Perhaps even more so than console games, indie games come in all shapes and sizes. The average game is still geared towards an obvious objective, true, and the player usually has complete control over the proceedings... but not always.
Enter A Mother in Festerwood. Created by Austin Breed, Festerwood is one among many 'artistic' games with a purpose above and beyond sheer domination. In this case, you're playing the role of a mother, living in the woods, who is obsessed (or not) with keeping her newborn son safe from the dangers of the world.
No place like home. Your house is in the middle of a tiny clearing, and surrounded, if it's not obvious from the screenshot, by hordes of vicious monsters who want to kill your kiddy - but they can't as long as he stays within the circle around your house. And at first it's easy to keep him there, but as time passes and he ages it gets harder and harder to restrain the tyke, and eventually he'll run out into the forest and get into all kinds of mischief.
Fortunately... your little boy can level! He starts as a baby...
And, if you're lucky, you'll see him transform into a full-fledged adult.
Or, uh, if you're not, he'll wind up here:
Which means Game Over, please try again. (Unfortunately, this is the way most sessions of A Mother in Festerwood go.)
The trick? Your boy will level as long as he's allowed to wander around on his own, which means he might get in trouble. You can push him back towards home as the mother, but if you do, he loses experience. Get it? Over-protective mother robs child of life experience? You get it.
The concept of A Mother in Festerwood is where the game's real value lies. It's a thinking game, and not in the puzzler sense: you're meant to sit in a mother's shoes as her child takes his first steps into the world, fretting over the fact that, as he gets older, you can't control his actions. Not incredibly deep, but profound enough to make most players consider their own families, their own mothers. Well done.
What can I say? You move the mother around with your mouse. If you're not fast enough - and mama doesn't level, so don't expect any speed boosts - the kid will get away, likely running off into the forest. The mother does tend to get stuck from time to time, so be cautious.
And, yes, you never get to control the kid. Weep as he wanders into a flock of monsters he can't kill.
Simplistic, but sweet. You can't expect a hell of a lot from a game like Festerwood, and trying to pump up the artistic direction would probably take away from the message. Thumbs up on this front, even if your little boy is nothing more than a tiny dot when he's first born.
Not as sweet. The two songs played in Festerwood are nice and calming, but the constant repetition of the second song gets pretty grating. Though it sets the mood of your forest dwelling, if you plan on playing this game a couple times, you'll probably turn your speakers off.
Uh... hard to say. Once your boy grows up enough, he'll do what he wants, and you'll have a tough time stopping him. You need to balance between penning him off from the forest until his teens with not pushing him back to the house too vigorously. Once your son gets into the forest, it's a crapshoot...
... though, yes, he CAN survive. Don't give up!
A Mother in Festerwood is fun, thought-provoking and, uh, a little frustrating. It gets its message across rather nicely, though, because you really do start to worry for your kid after a while - which is exactly the point.
PLAY A MOTHER IN FESTERWOOD
EDIT - Because the Internet can't just appreciate a game without some form of control, there's now a hacked version of A Mother in Festerwood where you can artificially raise some of your son's attributes. Oi.
PLAY THE HACKED A MOTHER IN FESTERWOOD HERE