After a decade of fiction classes, a degree in English, and hundreds of hours reading books and essays about writing, I’ve learned dozens of rules writers debate over. I’ve also found a few common threads that, for stories I care about, apply to almost all storytelling mediums. Terry Cavanagh’s Don’t Look Back demonstrates all of these threads perfectly and manages to tell an emotionally fulfilling story in (for a video game) a short amount of time.
This issue of The Backlog is going to explore Cavanagh’s masterpiece by exploring its story beat-by-beat. Since the main element of a video game narrative that separates it from any other medium is the interaction, I highly encourage you, the reader, to play the game before reading this zine. The game is available online for free here. It takes between 15 and 30 minutes to complete.
If you’ve already played the game all the way through, or you just don’t want to, then please keep reading. Otherwise be warned: the story will be spoiled. Unfortunately, it’s absolutely necessary so that I can demonstrate how Don’t Look Back is the perfect video game example of how to tell a story.
Before the Xbox, Microsoft created the MSX. Released in 1983, the computer system was an attempt at creating a “standard” for home computers. Before the popularity of standard operating systems, disks were unreadable between operating systems, but all MSX disks worked in any MSX machine.
The MSX demonstrates a fascinating cultural difference between the East and the West: unification vs competition. The MSX never became popular in the West because Westerners prefered competition more than a “standard”. Similarly, in the early 2000s, Japanese mobile gaming became popular years before the advent of the iPhone because Japanese phones were more standardized.
This could also explain why PC gaming has never been as popular in Japan. PC games can work on one PC and not on another because of minor differences in hardware. Why not just buy a box that plays all of the games for that machine?
However, I’m not an expert on Japanese culture. If you have some insight, or or want to add to the conversation, please comment on this article below!