Never a good sign
On paper, We Should Talk, a short narrative game about managing relationships, seems like a casual, empathy-driven experience – something to play on the train to work, or between work calls. In practice, playing We Should Talk immediately after dealing with several difficult personal relationships was a clownishly appropriate double-edged sword; I found myself texting a friend afterwards about how the game’s writers had beaten me and left me to die on the side of a highway. And yet, I found myself playing it again, because it is what I deserved.
I’d actually put off the review for a few days because I’d been busy doing the real-life versions of what the game nudges you to do: examining how you speak to people, choosing your words, and hoping not to screw up too much. When you’re a chronic overthinker, this can either be a blessing or a curse. But within the fictive confines of a game, especially if you’re determined to drag yourself kicking and screaming toward a more honest relationship with art, overthinking can be a brutal exercise in productive masochism.
Barkeepers are the new therapists
Things kick off at a local bar. You’re chatting to the barkeeper, who’s taking your regular order. We Should Talk is an experience that leans heavily on projecting the player’s baggage onto the game’s narrative, and as an ex-alcoholic whose 20s were leglessly devoid of healthy interpersonal communication, I was annoyed that there weren’t any non-boozy drink options. But perhaps this is what I needed – just the idea of a drink to create a sense of emotional momentum.
In We Should Talk, your partner, Sam is first described as “a girl you used to bring around,” and from there, you can nitpick over more concrete language to describe your relationship. Forcing you to dance around terminology is an incisive nod to modern discourse on commitment, relationships, and label-free dating, which can often erupt into a clusterfuck of unaddressed issues. It turns out that Sam, who’s at home making your favourite noodles, is your live-in partner who feels more confident texting about her anxieties than speaking to you in person.
Once I understood the non-negotiable aspects of my relationship with Sam, it didn’t take long for my own sense of guilt and social conditioning to kick in. Here, We Should Talk becomes a deeply loaded experience that hinges on each player’s ability to communicate, manage expectations, and treat people around them. It’s also a frank examination of how you react to Sam’s needs and vulnerabilities. But regardless of how cold or dismissive you are to Sam via text, there are a couple of distinct throughlines: I apparently like to go to the bar a lot while my girlfriend frets quietly at home.
Talk, talk, talk
There’s a lot to unpack here regardless of your style of communication, because at this point it’s clear that We Should Talk is much more than a casual conversational game. It’s an interactive dissection that splays your soft, ugly insides all over your Switch screen for all to see. One might think of that meme where you turn off your Switch, only to confront your own warped reflection on its darkened screen. Of course, depending on your current mindset about relationships and people and even just about yourself, your mileage may vary.
We Should Talk simply offers players a chance to attack and dethrone their worst impulses. Even if you feel like shit, or can’t choose to say something closer and truer to how you feel, there’s always the gentle mental fallback that you’re simply selecting preset dialogue options. Whatever you want to tell yourself, really. Still, if you want to hit on everything around you, you can do that. If all you know how to do is drink, lie, and eat hot chip, you can do that too. If you managed to breeze through all of it without breaking a sweat, I salute you. You’re a better person than I.
[Reviewed on Nintendo Switch]