All of the games on display to play during the first two days of Games For Change Festival 2018 were located in the New School’s student center cafeteria, and the game closest to the entrance was Reframe Games’ Guide. Its unique display setup, which included a dark box around the laptop with Guide on it to sort of isolate a player and art from the game up in the area, turned my head every time I walked past until I actually had a chance to stop when there wasn’t a line for the game.

Guide has you playing as a small phoenix chick who has fallen from its nest and is now in the wild during a dark, frightening night. At first, it seems he is alone, but a small glowing dot appears, offering to guide the chick. It prompts you with certain directions and suggestions, while a third “voice” asks questions that seem to be meant to sow doubt about the guide light.

What I was able to play was fairly straightforward; I didn’t have the opportunity to play much more than the beginning of Guide when the game is still teaching you how to play itself. I directed my chick away from his broken home and began encountering enemies in the form of a dark shadow, vaguely shaped like a dragon, and eyes which shoot small projectiles that can harm the chick. A general idea of health can be gleaned from the little glowing guide dot.

Posted by Guide on Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The controls were simple. I played the mobile version of the game, which had four directional arrows that controlled basic movements and special abilities, like flapping the chick’s wings to make small fires and combining directional controls to have him glide for short distances. It was easy to pick up, and the puzzles I encountered were fairly self-explanatory and straightforward, with prompts from the guide freely available had I needed assistance while still feeling out the game.

Before I even started the game, I had the chance to learn about it while the mobile app was getting set up for me. Guide is a game specifically intended for children with anxiety. Ideally, a child would be playing Guide with a therapist for short sessions. The therapist would be able to assist the child if they were having trouble, and when done with sessions, the therapist would discuss what had just been played and unpack and connect the game experiences to possible real-life experiences.

It was easy to see the game’s intent with this information in mind, but it didn’t make it any less an engaging experience for me. It only meant that I had an easier time recognizing cues to the game’s purpose, instead of just taking things at face value. Some things were explained to me, such as the choice of eyes as a regular enemy and the dark shadow. The eyes were meant to represent social anxiety, and that feeling of always being watched, and the dark shadow represented that presence of anxiety and fear.

Guide Screenshot
Puzzle-solving relies on familiar mechanics, like burning down or lighting up obstacles and bouncing on the tops of mushrooms.

Other things I immediately picked up on. Shortly after obtaining the guide, there’s a prompt that implies that the voice in your head may not always direct you correctly. Anxiety can often feed one misinformation which that can affect your responses to a situation, in ways that aren’t always proportionate or logical. Thus I began reading the guide’s directives in this way, as that voice that is constantly saying “this is the situation but if we do this it will be okay–this will make it okay–this is the behavior that will fix it–” even when the actions don’t have that logical sense, though when they are presented in the game they do have an internal logic to them, as it might in a situation in real life. I suspect that around the 3/4 mark in the game, there is a “twist” which starts unraveling the guide’s authority.

This is the kind of game that I’d like to have been able to not only play more of but to also get the full, intended experience that would have a therapist explaining parts of the game to me. I’d love to have a clearer understanding of what prompts, tasks, and dialogue in-game is intended to lead to in real life.

The game itself seems as if it an effective tool and an enjoyable problem-solving game if found on its own. It seems simple enough that even a child not accustomed to playing video games could pick it up and benefit from it.

If you would like more information about Guide, you can check out the game’s website here. It appears that Guide is not widely available right now, but if you’re interested in obtaining a copy, you can contact the team behind Guide directly via email.

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