This article comes from talking to another indienova author, Tail. I used to see Old Man's Journey as a prose poem with little gameplay. Even though interaction here is innovative, the game’s world and outcome wouldn't change much depending on our actions. Tail's view on this, however, enlightened me.
I believe that Old Man's Journey is like an interactive three-dimensional picture book with many layers. You can keep reading by adjusting each layer’s height.
It reminds me of Burly Men at Sea. I knew there must be some connection between these two games, without understanding what it is. It's all clear now: they’re both essentially picture books.
This is just one possible opinion, but I believe it's quite interesting and even important.
Old Man's Journey doesn’t have a complex narrative structure, rather it just adds playful elements into the form of a picture book by seeing gameplay as a kind of interaction.
In other words, the gameplay just changes the way of "reading" a picture book, and that change does not affect the story itself, as opposed to one recent game WILL: A Wonderful World, which offers an innovative idea.
I'm not saying that WILL is not good enough. No. I like that style of game; Her Story, Framed, and the like.
These games are excellent! But what I’m trying to say is that in the lesson of "how to tell a story", these games kind of overexert, making the contrast more prescient in these simple picture books. Yes, just as simple as picture book, not Jorge Luis Borges or Italo Calvino, not a more post-modern narrative.
Never forget that games can be simple "interactions" rather than complex "systems", whether it is adjusting mountain height in Old Man's Journey, or view in Burly Men at Sea.
So why do we even have this kind of design? Perhaps games are just good at it with more colorful effects.
We can leave stories on their own. And stories have their own charm.
Even though we could say that every journey is completely new in Burly Men at Sea, namely that player choice can lead to different events, the story here is interesting for being retold again and again. You set off on your journey and go back to town, then back on the road again.
What I'm trying to say is that Bury Men at Sea is kind of like a bedtime story and gives you original fun from pure storytelling.
I mean, we see too much the debate between narrative and ludology, but the question dissolves when you come back to being a reader instead of player.
As a reader, do you mind that your "reading" is disconnected from the story?