Games have rules and expectations. If you’re playing a first-person shooter, violence is the expected solution to most problems. A puzzle encountered in an RPG is going to have a solution, though it may be one you need to progress a little further in another direction to be able to solve. The rule of thumb in point-and-click adventures is that everything you can click on and inspect is gonna hold something of interest.
Say you’re playing Monkey Island and you’re stuck in a room. Somewhere in there is the key to your freedom. So you’re gonna click on everything you can to try and find the right stuff so you can say the right things in a conversation and get on with it. It’s the way it works, check all the things for things to use to advance.
Now, One Night Stand is usually classified as a dating sim, what with it dealing with the aftermath of a one night stand and having lots of conversations with choices for you to make that will net you one of several endings. Though there are strong elements of point-and-click adventures in it, as you are frequently given opportunities to poke around in the room you wake up in, and what you inspect can then unlock new dialogue options.
It’s a short game, and so befitting many playthroughs. The basic premise is you wake up in bed with someone after a drunken one night stand with no memories of the night before and have to figure out what to do. Do you just leave? Do you try to piece together what happened and play it off? Or are you forthright with her and admit you don’t remember anything? What’s gonna get you the ‘best’ ending?
Here’s the thing, although taking on the guise of an adventure game or dating sim, One Night Stand isn’t quite either. Sure, it’s got the mechanics of them, but the contract between the game and the player isn’t nearly the same.
One Nigh Stand has a decided rhythm. The girl leaves the room for some reason, you look around the room, she returns, you two talk. Repeat. You can only inspect so many objects while she’s out of the room, and they range from grabbing your clothes to leafing through her wallet to try and figure out her name. You have to choose what to prioritize in order to create the most meaningful interactions.
As I played the game it became apparent that there seemed to be a lot under the surface. One time I sneaked out of the house and saw her crouched over a toilet, throwing up. I figured that there had to be a way for me to help her out next time since that’s a rotten position to be in. On her bedside table are some earrings in a box, which she’s cagey about when asked. Same with the pills there. She has an interest in writing (as you can tell if you look at her notebook underneath the book she’s reading) but she doesn’t really engage if you ask her about it. Which, okay, got it, clearly I’ve gotta say the right things to get us close so she’ll feel comfortable talking about these things. Presumably then I’ll be able to get the Best Ending which, also presumably, would be a romantic one.
I played through the game being completely honest and was awarded with an ending where we parted ways as friends. But no matter how I played my cards I couldn’t get her to open up about her writing or earrings — in fact she would get straight up mad if I kept asking about it to the point where she’d throw me out. This threw me for a loop: those things are there, they’re meant to be investigated, why am I being punished for poking around? Why won’t she tell me what’s going on? I did the thing you do in these sort of games, so where’s my reward? They’re right there on her nightstand, why’s she made at me for looking through her personal stuff—
Ah. Right. It’s rude to go poking around like that in a relative stranger’s room. One Night Stand isn’t interested in creating some wild romantic fantasy, rather it lets you experience an awkward situation and the best result is for you to not be a jerk. You’re not gonna get brownie points for snooping, nor will gaming the system and faking a memory of the night before yield any outstanding results. Rather, being honest about not remembering the night before, getting dressed, and leaving as friends (without any romantic subtext) nets you the ‘best’ ending.
I think this is why I’m so charmed by One Night Stand. It subverts much of what you’d expect from a dating sim or a point-and-click adventure in lieu of letting you inhabit that awkward space — the game discards fantasy for quiet discomfort. The girl is not a prize for playing well; pretending to know more than you do won’t get you points. The point of the game isn’t to ‘win,’ but rather to be there and try and make do. It’s a unique experience, the sort you can really only get from a video game.