Archives in Video Games: The Sinking City
Updated: Dec 10, 2020
So, ya know how Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments had an "archives" that was basically loose paper stacked around a fireplace? Well, worry not, because the same studio that brought you the open fire hazard of 221B Baker Street revisits the archives mechanic within the damp and cosmically horrific setting of The Sinking City!
Based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft, The Sinking City is a very involved, very tedious game that slowly wears down your resolve until you just want the world to end, dammit! But it also has some beautiful backgrounds, interesting game mechanics, and a creepy aesthetic that's sure to satisfy some Lovecraft fans out there. I have no skin in that game. I just know he was an awful racist who came up with a squid monster everyone loves. But that's not the point...unless you happened to notice that the game only has one model for people of color or that the topics of racism and bigotry ring a bit false when you're trying to create a one-to-one allegory via fish people and ape people, respectively.
In the game, you play as a WW1 veteran/Navy diver turned private investigator who travels to the city of Oakmont, Massachusetts to uncover the secrets of his weird dreams and experiences during the war. You get involved in a lot of the local politics and religious fanaticism, but in between the moralizing and NSFW gore you occasionally have to figure out the identities of people in town, locations important to your pursuits, and basic knowledge about the setting itself. In order to accomplish these tasks, you need to visit the archives.
Unlike Sherlock Holmes, The Sinking City employs the use of archives in several locations around Oakmont. There's an archives for the newspaper, the police, the hospital, the library, and there's even the city archives with its own building and everything. The use of each archives is dependent on what information needs to be gleaned. It gets a bit tedious when you have to travel from one side of the city to another to get a piece of information, but that's actually how it works when you're doing research. One archives will rarely have everything you need neatly organized and ready for your perusal. Sometimes you've gotta do some leg work to find what you need. Or, in the case of this game, boat work, I guess.
There's also the matter of how each archives is depicted. By which I mean, they all look like this:
Literally every archives in the game is your standard roll top desk surrounded by shelves and drawers. They're all the same size, take up the same amount of space, and are they're way in the back as far from the public as possible. There are no archivists present and whenever you ask to look at the archives, the people in the game are rude and send you on your merry way without directions or instructions. Screw you, Newcomer, figure it out yourself!
Also, everything is wet and/or damp. Between the fire in Crimes & Punishments and the water in The Sinking City, Frogware is two games short of an Avatar: The Last Airbender universe of games or three games short of something, something Captain Planet reference.
Still, it is a video game and I can't praise the game developers for the plurality of archives while disparaging them for the fact that they all look the same. Wait...no, it turns out I can but it's not the Elder God I'm willing to die for.