Editorials Gaming

What Game Developers Can Learn From The Psychonauts Franchise

Double Fine Studios is no stranger to creative storytelling and enjoyable gameplay with hits like Costume Quest and Brutal Legend. Many games in their library have aged extremely well with their stylized characters and memorable worlds, but one now approaching the spotlight yet again after a sixteen year hiatus is the Psychonauts franchise. The VR game “Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin” did come out in 2017; however, it felt more like a short fun experience rather than a full game. Now with the sequel of 2005’s Psychonauts coming to fruition it is a great time to approach this series again. 

After replaying the cult classic that is Psychonauts recently, the thought came to mind about how more games should be like it. Not necessarily on the platforming as it has had known complications with getting stuck in the geometry of the stages, but rather on the immersion and enjoyability of each and every level in the game. Video games are a unique medium in that one is transported into another world that isn’t just watched, but is fully interactable for the one playing. More games should be like Psychonauts because the game brings players to places that are completely impossible and metaphysical, places that reality simply cannot offer. I know in my mind that the stages in Psychonauts are merely that, levels set up to guide the players through the adventure. Then comes the moment the protagonist Raz throws the tiny door on the head of those around him and enters their minds, the levels feel less like segmented parts of the game, but rather really inside the minds of these characters. 

Because being inside a mind is not structured to one type of landscape or design the levels literally are a representation, a symbol, of those you are entering. Ever know someone who keeps their emotions inside and supposedly under control? This type of person is represented in Agent Nein’s character whose mind world is a compact box full of memories and objects that burst the moment his emotions run amok. Taking the human mind and making it appear in a 3D space is not just creative and fun, but is art in itself. 

Going into the past, fantasy, or even brutally destructive worlds are gaming staples, but games about going into the human psyche, that is what makes Psychonauts amazing and still fresh today. Taking us to places that are not present in our physical world and travelling inside the brain to explain what makes us, us, is the page that every game company should take out of Psychonauts’ playbook. Videogames let players enter worlds beyond our own, let game developers make more of these worlds full of symbols, representations, and fantastical stand-ins for what makes people truly human. Doing so will not just make memorable games, but will connect the humanity we each share to the very game we are playing.  (Kurt Jensen; Gaming Writer)

Psychonauts 2 is slated to release later this year.

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