80 Days and giving up control

80 Days was a game that deviated strongly from my comfort zone: I come from a background of competitive games and speedrunning, where narrative is largely thrown to the side in favor of repetitions and optimization. As an unfortunate side-effect of this, my first instinct upon seeing any form of cutscene text is try and click through it as fast as possible without reading — I didn’t realize that my choices had real bearing on the outcome of my adventure nor did I realize the use of conversation and narrative to increase my travel options. I was attempting to skip the cutscene to get to the “gameplay”, but I had actually just skipped all the gameplay itself. And by the time I did realize, I had already forced Passepartout to (unsuccessfully) attempt to rob someone, had him held at gunpoint, and also turned him into an opium smoker. Let’s just say, not particularly successful.

(I did eventually succeed though, circumnavigating the globe in a clean 76 days on my second try)

I think the feeling of unfamiliarity that I experienced from 80 days largely came from a lack of traditional player agency that I had become so accustomed to. Most adventure games that I’ve played offer their players as much agency as possible and their game characters control and impact on the game world, a design pattern described by Meghna Jayanth as “white protagonism” in her 2021 keynote “White Protagonism and Imperial Pleasures in Game Design”. If there is a conflict, your character is the resolution to it. If there is a world, you are the largest impact decision maker in that world. Games like Minecraft let your character drastically alter the world around you and reshape it to your liking. Yet in contrast, Passepartout is a player character that is largely lacking in both agency and impact. While you certainly control his actions to some degree, you don’t control the results of those actions. There were many moments in which I would pick the option with some outcome in mind, only for it to never happen – on the boat trek to San Francisco, there’s an option to pester someone to transform it into a submersible so that it goes faster, but even through two playthroughs I was never able to get this particular event to occur. There is an ambiguity to each choice where not every dialogue option has a clear 1 to 1 correlation with an in-game impact – sometimes a dialogue option yields the same result no matter what, or sometimes the actual outcome will contradict the expected outcome laid out by the option. Choosing the wrong choice though can still be felt often: there was a moment of harsh realization during my second playthrough where I realized that a particular NPC was attempting to romance Passepartout.

Over the course of my own experience I slowly had to let go of a desire of control that I generally associate with games, and thus the experience of playing the game felt more real rather than an optimization puzzle for which I know every answer (though certainly after searching up speedruns for the game, it can be turned into one), and it’s a design pattern I want to take into consideration more often. 

I’m still going to try and break the world record for this game though at some point.


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  1. Hi Anthony! It was really interesting to hear your perspective on having to “let go” and go with the flow of the game, rather than try to control every single aspect. I also resonated with your observation about the ambiguity of how your responses affected the game; it seemed like the options were worded too vaguely at times, such that you couldn’t predict exactly what the outcome would be. I wonder if that was deliberate, in the sense that the designers knew that having too-obviously-worded options would just give players full control rather than pushing them to make choices with uncertain outcomes. Even then, once you get a hang of what options might be phrased like, as well as just generally playing the game more often, those speedruns that you want are definitely more achieveable!

  2. Hi Anthony,

    I had a very similar experience to you on my first run as well! I ended up skipping past all of the dialogue before I realized that most of the gameplay is in the dialogue. Certainly this is not an experience unique to us, and part of it for me was admittedly just not knowing anything about the game before jumping in. It made me wonder if there could possibly be a better onboarding experience that gives players enough context for them to not make the same mistake.

  3. It was interesting to me that you felt like as you let go of the desire for control over the game, the game felt more real to you. I personally felt like the lack of control over where we were going and what was going to happen was very stressful and unlike real life. I would be extremely scared and unwilling to travel around the world without maps and without knowing which routes we were going to take. I know that we can’t predict what will happen in real life, but I would not put myself in sitautions where crazy events like the ones in 80 Days are likely to happen.

  4. Hey Anthony, it was really interesting to read about letting go that desire for control over the game, which seemed like a big obstacle keeping the game from being immersive at first. It’s interesting to see the difference between someone who is used to speedrunning, and my playstyle which is to absorb as much lore as I can.

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