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Human Fall Flat
Why your kids need to play this game
It's probably no surprise that an avid gamer is advocating for kids playing video games. Maybe it's just the circles I'm in, but it feels like there's this weird aversion to screens for children, and it's growing.
As technology becomes more deeply rooted in our everyday lives, it feels like people in my parents' generation are becoming more vocal about the dangers of putting kids in front of a screen. Or maybe I'm just more aware of those conversations now that I have kids of my own.
Here's what I know. First and foremost, I'm a software engineer. I'm not a medical expert, and I won't pretend to be. But I also know that screens are inevitable. Does my 1-year-old need a tablet? Absolutely not. Am I going to lose sleep if she watches Bluey with her big brothers? Also no.
I'm also not going to apologize for giving my kids a Kindle on a flight or a road trip. I had a Game Boy for car rides when I was their age, and I turned out mostly fine.
Unlimited and unchecked screen time is bad, I get it, but so is unlimited pizza. Too much fruit can give you diarrhea. The point is, even the good stuff can be a problem if you take it to extremes.
There's nothing wrong with kids playing a little Xbox (though, I do highly recommend limiting them to local multiplayer for as long as possible). Like anything else, the right games can actually be a really great experience for your kids. Believe it or not, they can learn things.
Human Fall Flat is one of those games.
I know this game is old. If your first instinct is to call me out on that, then this post isn’t for you. It’s not personal. You probably already know how great it is. I’m doing this for folks who haven’t heard of the game. You know, parents who aren’t gamers with kids who watch Minecraft videos on YouTube.
Great, what is it?
Human Fall Flat is a platformer game built around a physics engine. Cool. You tell me this is a post for non-gamers, and now you’re throwing jargon at me. Real classy, pal.
Ok, so, let’s break this down a little bit. The game itself is simple enough in concept—you are a human trying to navigate a series of obstacles and solve puzzles in order to reach the exit of a given level. There are no enemies, no timers, and no health meters. It's just you and the laws of physics—well, you and any friends you choose to play with.
This isn't terribly complicated (in theory, anyway). Most objects you see in the game can move in some capacity, and each of them (including your own character) have mass.
You can pick up, drag, push, and sometimes throw anything you can get your hands on (which is arguably where the game's true challenge lies).
You wander around as this almost jelly-like blob of human shaped clay, and interact with objects in the world in order to reach an exit, and that’s all there is to it. The puzzles in each level all hinge on figuring out how to move and interact with all the little bits and pieces in order to open doors, create bridges, turn on machines, and just move about the little self-contained worlds.
Where things get tricky is that players control each arm independently. When you press an arm button, the character will move their wobbly clay noodle in whatever direction the camera is pointing, and if there is another object within reach, they'll grab it.
It's not always graceful, but it gets the job done.
Once you've grabbed something, you can use a combination of gravity and creative camera angles to move it around (e.g. looking left and right to turn a steering wheel).
You can also use these mechanics to grab onto a ledge and pull yourself up (look up to grab, and then look down to climb). Using this simple concept of grabbing onto whatever you can, and just looking around, players can solve a surprising number of unique physics puzzles.
The real selling point here is that there's no “right" way to do it. Every obstacle can be approached from multiple angles. For example, there’s one level involving a catapult that you can use to destroy a weak castle wall blocking your path, or, if you're feeling brave…
It might take your little jelly doll a few extra seconds to get back on their feet, but there's no real consequences here. Even if you overshoot the wall and fall off the map, you'll just plop right back down at the nearest checkpoint (and there are plenty). No loading screens, and no game overs.
Creative Problem Solving
Persistence is Key, and patience is a virtue. Yep, it’s story time. Way back in the Nintendo 64 era, there was this game called Donkey Kong 64. I loved Donkey Kong 64. I mean, I still do, but that's not the point.
My dad hated the game. He hated everything about it. That's not fair. He never made it far enough to hate everything. He never even made it past the first jumping puzzle. At the very beginning of the game, there's a switch high up on a ledge, and a series of three vines that you need to swing across in order to hit the switch. Doing so opens a gate that unlocks the main hub of the first level.
My dad couldn't do it. No matter what he did, he just could not make it to the switch, and the ruthless mocking of his totally empathetic teenage sons was enough to break his will.
He quit playing. He rage quit so hard that we weren't even allowed to talk about the game in his presence. This continued for years—we're talking decades. I’m not kidding. It was more taboo than Voldemort.
About a year ago, we finally convinced him to give the game another try (in part because we wanted to show the game to my kids). Long story short, he made it across the vines this time, and he hit the switch. We cheered (obnoxiously), and I told him that was the furthest he'd ever been in this game. He laughed, and said I was “full of $&#@.”
For the record, I wasn't.
Much like the first 30 seconds of Donkey Kong 64, Human Fall Flat has pretty low stakes. The music is gentle, and calming, and there's nothing really pushing you forward beyond your own desire to solve the task at hand.
You don't need lightning fast reflexes (usually), and mistakes are easily forgiven. If you drop an essential item off the map, it reappears in its original spot, and you can just grab it again.
You won't solve every puzzle on the first try—some of them might take a while, but you can just keep trying until you figure it out. It’s a beautiful thing, because I've noticed that my kids hate game overs. They're discouraging.
Don’t worry, this isn’t some “everyone wins” soapbox. It's ok to lose now and again, and that’s a lesson I teach my kids on the regular when we play Connect Four—I’m really good at Connect Four. Still, once in a while it's nice to have infinite tries. It encourages patience, and problem solving.
There's no consequences for taking risks and trying something different, and as a parent, I love seeing that “aha" moment when they finally figure it out—especially when they come up with an unconventional solution like using a beam to vault over a chasm instead of using it as a lever to pry open a door.
My 5-year-old has a knack for finding shortcuts in every level and will just skip a ton of challenges because he found another way through.
It's not always obvious how all the components of a puzzle fit together—especially for younger kids. There are definitely patterns that are easy for me to spot (like a room with a fork lift and a garage door that isn't closed all the way, but it might take some kids a few extra moments to connect the dots. That’s ok. They're learning how to solve problems in the process.
This game truly shines when kids play together. Every one of the puzzles can be solved by a single player, but adding more creates—well, it creates chaos. In a good way.
There are a lot of puzzles and challenges with mechanisms that work best with multiple players—like levers that move platforms, or objects that need an extra set of hands to lift.
More players just means more ways to solve the puzzle, and players can pop in and out seamlessly without leaving the game or returning to a menu. It makes it really easy to get everyone involved—even if you have a big group eager to play.
I know. That doesn't sound very chaotic, does it? Well, remember earlier when I said your character will grab anything within reach? That includes other players.
When you spin your wheels on a puzzle long enough, you inevitably end up in one of those “there are no more rules” time loop moments, and your kids will love those moments as much as they love solving the puzzle—maybe even more.
There’s one level in particular that involves crossing a lake—or maybe a pond. It doesn’t matter honestly, the point is, you can’t swim across. You need to take a boat.
Now, for some reason, there is nothing that my 5-year-old loves more than hopping into the canoe and waiting until we’re in the middle of the water before grabbing my character and pulling us both out of the boat—often capsizing it in the process. We both respawn, and our only means of escape is now almost out of reach.
I’ve been slapped with boards, run over by forklifts, and catapulted into brick walls—all to the tune of a child’s maniacal cackling. I love it.
I don’t want to give you the wrong impression here. I’m terrible at the game. Frankly, if my kids didn’t enjoy it so much, I’d have never installed it in the first place. It’s not a game I’m eager to tackle on my own, but I absolutely love watching my kids play it. I love seeing how their brains work and all the creative ways they face the game’s various challenges.
The real kicker here, is that my wife who doesn’t like games can occasionally be coerced into playing with the kids. She’s worse at it than I am, but we all end up laughing by the end, because it’s just good, silly fun.
If you’ve got your own little gamers and you’re looking for something new for them to play, I would definitely give this one a shot.
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