There’s something inherently attractive about detectives. Talented crime-solvers have charmed audiences for centuries, there’s a good chance that your grandparents’ grandparents read Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie’s novels, or any of the similar works that have come from all over the world. These narratives don’t just pop up in books and stories, but in TV, movies, and games. Detectives have graced games almost since their beginning, sure these were mostly adaptations of existing mystery stories but in the mid 2000s mystery games had a renaissance and then disappeared.
To talk about detective games, you have to understand the appeal of the trope. Everyone wants to see justice delivered in some way or another. Some groups codify this desire into law, others look to the metaphysical with Karma or the various takes on the afterlife. Fictional detectives are this idea made flesh. When you play as a detective you get to be the only person who stands for the truth, the arbiter of law and justice: in this way you’ve superseded saving the world because you’re working on a higher ideological level.
These fictional detectives are also a great way to explore the way that we look at existing structures within a safe context. No detective as talented as the nearly superpowered Sherlock Holmes exists in reality, but that gives us a chance to consider the way we regard our detectives and investigators. With games able to force you into different perspectives you have the opportunity to consider the procedures behind our criminal justice system or think more about the way they should be.
But for some reason detective games all but vanished in recent years. Sure you see things like Aviary Attorney, Agatha Christie’s ABC Murders, or my personal favorite Romance Detective but these games are launching few and far between. This is down from the early 2000s where you saw the Ace Attorney franchise, Touch Detective, and the beginning of the long-running Sherlock Holmes series.
This is where I’m calling to you, dear reader. Mystery games have so much to offer the world, but by adapting them from existing stories we’re really limited in the viewpoints. So let’s resurrect this genre. TV gets True Detective and Twin Peaks, books have more mystery novels than you can read in one lifetime, and movies get Gone Girl, Blade Runner, and all of noir. Why can’t we have our own mystery canon? Let’s get developing.