In Praise of Point ‘n’ Click

So I went into my local gamestore, looking for something to play on the Wii. I wanted a point and click adventure.

“What?” said the gormless young man.

“Point and click. You know… for kids!”

Needless to say, they didn’t appear to have any. In which case, I thought I’d just share with you why I think this genre is underrated and we, as historians and archaeologists, should be looking at it more closely. Just to remind you, let’s go to Wikipedia:

An adventure game is a video game in which the player assumes the role of protagonist in an interactive story driven by exploration and puzzle-solving instead of physical challenge.[1] The genre‘s focus on story allows it to draw heavily from other narrative-based media such as literature and film, encompassing a wide variety of literary genres. Nearly all adventure games are designed for a single player, since this emphasis on story and character makes multi-player design difficult.[2]

In the Western world, the genre’s popularity peaked during the late 1980s to mid 1990s when many considered it to be among the most technically advanced genres, but it is now sometimes considered to be a niche genre.[3] In East Asia on the other hand, adventure games continue to be popular in the form of visual novels, which make up nearly 70% of PC games released in Japan.[4]

Why I love ’em so:

1) Interactive story. To step into a narrative, and to push against its boundaries and its expectations, to find out and understand the limits and possibilities of its world, is one of the pleasures of this kind of game. It is a series of documents, texts, worldviews. To play well is to step into the mindset of someone else – a historical skill.

Some adventure games spend a lot of time on the backstory, setting up the scenario, before you begin playing. ‘And then there were none‘, by The Adventure Company is a typical (and rather ham-fisted) instance of this. Of course, the classic opening (and perhaps most famous of all) is that supplied by Zork:

From Sean Connolly's post on 'the poetry of computer language'

Spare, minimal, and already signaling the way this world works. My favorite opening of all time is the cinematic for Syberia:

A good point and click adventure foreshadows the events, locations, and kinds of puzzles that one will encounter, right in its opening. Syberia is absolutely brilliant in the way that its cinematics enhance the narrative. When done poorly, a cinematic is simply an expository mechanic, the narrator at your kid’s Grade One pageant.

2) Materiality in a virtual world. In the great games of the genre – again, Syberia, but also Grim Fandango – the logic of interacting with objects makes perfect sense given the world you are in. Objects have a kind of agency, and can go together in multiple ways. (In the poorest games of the genre, only mad clicking about a scene will reveal objects that one can use to ‘solve’ the puzzles which often just involve very tenuous logic linking the various objects in the chain together).

Physical Anthropology in the Land of the Dead: Pushing Up the Daisies.

Point and click adventures (and really, adventure games more generally) encourage the player – even force the player – to confront ideas about narrative, storytelling, the limits of knowledge, and the agencies of objects. What more could you want, for justification to play these in your historical methods / archaeological theory classes?

Further reading:

Adventure Gamers – reviews, downloads, screenshots, freeware

Adventure Maker – make point and click adventures for iphone and ipod touch

Adventure Game Studio – get your retro on, a la Sierra / Luscasarts.

(Grim Fandango cover art low-resolution image,, c1998 LucasArts)


  1. Zack & Wiki is great, but you definitely have to look into the Sam and Max: Freelance Police games. They’re really great and bring to bear that idea of item interaction agency. Often the solution to a puzzle isn’t simply presenting different objects and hoping one of them “clicks” (har har), but rather presenting the right items in a sequence. Sam and Max do that very well, and when you have all the right items, the chain feels all the more satisfying, because of the interplay between all the characters.

  2. Adventure games certainly pose great questions about narrative. Even take Resistance 3 for example. To learn the story of the invasion of the Chimera, the player is forced to collect journals, and audio logs. If you don’t collect them all, you have a fragment of the story. If you’re lazy, you can go online to say and read a secondary source. That is another player who has collected all the journals and synthesized them into a historical narrative.

    Collecting fragments of the past, can teach the player to understand the amount of conjecture or filling in the blanks, historians have to do.

    As with point and click adventures, I think there is a great possibility if the developers include alternate endings, can teach us that the way we use objects, results in a different outcome.

    I was directed to this website, from your second year history class at Carleton. This is my first post and thoughts about what you’re ‘doing’ here, I think its great.

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