Let’s Talk About… Epistory: Typing Chronicles

There’s an awesome game out called Epistory: Typing Chronicles. It’s an adventure game controlled entirely via typing, and although it looks to some like just another typing game, it’s not. Script is below.

Today I want to talk about Epistory. It’s a beautiful adventure game that feels, in many ways, like playing through a children’s story book. The player is a little girl riding on the back of a large, multi-tailed fox through an environment spawned from pages full of words to look like crumpled, colored paper. The narration, which is printed on the landscape as well as spoken aloud, sounds like an adult reading the story of girl and fox to a child.

As the girl and her fox friend set out to explore the world, they discover that all is not right with it. There are rocks and tree trunks scattered about, patches of bare earth, and invading insects. A comet falls from the sky. The girl has the power to restore the world, though, creating new plant life for the barren patches, removing the rocks and fallen trees, taking out the bugs.

All of this — exploring, restoring, and fighting — are done with the keyboard. The player can use WASD to move, but the game suggests using E, F, I, and J so that they can keep their hands in a typing position. The space bar activates typing mode and displays words attached to anything in view that the player can interact with.

One thing that’s really cool about Epistory is that it doesn’t just have one huge dictionary of words from which the player’s target words are chosen willy-nilly. For clearing fallen trees, all the words are tree-related; for planting plants, all the words are flower names; for clearing rocks, mineral names. When the player starts unlocking elemental spells, all of the word targets are related to those elements.

The control method and the associative word dictionaries led me, in my latest trailer roundup on IndieGames.com, to call Epistory an educational game. One of the folks at Epistory developer Fishing Cactus subsequently asked me on Twitter to stop calling it that, and I can understand why. They didn’t develop it with education in mind and they are concerned that the stigma associated with the term “educational games” will damage the effectiveness of their marketing.

However, I am unwilling to not apply the adjective “educational” to a game with so much educational value.

It’s easy to think, looking at the trailer for the game, that Epistory is basically just a prettier take on Typing of the Dead, but that’s far from true. The Typing of the Dead games are a spinoff of the House of the Dead games, all of them being on-rails shooters. All the original Typing of the Dead did was replace guns with keyboards and zombie health bars with words. There’s nothing wrong with that; the Typing of the Dead games are great fun and still have educational value as well.

Although I’ve always considered the Typing of the Dead games to be educational, they still fall into the trap which has plagued educational games since time immemorial. Games designed for educational purposes are too often just gamified problem drills. I think there’s a place for those in the world. It’s good to have them. However, the fact that “educational games” have for so long been synonymous with dressed-up versions of tedious homework is precisely why Fishing Cactus was worried about me calling Epistory an educational game.

In truth, Epistory is so much more than Typing of the Dead. I love Typing of the Dead, don’t get me wrong, but Fishing Cactus has created something truly wonderful in Epistory. It is a game about exploring a beautiful but scarred world and trying to heal those scars, though they don’t all go away cleanly. As the game advances, the story book narrative starts getting supplemental lines that imply a more mature subnarrative about dealing with the stresses of life.

I haven’t finished Epistory yet, but I see it as a truly all-ages story, one which addresses the kind of internal anguish that everyone must deal with at some point or another in their lives but which isn’t really socially acceptable to openly express. The fact that the player is using typing to interact with the world ties the theme and mechanics of the game together. Words are powerful; stories can move us and allegory can be a great way to make someone understand things they have not experienced themselves.

The fact that Epistory does all of this AND involves practicing typing AND uses associative dictionaries instead of random words makes it an amazing educational game.

Even if that’s not what the developers intended.

It saddens me that this is an issue, that labeling a game as educational isn’t considered something to be celebrated. Especially since the number of really good, non-drill educational games is rising.

So to Fishing Cactus: I truly hope that calling Epistory educational doesn’t hurt your sales. But I can’t not call it educational. It 100% is, no matter what the player’s age is. You’ve created something special and it deserves to be lauded for ALL the ways in which it is good, not just some of them.

To everyone else, this game is on my short list of candidates for game of the year and I can’t recommend it highly enough, whether you’re looking for something educational or not.

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