‘Pry’ Gives Players a Look Inside a Life Touched by PTSD

Pry isn’t much like other games. You might not consider it a game at all. Its developers call it an exploratory novella — interactive fiction, but without branching path or adventures to choose. All there is to choose is how you’ll interact with its imagery from moment to moment: whether you want the surface narrative, or you want to pry beneath.

Though Pry arrived on iOS last year, its second half only arrived last week. Together, they tell the story of James, a demolition expert who only recently returned from the First Gulf War. That story is a written narrative, beneath which you’ll find a film’s worth of video — disjointed memories, flashbacks, and present moments. You can also delve into James’s subconscious thoughts as he tries to hold his life together.

Charley Locke recently took a look at the full game for Wired, and shared details of the experience.

Beyond that mechanic, Gorman and Cannizzaro offer many ways of discovering text and clues. At one point, the reader traces Braille to see James’ associations with the words. It’s a sympathetic interaction, mimicking his own gestures, but instead of translating the Braille into text, you translate the Braille into James’ memories. It’s a way of reading through someone else’s eyes. As the story builds, the ability to explore the external world diminishes as you’re forced deeper into James’ thoughts. By the closing scene, the war has quite literally shut out the rest of the world.

Gorman and Cannizzaro consider their work part of a tradition in immersive storytelling far beyond games. Pry has as much in common with live-action detective game Her Story as it does with Julio Cortázar’s stream-of-consciousness, choose-your-own-adventure novel Hopscotch. That’s exactly the experimental space that they want to explore. “We’re thinking about the nuts and bolts of the haptic, intimate experience of delving into a character’s mind,” says Gorman. “It’s common to create something and just plunk it into a VR space or 3-D game, and say its immersive. But what does the craft of immersion mean?”

Her Story gives you the distance of watching from behind a camera. Its mysteries are meant to be put together from the piece of evidence you can tease out of its video collection. Because Pry lets you into James’s head, seeing into his memories and often through his eyes, the evidence is all there– but only once James is ready to see it.

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