Welcome to Play This, a regular series in which we recommend games that we think is worthy of your time and attention. Games are chosen for either their outstanding design, their narrative intrigue, their originality, their social importance or a combination of all of these and more.
Starting a story with a question is a tried and tested literary technique, with some of our most beloved and celebrated novels, films and games using it as our portal into a new world. One Night Stand, an interactive visual novel from Lucy Blundell, opts for this recognised opening, the question a simple one: What happened?
With memory lost in a fuzz of alcohol, phone battery dead, physical clues limited and your assumed partner in casual fornication lying next to you in an unfamiliar bed, both of you naked, Blundell tempts us to find out how this millennial male fantasy of no-strings attached sex came to be. By working through deductions and talking to our new friend the story of the previous evening starts to come into focus, and thus the structure of the game's progression is defined.
When viewed in this way One Night Stand works in that it is skillfully written to the point that it pulls you through its short running time multiple times; your decisions and actions resulting in various different endings. These pathways converge and separate intelligently, allowing you to learn something fresh with each play and eventually work out the details of what happened and how. Soon enough, however, it dawns on you that the real reason you’re playing isn’t to fill in the gaps of the previous night’s partying, it’s to get to know this hitherto stranger you’ve woken up with.
Peeling back the layers overtly intended to create gameplay conflicts reveals the subtleties in her character, her past and hopes for the future, her passions and hates and whether or not, if you begin to like her, a relationship together is possible. At times things can delve into teen romance territory, but even in its most saccharin moments there’s a naivety to the characters and an awkward charm to their situation that shields it from drifting too far towards idealised pubescent fantasy.
Games tend to do sex but not relationships. One Night Stand glosses over the physical action to get us to the good stuff.