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Grey Story

(Armor Games; US: 10 Aug 2011)

The more that I play flash games (and a lot of console DLC for that matter), the more that I have the tendency of thinking that these “shortened” versions of games are kind of the equivalent in this medium of the short story.  Like a short story, flash games have the advantage of being able to really focus on a singular theme or simple emotional expression without getting such things lost in the complexity of a long form title, which usually treats multiple themes and a complex web of characters, like a novel might.


In that sense, the description of Grey Story on the front page of New Grounds as a “short story of a boy and the girl of his dreams” seems a very sensible description of this game and what it offers to its player.


There is nothing exceptionally complex about Grey Story.  It is a platformer, in which you will move two directions (left and right) and you will jump.  Graphically, it is extremely simple, featuring two characters, the silhouettes of a vaguely male (which you control) player character and a vaguely female non-player character.  The backdrop of the game begins as a grey world with a few details that suggest an environment that these characters live in, some houses and vegetation (again, all of which are basically “greyed out”).


The only initial colors in the world are a few arrows (six or seven, maybe) of all different colors (purple, yellow, orange, etc.) that indicate a direction for the player to take.  Following one of these arrows will eventually lead the boy to some object—perhaps, a lollipop, a teddy bear, or a necklace—that the boy can pick up and return to the silhouette of the girl on the initial ledge where the game started.


And that’s it, there is little more to the game than this simple collect and return mechanic, a bit of moody music, and the changes that returning an object to the girl causes to the game world.


When the boy returns an object to the girl, she will not change one iota.  She remains reclining on the ledge, her hair blowing slightly in the wind.  The arrows reappear and the player can go seek another bauble to return to her.  The only way that achievement is marked is that the grey world in the background will now include within it some objects that have been colored in whatever color corresponds with the object successfully returned to the girl (for example, if you brought her the purple lollipop, then the world will now include some purple coloration). 


There doesn’t seem to be any direct message that the game offers.  Instead, each success just seems like an expression of bittersweet triumph and young male anxiety.  While many video games fixate on the traditional “save the princess” model of masculine identity, Grey Story does not feature an epic and heroic quest of salvation leading to romance.  Instead, the game’s objectives require a bit of work on the part of the player that goes unnoticed by the object of a boy’s affection. 


As I noted, this feels like an expression of young male anxiety about getting noticed by a girl, and the invisibility that sometimes seems to still persist despite such efforts.  That the world itself changes suggests that the boy is doing something, something is happening as a result of his efforts.  Nevertheless, all the “look at me!” antics of youth provoke no clear response in she whom he seeks to charm.  The game’s ending (which occurs once all the objects have been returned) reinforces this idea in an even more definitive way.  I won’t get specific about the exact details of this brief conclusion, but it is, as noted before, a very small and bittersweet expression of the terror of invisibility to the opposite sex.


Again, as noted, the graphics won’t blow anyone away, nor is the gameplay anything especially unique or special, but the title does express itself simply and clearly.  It captures a little piece of human experience, focuses exclusively on it, and evokes enough metaphoric sense of what youthful desire might mean to provoke a bit of sympathy for the protagonist’s situation—which is, perhaps, all that a simple, straight forward short story needs to do.


Grey Story is currently available at New Grounds.

Rating:

G. Christopher Williams is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He posts his weekly contribution to the Moving Pixels blog at PopMatters every Wednesday. Besides also serving as Multimedia Editor at PopMatters and writing at his own blog, 8-bit confessional, he has also published essays in journals like Film Criticism, PostScript, and the Popular Culture Review. You won't find him on Twitter, but you can drop him a line with that old fashioned thing called e-mail at williams@popmatters.com.


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