Coming of Age / Indie / Storytelling

Review: A Bird Story and the difference between games and movies

Freebird Games’ A Bird Story is beautiful short game. Overflowing with pathos, this simple gem brought me to tears with its poignant use of music, charming retro design and extremely skilled wordless storytelling.

A Bird Story follows the journey of a young boy through the loneliness of childhood, frictions with neglectful adults and the joys and whims of the imagination. Focusing on his deeply moving friendship with an injured bird he rescues, A Bird Story made me laugh, cry and experience the wonder, tragedy and complex beauty of the human condition.

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The distinction between what is real and what is imagined is blurred in A Bird Story

Although I loved A Bird Story, I did feel that it functioned more as an animated short than a game. As narrative, I felt it was perfectly executed, with tremendously subtle details and dramatic flair. I would even go so far to say that it should be nominated for a short film award. As a game, however, I felt player interaction was minimal and the few instances of gameplay felt forced, contrived and unnecessary.

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In this sequence, for example, I didn’t feel that it was necessary for the journey to be player controlled. It added little to the game.

Player controls in A Bird Story did not add anything to the experience as a whole. This made me reflect on the nature of interactive storytelling within video games.

Video games are not films. The main thing that distinguishes them from the medium of film is that video games are based on player interaction. This means that gameplay mechanics are crucial, and their quality should be considered in the evaluation of a video game’s merits.

In interactive storytelling, this concept becomes a bit more complicated.

In my estimation, A Bird Story should be classed in the category of interactive storytelling. The foundation of the game is the narrative. Adventure game mechanics are offered to fuel player interaction in A Bird Story, but they fall short. Sequences of point-and-click exploration and puzzle solving feel like an unnecessary exercise which adds nothing. A Bird Story still feels like a movie – a wonderful, beautiful, insightful one, but a movie nonetheless.

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The boy’s loneliness is conveyed in subtle, poignant ways throughout A Bird Story. Everyone except his bird companion appears as a shadow, for example.

In the end, I still have a great love for Bird Story, not because of its qualities as a video game but because of its force and beauty as an animated short. I remain a big fan of Freebird Games, and look forward to their next venture.

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