“He lists off the things characters in media often do when they discover they are in a time loop: run around, commit crimes, try suicide in numerous different ways.“
Visual Novels are a peculiar genre in video games. They are what they sound like, a novel presented with accompanying visuals. Like a novel, the story is preset, and you will spend most of your time reading – clicking through line after line of dialogue and internal monologue. The visuals take the place of descriptive passages and appear as a series of background screens with various characters popping into frame when they interact with you. The conceit of the presentation is that the player is looking through the eyes of the character in first person perspective.
There are variations on how different visual novels take advantage of the interactive element that being a computer program provides. The most common of which are predetermined branching points that can take the plot, and thus the narrative, into different directions. Tuesday doesn’t do this.
The creators of Tuesday say they don’t want to spoil anything before you play their game. All they say is that it’s about a young man at his first day or work and about the concept of carpe diem. In fairness towards them, I’m going to link it here and say go play it before you continue reading. It takes about five minutes to complete and is playable in your browser.
Tuesday doesn’t have any branching paths. In fact, the only impact the player has on the progression of the game is clicking next. Normally, I would consider such a lack of meaningful interaction and participation on the part of the player a detriment to the game. After all, what does being a game add to the experience of a story if it doesn’t use the medium to its purpose?
There’s a famous line from Hamlet that came to mind about this point. “Suit the action to the word, the word to the action.” It’s a line that comes in the middle of a speech by Hamlet that is considered one of the grand instructions of the theater profession and is thought to be Shakespeare’s own opinion on how acting should be conducted. It’s dictating that the actor should be considerate of their performance and take into account what material is being spoken. Obvious to us now, but remember theater was not high art back in the day and was essentially run on a conveyor belt – over time, actors would run though default behaviors from part to part.
It’s a sentiment that should be considered by game creators as it is by actors. Suit the actions that the player can do to what the game is trying to say. It’s why I think Tuesday’s lack divergent paths, in defiance of game genre conventions, works. Near the end of this short story, you learn the main character is caught in a time loop. It is always Tuesday. It is always his first day at his job. We are not seeing his first time through. He knows the schedule of the various things that will happen during his day to the minute. However, on the whole, the protagonist seems pretty okay with his situation.
Near the end he delivers a small speech through an internal monologue about his situation. He lists off the things characters in media often do when they discover they are in a time loop. Run around, commit crimes, try suicide in numerous different ways. It’s basically the plot to Groundhog Day. Then he tells that he hasn’t done any of that and feels no compulsion to try. It’s just not him. He goes about his day as he always would. In the end, he is satisfied by the walk home under the setting sun and getting a drink from a vending machine on the way.
Earlier in the story, his behavior is that of an introvert. An extreme introvert, though we can be generous and reason that the experience afforded by the time loop has conditioned him to be closed off. Though the time loop may have exacerbated it, he is presented as never having been a strong proactive character in his own life. He does not exert his will onto the world. Instead, he is passive, allowing the world to be received by him.
Like our unnamed character, we cannot act upon the world. We too passively receive it, line by line. We click forward because we still exist in the world. We still have to minimally interact with it. The rest of our energy is devoted to taking everything in. The game matches the agency it provides to the story it wants to tell. Action to the word, word to the action.
As a short story, the idea is passable enough. The novelty value of the anti-Groundhog Day narrative carries it forward well enough. But as it’s main message boils down to “stop and smell the roses” and is coming from a character that has already internalized the message, the game needs something else to connect to it audience. In this case, it is the choice of medium married to a presentation the cultivates a passive reception through existence. And then it further drives the point in by subtly undermining the conventions of its chosen genre. It may not be great, but its an interesting enough experience if you know where Tuesday is coming from.