What would the world be like if everyone actually stopped, and considered their responses in conversations, instead of just reacting in the moment? That may well have been the prompt for NYU Game Center’s spring semester project in 2018 – where We Should Talk. was born.

We Should Talk. is a fantastic exploration of the power our words have on others. However, it does not come without some seriously questionable goals.

STORY

The game’s protagonist is a woman in her ’20s, just looking for some time to relax and have a few drinks at her favorite bar. Clearly, relaxation does not include Sam, the protagonist’s loving, but somewhat neurotic girlfriend. Sam is at home cooking dinner so the only way to communicate with her is via text message.

We Should Talk. Sam
Sam: Your loving (and needy) girlfriend waiting at home

From the moment you enter the bar, there are distractions and temptations. Experimenting with different responses will yield very different reactions. No matter whether you choose to be the ‘faithful partner’ or the ‘barfly Jezebel’, eventually, you will need to navigate through some very serious issues in your relationship with Sam. Through interactions, you also learn more about the protagonist, and why a rowdy bar (aptly named “The Getaway”) filled with drunks is preferable to home-cooked noodles with your girlfriend.

We Should Talk. Steph

Steph: the flirty barkeep. I have played the game 5 times now, and still have never seen this specific dialogue wheel above

GAMEPLAY

Each response prompt offers you 2-3 dials, which, when combined in different ways, can result in many types of verbal (or text) responses. These responses can range from sympathetic, to flirty, to outright rude, and beyond. The way the other characters respond to you depends entirely on your choice of word-combinations.

We Should Talk. Jimmy
Jimmy: the poor loser at the bar who got stood up by his Tinder date

That being said, I reached the end of five playthroughs, yet I have only ever seen three of the nine endings – and that’s when I was actively trying to play either the flirt, the emotionally abusive bitch, or the caring partner.

THE GOOD

The fact that this game emphasizes the importance of tone and intent in conversation is an almost revolutionary idea. I honestly do recommend this game to those who struggle with conversation (for whatever reason), or who may need a refresher course on how words affect those around you.

The focus is on the relationship between the protagonist and Sam, and the ways in which relationships can either become stronger, or fall apart entirely, just by choosing your words more carefully.

We Should Talk. is a game that could, potentially, change the way people communicate. That is, if it were more elaborate with a larger setting and more characters.

THE BAD

We Should Talk. is a very short game. My first playthrough lasted all of 16 minutes, and my second went up to about 20 (only because I was consciously trying to be a total jerk).

Keeping in mind that this game was created by NYU students, it is quite impressive that there are so many choices of responses, as well as hidden dialogue and nine differently triggered endings.

Unfortunately, the sometimes janky gameplay and confusing endings betray the fact that this game was essentially a college course final. For example, in my second playthrough, I was determined to be the faithful partner to Sam. Despite trying to “make our relationship work”, the ending I got was totally at odds with everything I thought I had done up until then. I ended up cheating on her with Dante, the “artsy-fartsy” ex-boyfriend, even though I put him down pretty harshly.

We Should Talk. Dante
Dante: the hunky ex-boyfriend finding his way through New York’s theatre scene
ADVOCATING ABUSE

Another issue is the game’s questionable goals. Your relationship with Sam is central to the narrative, but despite my best efforts, I could not access the “happy” ending where Sam and I end up together and try to make our relationship work.

The reason for that is that the game requires that I not only support Sam’s anxieties, but also give up my freedom and admit to perceived wrongdoings. Essentially, the game is trying to say that the only way to get a happy ending is to give up your own identity and personal freedom in order to accommodate your partner’s neuroses.

I may be out of line here, but that sounds a bit like emotional abuse to me. A relationship is not healthy when one partner demands submission from another, and yet that is precisely what the game requires for the relationship to survive.

REAL-WORLD POTENTIAL

We Should Talk Communication
We Should Talk. could lead to better communication in the workplace

Effective communication is key to all aspects of life, including communication in the workplace.

My main issue with this game is its scope. I get that it was a college project, but the game continued to be developed over the course of 2019 and was them picked up by Whitethorn Digital for multi-platform mass distribution. Whitethorn Digital proudly only publishes “bite-sized” games that require no prior knowledge of gaming. However, 16 minutes is not “bite-sized”, it’s ridiculous.

IN THE WORKPLACE

The game could have done so much more by exploring the protagonist’s life outside of the bar, while keeping the central issue of her relationship with Sam intact. We learn nothing about what she does for a living. Even a chance encounter with a work colleague at the bar could have opened this game up to so much more.

Whenever I play games with this much depth and learning potential, I try to assess how it can be used in real life. What if workplaces required all employees to play the game? (It’s 20 minutes long at most – it’s not like productivity will stall completely). It would be an exercise in positive communication and how to approach sensitive work-related topics.

FINAL THOUGHTS

We Should Talk. is a unique experiment in communication, and the replayability (in order to see all nine endings), encourages players to explore different response wheel combinations in order to fully appreciate the power of phrase and tone.

The game, however, is not perfect, nor fully realized. There are certainly some questionable goals that the creators seemed to want to achieve, which sends a negative message to players in a relationship with an emotionally unstable individual.

In the end, We Should Talk. is a great example of the power of communication (not just words, but tone and intent). It is an important lesson for anyone. However, the game’s short length and the ironic shallowness of the endings are a disappointment in an otherwise brilliant concept.

 

 

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