Games have difficulty conveying the mundane, pitching everything as life or death or the end of the world. But life is full of meaningful experiences whose stakes may seem like small potatoes to an outsider, but to those involved, it is the end of the world. Florence, released on iOS last month and Android tomorrow, is a slice of experimental storytelling that sketches a path for games to broaden the stories they tell.
Florence lays out the story of a relationship in the same amount of time it would take you to watch an episode of a TV show. You're in and out in just over 30 minutes. It wastes no time telling a very specific story about what it’s like to meet someone, fall in love, and deal with the consequences of youth. It doesn’t set up a larger world with big questions to be answered in a cliffhanger. There is a beginning, middle, and end, and when it’s over, it’s over. The story it’s telling isn’t unique in and of itself, but by avoiding wearing out its welcome and wrapping the story in a fresh context, it works.
There is no dialogue whatsoever, with Florence entirely relying on effective use of music and sound effects carefully layered between its comic book-like visuals. Besides scrolling from one screen to the next—sometimes up and down, sometimes left to right, sometimes without budging—there are only light interactive elements to play with.
Every time you’re asked to participate, it’s a treat, whether it’s gently shaking photos:
Or scrubbing the screen to reveal what kind of conversation the couple is having:
My favorite bits are when the game tries to rethink what it means to “interact” with a game. One sequence uses puzzle pieces to represent the tone and pace of a conversation between the couple, which the game twists to great and dramatic effect.
You’re an observer in Florence, not a character. The player's role is to move the story along, and in specific instances, called upon to reveal a scene’s deeper meaning, or to engage with the screen in a playful way, heightening the emotional punch.
Nothing that happens in Florence is shocking, but that’s also why it’s so relatable. We can’t understand what it’s like to have the weight of the world on your shoulders, as aliens invade, but a lot of us know what it’s like to watch a relationship become the center of our own worlds. What it’s like to move in with another person, and try to find a place for your stuff amongst their stuff. What it’s like to imagine what life might be like, if the two of you are together together. What it’s like for all that to fall apart.
I dropped into melancholic nostalgia by the end of Florence, as I quietly took inventory of my own past relationships, and how they laid bricks in the road to the present.
I wish more games left me feeling like that, and that’s why Florence is worth your time.