Game of the Week: Ghost Trick and how we haunt our games

Hello everybody! Christian Donlan is away for this week’s Game of the Week, so I’m afraid you all get a sorry consolation prize in the shape of me waffling about poltergeists. Why poltergeists? Because of Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, of course. The current gen remaster has just launched and our Henry Stockdale was tickled pink, hailing it as a “brilliant mystery” and a work of “comedic absurdity” in his review, while noting some slight awkwardness with the PlayStation and Xbox versions based on translating a touchscreen game to analog stick control.

In Ghost Trick, you’re a dead guy possessing objects and rewinding time to thwart a series of assassinations. Each level begins with you chatting to a recently disembodied ghost, then time-warping back to four minutes before their death, so as to hop between objects and nudge them about to interfere with the order of events. Your feats of poltergeisting are unremarkable in themselves – pop open an umbrella, knock a cupboard door – but when you chain these tiny interruptions together, you can rewrite history. There’s probably a mental health maxim in there somewhere.

Reading Henry’s review, it came to me that every player action in a game is a spectral act, an intervention from the world beyond. It starts with playing a character – what is that, but a form of supernatural possession? You jump behind some unfortunate hero’s eyes and make their story your own, which often involves performing acts of mischief upon the setting: blowing stuff up at random, jumping on or collecting things you’re not allowed to, turning on your allies because this quest is taking too long and you’re bored. Classic Scooby Doo shenanigans. It lends a spooky cast to the much-warmed-over concept of “ludonarrative dissonance” – “ludonarrative haunting” is more like it.

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