Gregory Weir’s How to Raise a Dragon places you into the life of a dragon and then its counterpart hero. As the dragon, you hatch from an egg and eat to change your color; you are captured by a wizard; you escape and then choose how to interact with a village. As the hero, you must confront the dragon you raised.
Before I get into any opinions, I want to say that I like HtRaD (and I apparently like abbreviations). I recommend giving it a go here (it’s a short game). But this post isn’t a review of the game. It’s just a couple things I thought were interesting.
Initially, the first level of the game (where you are simply eating to change your color) may seem lacking. The color of your dragon only has cosmetic effects on the rest of the game. In fact, after you have played through the game once, you don’t have play the first level again to get different endings. Why is it even there? It establishes your connection with the avatar. You control the character from the earliest possible point in its life. You also make changes that are immediately apparent and force you to assume some agency. What’s your favorite color? Red? Go eat all the red bugs. Aqua? Go eat some blue bugs and green plants. The first level establishes personal narrative.
Really, the whole first playthrough of the game is about personal narrative to me. Weir gives you multiple branches in the game, so that you can construct your own story. I very much felt that I was the dragon, so I was ‘good.’ I forgave my captor and befriended a hero. The subsequent playthroughs went a bit differently. I skipped the first level and decided to burn everything, raise zombies, kill the hero, kill the dragon, etc. My experience of the game changed from a first person to second person. My only real complaint with HtRaD is that the multiple playthroughs did not lead anywhere. The first playthrough may be emotionally impactful, but the other playthroughs were more about a need to ‘unlock’ everything (i.e. find what else the game had to offer). The ending of the game fell short for me because those multiple playthroughs did not coalesce into something more than the parts.
(I had planned to compare and contrast this with Iji by Daniel Remar which is a longer form game, but ran out of time)