[This is the third letter in a four part series about the PC game Bernband.
1) My first letter.
2) Dylan’s reply.
3) This post.
4) Dylan’s final reply, finishing the series.
]

Hey Dylan,

I think there are a couple of reasons going in that I felt like there might be some reaction from the NPCs, which is notably different than interaction. The first is that voyeurism, as an activity in the world generally, is almost entirely dependent on the observed reacting to their surroundings and each other. Without those features, it is exactly like the Bernband experience – like watching a computer program repeat processes over and over.

The second is that while obviously a lot higher budget than Bernband, there are indeed plenty of games that feature NPCs with a higher reaction level to the in-game world than the NPCs in Bernband. As I’m writing this, I’m thinking of all sorts of multiplayer voyeurism games (and I don’t mean that in the dirty sense, although obviously that is also a possibility).  But as a single player game, I think the production value would be too high for the niche market it served. I  think it’s literally possible to make an interesting one,  I just don’t think the industry would support it.

I can completely understand the mapping nostalgia. However, probably unsurprisingly, I had no love for it the first time around and I have no real interest in it now. I think mapping is fun in a weird literary way, never in a literal “figure out the map of this level” way, though.

For me, alienation is not an issue one way or another. It’s not a lack of interaction – that is, it’s not that I can’t interact with the NPCs, it’s that the NPCs are not convincingly reacting to their surroundings. Moreover, it is the very notion that the people the voyeur watches have agency that makes voyeurism so interesting. The better AI gets, the less it seems like a program is controlling it, right? However, the idea of Bernband is still very strong, and the cute moments the game offers are not to be missed. I would call Bernband “heartwarming,” if not necessarily super engaging from a voyeuristic perspective.

-Joanna