Game Review: Welcome Back

Another 2019 Global Game Jam entry from South Africa presents an abstraction of real people's identities and invites players to uncover each person's core through an interactive discovery process.

By: Mandy J Watson
Posted: 13 June 2019
Category: Review Comments View Comments


Welcome Back title screen

Welcome Back, which was developed in GameMaker and is available for free for Windows, was South African developer Rodain Joubert's entry in this year's Global Game Jam (see the Fragments review for another game from the Cape Town jam location). The jam's theme was "What Home Means To You" so, as Joubert says in the introduction to the game, "Feeling at home in oneself and maintaining focus on one's identity is important to me so I set about asking various people about their identity and constructed a simple narrative."

Joubert gathered the stories of a number of people to find out what parts of their identity are most important to them, or what about their identity they find that others most struggle to focus on about them, and then developed a game that presents this as a series of abstract interactive scenes in which players can discover the core part of the identities for themselves.

The game requires speakers or headphones as you have to listen to Joubert tell the stories of the people who contributed to the project and then follow the instructions on screen. The game presents a swarming field of dots that's quite mesmerising to watch and you use your mouse to find the spot - or spots - that will trigger the dots to reconfigure into a shape that relates to the person's story. At the same time a very ethereal piece of music plays in the background that complements the disembodied feeling you experience as you watch the dots swirl around and try to coalesce into an identifiable pattern or shape when you click and hold the mouse button.

Use your mouse to interact with the dot field to discover an abstract representation of an identity in Welcome Back

The interactive process and presentation is a very clever, yet apt, metaphor for finding an identity, seeing it form into something more tangible and complete, and holding on to it, which is what the people's stories are all about. Some stories talk about how others perceive the people, some are about how the people perceive themselves, and still others talk about mental health and healthy and unhealthy practices that relate to the person's identity and ability to function in the world.

Begin a new game in Welcome Back

Once you've moved through the series of stories the game officially ends but you are free to page back and forth between them using the arrow keys (at any time in the game, in fact) should you wish to listen to a few of them again or experiment further with the discovery tool.

A playthrough only takes five to 10 minutes so it's very quick to jump into, although the first time I played I experienced a small amount of frustration during some of the stories when I struggled to find the trigger spots. I actually enjoyed the game more on subsequent playthroughs as my focus shifted to the experience of learning about the people and seeing how the visuals relate to them rather than the problem-solving task of finding the correct spot to activate the dots.

At present the game only features seven narratives, which Joubert notes in the introduction are skewed towards white and transgender, but Joubert is encouraging more people to contribute their stories to the project so that it can be extended. I hope to see this happen as it's a very interesting experience as a player to listen to people's stories and then discover how their identities have been interpreted as icons and dot patterns.

At the same time the stories are incredibly personal and I can see how many people would feel uncomfortable and exposed having their own included, even though it's done with a great deal of gentleness, care, and respect. (On that note, a nod to the people who did offer their stories for the jam version of the game.)

A picture begins to form in the dot field in Welcome Back

Having said that, the seven are diverse enough that you will recognise a similarity to the stories of some of your friends or co-workers, if not yourself, unless you really have a very homogeneous group of friends.

Welcome Back is a fascinating exploration of how people see themselves - and how they see the world seeing them - and deserves your time and attention.

Welcome Back: Global Game Jam Page
Rodain Joubert: Global Game Jam Profile, IMDB Profile, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter Rating


Tags: Games, LGBTI, South African Games

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