The Problem With Video Game Cell Phones

It’s Friday, which means I’ve prepared another installment in Worth Reading, our weekly roundup of the best games writing. First, why some game stories are set in the past to avoid “the cell phone problem.”

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Technology’s convenience being a narrtive stumbling block for writers is nothing knew. The horror genre has grappled with this idea for a while now; with cell phones, most of the reasons justifying why a person would get trapped by some maniacal killer fly out the window. It’s interesting to see games, even non-horror ones, pondering the same situation. I didn’t realize Gone Home partially chose its setting because the cell phone would hurt the very specific story they wanted to tell, and I wonder what other games this applies to.

Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

The problem with cell phones is that they are lifelines back to the real world. Hiding under a bed as a deranged killer searches the house for you? With a cell phone you can call the cops. Arrive at your rendezvous point only to find your confederate hasn’t shown? With a phone you can just call them. Wondering how to open an antique lock with a screwdriver? If you have a cell phone you can just look that shit up on the internet. Phones are ubiquitous and incredibly powerful ways to communicate regardless of your physical location. That power throws a giant wrench in a large number of mysteries that operate on the idea that you are isolated and must rely on your wits alone.

I mean, take The Shining. The entire film operates on the basic premise that the roads are snowed in and nobody can get in or out of Overlook Hotel. The protagonists are pretty lucky that one of them is a psychic because that’s how they are finally able to issue an SOS to the outside world. If they’d had cell phones they would have noped the fuck out of there about 30 minutes into the film.


Relationships are complicated, fluid, and happily-ever-after endings in media don’t reflect real-life complexity. It’s part of what makes Firewatch, at its best moments, so powerful; it has the courage to wallow in the darkest moments of a relationship, as it appears to be slipping away. Holly Green’s piece not only acutely diagnoses how this plays out in Firewatch itself, but passes on a personal anecdote of her own experiences with, as she calls it, inconvenient love.

Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

One major flaw in the popular depictions of relationships in entertainment is that the audience is rarely offered an example of how to deal with the end of a romance gracefully. So often the focus is on passion and the willingness to “do anything” for the person you love, at the expense of convenience and, sometimes, personal well being. While themes of self sacrifice predominate in love stories across all mediums, relying on an idealistic commitment to “love at all costs,” rarely do they center on making the “right decision.” But human beings are highly adaptive creatures, referencing their surroundings and the relationships within them as a plumb line for what their own should look like. The end result is that we do not know how to make decisions within a romantic relationship that aren’t ultimately centered on selfish motivation. We’re not given the tools to know when to let go.


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Oh, And This Other Stuff

  • Richard Hooper interviewed the programmer behind what’s often called the “worst game ever,” E.T. for the Atari 2600.
  • Keith Stuart mused over the way games are changing the way we “play” characters, as they become more complex and introspective.
  • Jackson Tyler explained how being autistic changed what it’s like to play The Witness.
  • Nomadic Dec revealed how Pokemon helped save his life.
  • Amr Al-Aaser pointed out how media, including games, have transformed the sound of speaking Arabic into a language of violence and hatred.

You can reach the author of this post at or on Twitter at @patrickklepek.

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