The Smallness of Florence

One of the texts for our interactive storytelling class is this, an interactive music video for Jeff Buckley’s rendition of Bob Dylan’s Just Like A Woman. As the music plays, a series of comic book style panels scroll past the screen. You are invited to click the panels, causing them to alternate between alternative narratives, where the two characters are either alone, happily together, or together but resentful. Later in the video, you are also given the ability to choose between additional layers of instrumentation that add to Buckley’s singing and strumming.

For a variety of reasons, this work reminded me a great deal of Mountains’ Florence. Like the music video, Florence focuses on a relationship and its ups and downs. Like the music video, the user/player is invited to interact, and explore how the tiny things in relationships can mean so much more.

Florence, like the music video, does not ask much of the user. While Florence is more game-like than the music video, with more defined rules underlying the interactions between game and player, the rules are still simple and easily comprehended. The simple gameplay requires little to no skill and only a mild level of mental engagement from the player.

It’s the perfect sort of game to play on your phone, so it makes sense that Android and iOS are the platforms it was released on. In an abstract sense, Florence is an ‘idle’ game. It’s the perfect thing to play on your commute or when waiting for a friend, when the time you have to play is short or uncertain and the changing environments around you preclude the sort of intense mental engagement more ‘hardcore’ games require.

Yet unlike a lot of the games that are usually referred to as idle games, Florence does not exist to waste your time or compel you to spend money with micro-transactions. Florence fills its moments with an emotional and thematic richness those sort of games frequently lack, and it does so without requiring the same level of player concentration and effort that all-encompassing experiences like Dear Esther or What Remains of Edith Finch do.

It’s tempting to think that to make a game that is emotional resonant or thematically rich or artful in some way you must make a game that is bold and enthralling and attention-grabbing, but Florence and the interactive music video show us another possibility: you can make a thing that is small and humble, and asks only for a small sliver of time and focus from the audience, and still deliver something beautiful. Games like Florence, small but resonant, are uncommon. I can’t think of many others like it. Gorogoa, Device 6, Donut County, to name a few. More of this sort of thing would be cool.