camp where I cook some venison, eat one morsel and store another and leave the rest to take back to Pearson. I see how dirty my face and clothes are while cooking so I run over to the lake nearby and jump in to clean myself off. After all that it’s getting dark and I head back to camp to sleep until morning, make coffee with the coffee grounds I bought in Rhodes (when shopping in RDR2 I highly suggest you go through the effort of picking them off the shelves in first person instead of the using the catalog) and ride back to camp on Johnboy, he’s a good boy.

Here are some real answers to the question:

What if in games where you are a cop you had to testify too? Like in L.A. Noire you had to testify in court against the people you arrested like in real life? It’s Case 7 and in the middle of it someone from the DA stops by to tell you that you’re being called to the stand for the guy you arrested in case 1? To get the conviction to stick you have to go back into your files and read your notes for that case to make it through the prosecution’s questions and defense’s cross-examination.

On that note: open-world games set in a contemporary real place should have you randomly have jury duty. If there’s a romance mechanic there needs to be minigames for trying to figure where the fuck you’re going out to eat. If I get a flat tire let me get the spare out of the trunk and fix it myself… and then randomly have it pick if whom I carjacked sprang for a spare real tire and not just a donut.

On the inverse side of this, I’m a big fan of when games present wild shit as mundane or tedious. Like in Control or Hardspace: Shipbreaker.

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The closest things I can think of off the top of my head are some of the Zachtronics games like TIS-100 or Shenzen I/O

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I’ve always found it interesting that humans more or less have finite stamina capacity in a day. Stardew Valley, I’m told, plays with this. I wish more survival games had some kind of global stamina, though, that you can’t recharge infinitely by eating or whatever. At some point you gotta sleep. I think about this a lot playing Breath of the Wild. I wish Link had some kind of global stamina that made him fall asleep eventually. Thought making a nice little campfire was really under-utilized in that game.

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It’s an odd one, but I love the rare instances in games where the player can take a mode of transport that they don’t control, so all you do is sit and watch the scenery go by. I find that the hyper-mobile traversal options players usually have can make game worlds feel really small, and so I love it when you get all your free-roaming taken away and just have to vibe with the passing scenery. It makes it feel like a morning commute, like something that the characters inhabiting this world would do every day when they go to work.

Obviously, this doesn’t come up much, because it’s very labour intensive to create environments that are only going to be used for something most players will find boring. Also, the examples that I can think of are from games I don’t hold too highly. But I think the car in Final Fantasy 15 and the train in Zelda: Spirit Tracks are examples of this.

EDIT: I think my dream game might be 80 Days by Inkle, but if the travel between cities looked like the Final Fantasy 15 car :sweat_smile:

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Yeah, the car in FF15 was cool. The driving/camping/cooking downtime stuff in that game was interesting in concept. I’d love to see more of that kind of thing (in a game that I Iiked more)

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Frankly, the mundane parts of RDR2 were the only thing I enjoyed. I cannot emphasize how disappointed I was that that game could hardly think of better things to have me do to advance the main plot than slaughter endless swarms of goons with mediocre gunplay over, and over, and over. All of this attention to detail with horse care, camping, hunting, fishing etc and it’s all squandered because the economy is broken, handing you more cash than you’ll ever need from main story missions. Never again would I feel like I needed to hunt to bring food back to camp beyond the first x% of the game. IMO it totally kills the “living on the edge” tension the story is extremely explicit about when my cup runneth over with cash.

RDR2 rant aside, I am definitely a sucker for camping mechanics.

I also love the small mundane details in both Subnautica games like needing an extra-button press to fire up the Cyclops engines or disconnect the trailers from the Seatruck. They could probably map those to a keystroke, but I love the kinetic feeling that comes from needing to move my characters head to focus on an extra piece of UX, and the satisfying shake and chunky noise that comes from it. It makes the mundanity of travel that much more of an action as opposed to just holding down the “w” key to go forward.

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y’all ever played that I Get This Call Every Day? It’s the definition of a game portraying the mundane.

I think given enough time, I would describe a game similar to Unpacking, which is why I’m so glad it (will) exists.

Similar to unpacking and in the “tidying up” category, I’d enjoy a game similar to my job as a book shelver in a library. Organize your cart of returned books that need to go back on the shelf… Travel to different floors because the collection is so expansive, it’s split across so many rooms… Catch up on a backlog of podcasts while you idly shelve…

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