Where the Water Tastes Like Wine

Game review by
David Wolinsky, Common Sense Media
Where the Water Tastes Like Wine Game Poster Image
Intriguing but uneven game about telling stories and lies.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this game.

Positive Messages

Explores concepts of survival, community, collaboration, but largely how we all bend truth to suit our purposes. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Compassion, trust of characters examined in a distant fashion, with actions, influence of liars shown but not commented on.

Ease of Play

Accessible but open-ended, repetitive to point of approaching dullness.

Violence

Murders, shoot-outs, crime all referred to, but since it's a text-based game, nothing's graphic or described in deep detail.

Sex

Vague references to sex, prostitution, but these are in passing, not shown.

Language

"S--t," "f--k," other profanity frequently used.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Tobacco, bootlegging alcohol, abusing poisons for intoxicating effects pop up with steady frequency.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is a downloadable interactive fiction game about folk tales in the era of manifest destiny. You will frequently encounter strong profanity and, this being a text-based game, references to but not graphic depictions of sex, violence, and occult imagery. You'll run into criminals, heavy drinkers, bootleggers, prostitutes. There's no combat, but there are references to violent acts instead; this game is about collecting stories and exploring how and why we bend truth to bond with others.

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What's it about?

WHERE THE WATER TASTES LIKE WINE is a narrative adventure about traveling, sharing stories, and surviving the era of manifest destiny. Players wander through the United States -- and through a century of history -- to meet a variety of people, each with their own stories to tell. Exploring a folkloric Depression-era United States, players collect stories that can then be retold to unlock new interactions; they must pair the right story with the needs of each of the characters they encounter in their travels. 

Is it any good?

Chances are fairly good you've never played or seen anything like this folklore storytelling adventure. Where the Water Tastes Like Wine's core is utterly distinct: Your sole task is to collect stories from other characters and utilize them as a sort of currency to progress. In practice, the result is a blend of interactive novels, relationship simulators, and narrative walking simulators deeply versed in Americana anthology -- a game about storytelling, lying, and the nature of trust that's alternately repetitive, dull, and slow-moving. Imagine an old-school text-adventure game where you could simply type "walk north" to be at your next destination. In Where the Water Tastes Like Wine, you'll have to hoof it across a flat map for long stretches of time before you get there. If the world or traversing it were half as vivid or brimming with personality as everything else, this wouldn't be that bad, but you spend almost as much time talking to people as you do walking to these encounters. 

The stories themselves are certainly interesting, running the gamut from chance encounters (taking a cab in the city where the driver is eerily silent, or happening upon a mischievous girl with kittens in a basket) to cursed events (finding a dead body in a field, or taking a picture for a reunited set of twins who, after you take the photo, realize they aren't related after all). What's much more interesting is to see which stories you tell grow in the telling on different playthroughs -- which ones take on a life of their own, and get more exaggerated as they spread. It's all fodder for the main events, which are one-on-one conversations with wandering vagabonds over a campfire: They want to hear of your travels, and will request certain types of stories before they ultimately trust you and open up about themselves. (This isn't always perfect, as your perception of what makes a sad or joyful story will frequently differ from that of both the game's developer and the character you're speaking to.) You can then, in turn, exploit other people's personal tragedies for your gain in the game -- dazzling others with your embellishments on other people's lives. This all gets at some interesting themes, but it's doubtful younger players will have the patience for how long it takes before the game starts to build on all these themes and turn it all on its head. Some interesting ideas are at play here, and it's well worth a spin, but this is only for those who are comfortable with very delayed gratification.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about violence in games. What do you notice about your attitude toward games that don't feature violence as a central component to its play and story? How does playing something like this change your expectations of games and other media?

  • Talk about the difference between lying and bending the truth. Is there a difference, and why does this distinction matter?

  • Have you ever repeated something you heard from someone that you later discovered wasn't true? What did you feel was your responsibility after unintentionally misinforming somebody else?

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