It’s October and mainstream media and stores are abuzz about book, television, movie, and video games specials celebrating Halloween. As usual, these holiday texts are often about or aimed at children, and so we at Swampish would like to examine a new video game that attempts to capture the “spirit of Halloween” through the figure of the child and it’s cultural imaginary : Costume Quest 2 by Double Fine Productions.
Released on Tuesday of this week, Costume Quest 2 is the much anticipated sequel to Costume Quest. Fun for all ages, the first Costume Quest is an adventure role-playing game (RPG) in which players help a group of children battle candy-crazed monsters. Playing as either Wren or Reynold (a pair of twins and the game’s main protagonist), players find their Halloween plans ruined when a marauding monster mistakes one of the siblings as a giant treat. With their twin carried off, players must gather their friends–Everett and Lucy–and set off to save their sibling all while trick-or-treating, of course. Throughout the game, players come up against packs of monsters they must defeat through turn-based battles. Costume Quest 2 continues the Halloween saga, but this time, the children face a new evil: a time-travelling dentist named Orel White who wants to rid the world of candy and Halloween for good.
What makes the Costume Quest series unique among turn-based RPG adventures is the mechanics of the children’s costumes. The costumes the children don transform them into battle-ready juggernauts, allowing them to take on the physical form of the monstrous creatures and mythic characters they mimic. These creatures and characters include robots, wizards, pterodactyls, a giant eyeball, and others. The process is enchanting for players of all ages, particularly once they have collected the necessary pieces for unlocking new costumes. What is most engaging about the costumed battles in the Costume Quest series, however, is how their mechanics offer an interesting take on the becoming-the-mask tale, wholeheartedly embracing the idea of becoming-other (drawing on Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of becoming, see A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia), albeit the transformation is only, and perhaps, fittingly temporary. Still, the costume battle-system suggests that for children, dressing up for Halloween is not only a masquerade, but an exploration of subjectivity and identity through play as the mythic and the monstrous. This trope is uniquely suited for turn-based RPG design, where playing with an avatar means always inhabiting a liminal position between one’s self and the other (identifying with and distancing one’s self from the avatar), between one and many (switching between avatar characters) and between both non-fiction and fiction (being embodied both in and outside of the game world). What the Costume Quest series does with these concepts that other media cannot is allow players to experience this liminality through actions and choices rather than by passively watching or reading about it happen to someone else. Because of the games’ RPG structure, the player is always inculcated in the act and experience of becoming monstrous, mythic, and as the game’s protagonists, many and heroic. For adults playing Costume Quest or its sequel, this is perhaps also a becoming-child, a return to an imagined liminal moment where the self is very much defined by its plasticity and plurality.