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Pick of the Week: Yes, You’re a Gamer

For several years, my now-teenage daughter’s friends, and their parents, have found it quite amusing that her dad plays video games with her. It seems a lot of folks still have trouble expanding their image of a “gamer” to include a gray-haired guy with a wife, kid, mortgage and respectable career. A bit of probing, however, often reveals that these confused observers are, in fact, gamers themselves – they just don’t realize it.

Consider the popularity of Sudoku, crossword puzzles, and board games, all of which are now played electronically by billions of people worldwide. They’re gamers. Before the pandemic, most Friday evenings found me with a group of friends playing the world’s most complex card game. Since March, the same group has been playing together online. We’re all gamers.

Odds are, you’re one too.

In fact, the electronic game market is so huge and diverse that almost anyone can find something in it that appeals to them. I’ll be recommending some of my favorites in the coming weeks.

Let’s start with a beautiful and accessible masterpiece, “The Room.” It can run on Apple and Android tablets, most any desktop or laptop computer, and the Nintendo Switch. If you don’t have a system that supports it, I’m not sure how you’re reading this blog.

Gameplay consists of opening a series of gorgeous, increasingly complicated puzzle boxes. There’s a story, and it’s a bit spooky, but there are no jump scares, horror elements, timed challenges or twitchy reflex tests. Almost all of the puzzles are fun, logical, and satisfying, requiring nothing but careful observation and thinking. If you get stuck, there are hints and also, of course, online guides. It’s a wonderful way to spend a few evenings, fill some downtime during the day, or occupy your mind while traveling, and it’s easy to set aside anytime and resume later.

My only complaint with “The Room” is that it’s a bit short, and there’s no reason to replay it. Fortunately, the massive success of the game prompted its creators to continue the series with numbered sequels. “The Room 2” is a little longer, and the third game is much, much longer (and a good bit spookier), but all are built around the same concepts: beautiful artwork, intricate puzzles, and the satisfaction of watching well-crafted machinery operate.

If you like the atmosphere of “The Room” but want something with a meatier story, try some of the puzzle games from Rusty Lake, a game studio whose aesthetic is somewhere between Twin Peaks and Edward Gorey. The emphasis is still on puzzle-solving, but the puzzles are often … odd. Without spoiling too much, it’s the kind of game world where a disembodied arm might reach through a crack in a wall to hand you a knife, and you’ll just take it, as if this is an ordinary occurrence. I wouldn’t want to live at Rusty Lake, but it’s a fascinating place to visit on a screen. Enjoy your stay.