Restoration Games

In Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time, Clank receives an artifact called the Chronoscepter. It does several things, but to me the most interesting is that when it hits objects like broken pipes and shattered viewscreens, it reverses their timeline and repairs them. Throughout the entire Ratchet & Clank series I’d been smashing up the scenery; I found it surprisingly satisfying to suddenly have a chance to restore it instead.

Since then, I’ve played a few of what I think of as “restoration games” based around this sort of mechanic. Rather than running around causing destruction, Flower, Refunct, and Dawn all have you exploring landscapes to restore life and color. I found them all to be uplifting experiences and I’ve been thinking about why I enjoy this kind of gameplay so much.

Thematically, it’s adjacent to what you might call “rebuilding games” that give you ruined farms (Harvest Moon, Stardew Valley, etc.) or towns (Dragon Quest Builders, etc.) and task you with building them back up. I like that a lot too, but I think it’s a different niche - those games are about imposing your own will and design on nature, same as normal “building games” like Minecraft and Terraria. The ruination is just there to provide an excuse for why you have to start the farm (or town) over and build it the way you want to - your first task is to clear it out, not restore it.

Restoration games aren’t about your will and design. They aren’t about construction - they’re about undoing destruction. In a sense they are still power fantasies, but ones where you have the power to reverse entropy. You can wipe away the ravages of time and prevent inevitable loss and decay. You can give death the middle finger.

That’s real power.

It’s an appealing fantasy. I’d like to see more such games.