C4 Education’s Bow Street Runner game
Channel 4 Education caused a bit of a stir last year when they announced that they were going to focus more on using the media 14 to 19 year-olds actually use, rather than continuing to make television programmes nobody was really watching. They’re planning on using a whole range of platforms, from ARGs to MySpace widgets: their first product came out a few days ago.
Part of the “City of Vice” season, Bow Street Runner is a Flash-based point-and-click adventure game that plays as if the creators of Another Code and Phoenix Wright fell asleep reading Smollett and James Ellroy. There’s a warning that the game is “designed to be historically accurate and therefore the game’s content and its setting may not be suitable for younger players”, which is true: it’s gory and people swear from time to time. But that’s part of the authenticity that runs throughout the game: the streets are filthy, taverns don’t have a well-bred clientele and prostitution is a fact of life. The game’s well-executed: it looks wonderful, the live acting is credible (unusual in a browser game, though you’d expect it from a national broadcaster) and the language throughout is a delight (gin “holds all London in its disgusting and fetid grip”). And it’s fun.
It’s not breaking any boundaries: if you’ve played this sort of game before then you know what to expect, including the odd frustration (though any adventure game of this sort will have you crying, “look, I’m not a mind-reader!” at the designers). And when they say it’s a “broadband experience”, they aren’t joking. My poor stabbed harlot expired before I could stitch up her wounds, as the lag on the Trauma Centre-style minigame prevented any sort of fine control. I’m not sure the Bow Street Runners felt like such a mix of CSI and Charlie’s Angels, with missions being handed out by a shadowy head of department (though Fielding was blind, so the smoked glasses are authentic). From a gore and pedagogy point of view, too, Homicide (from 2002) pushed things further in both departments.
But it’s got a real feel for the period, it’s fun to play and I’m looking forward to my next mission on Monday. Perhaps the real reason it seems such an encouraging start, though, is that it made me stop on my way to work this morning and take this photo. John Baker was a Bedminster policeman who started work a few decades after the Bow Street Runners were established. I was wondering what sort of world he worked in, and how it differed from Fielding’s London of the previous century, and if a web game can make me think about the lives of real people then I reckon it’s worth playing.
Author: Richard Sandford, Flux, 15th February 2008