1. What is a typing game?
First, what a typing game is not
First of all, we need to agree on a definition of the genre we are trying to analyze here. To play a typing game, you have to use your keyboard. But not all games played with a keyboard are typing games. Let’s review a few games that play with words or letters in original ways and explain why I wouldn’t call them typing games.
Typoman is famous for integrating physical words into its levels that you can play with to solve word puzzles. For example, a moving platform is made out of the word PLATFORM. Rolling an “O” next to an “N” shaped device turns the platform ON. Some puzzles have a special interface where you are prompted to solve anagrams. This is a clever way to play with words, which is used to interact with the game world (and it can be a nice inspiration for typing games). But the input method is not typing.
The Cook, Serve, Delicious! series simulates the rush of a restaurant kitchen by giving players a multitude of small actions to prepare meals in a limited amount of time. Each action is associated with a different key. For example, to make lasagna, you must layer Pasta, Sauce, Meat and Cheese by hitting (typing?) “P S M C P S M C P S M C”.
Ettome (designer and developer of Typing Hearts) doesn’t mind calling it a typing game: “You have to type sequences of letters that don’t form a word. It’s a different way of representing typing.“ Note that Cook, Serve, Delicious! is inspired by the playstation game Ore no Ryouri and can also be played with a gamepad. For Malte Hoffmann (game designer on Touch Type Tale at Pumpernickel Studio), it’s adjacent to typing games because you use all the keys of your keyboard and because it can be played 100% with a keyboard. But it’s not that different from playing a strategy game where you have a lot of hotkeys. “It’s like using the keyboard as a controller with lots of buttons,” he said. “For me to call it a typing game, you have to type words.“
Keyboard Sports – Saving QWERTY (planned for 2022)
WAVER: A Typing Adventure is a Ludum Dare game in which you have to press the right key at the right time for characters to stand up in sync with a stadium wave. The position of the characters in the stadium matches the position of the keys on the keyboard, which gives a bit more meaning to the keyboard input. Keyboard Sports – Saving QWERTY goes further with different mini games where the keyboard layout is displayed on the ground and used to move a character, control a vehicle, aim in a direction… Those are many ways to play using the keyboard as a controller, but are you really typing? Being controlled only by a keyboard is not a sufficient condition to define a typing game.
What about a hacking simulator like Hacknet (2015), where you have to type command lines to interact with a computer? Typing is the most logical input, the best for context and immersion. The same is true of Event, in which communication with Kaizen, the computer AI, is done by typing to simply talk to it. The actual game’s AI looks for keywords in the sentence entered and compares them to a database of tag patterns to give a consistent answer. Writing a full, grammatically correct sentence is not necessary, but it’s the most natural way for the player to type and it helps make the discussion feel real.
Still, Hacknet is a hacking simulation game with puzzle elements. Event is an adventure game with a focus on story, like other walking simulators. Even though most of the games I just mentioned have the “typing” tag on Steam, having to type text in the game doesn’t make typing the primary genre.
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What, then, makes me call The Typing of the Dead, Epistory (2016) and many others “typing games”? Simply the fact that typing words is the main mechanic. It’s a mechanic that has associated skills that players can be challenged on, that allows for variations and a degree of versatility, and that can be combined with other mechanics.
As a game mechanic, typing can challenge speed, accuracy, consistency and sometimes reading, memorization or spelling. This is a skill you already have before you play your first typing game, but that improves as you play. This doesn’t mean that the game has to be difficult or only accessible to fast typists, but simply that the quality of the typing should influence the outcome of the game.
As a game mechanic, it has variations and can be used in different ways to give different game feels. Variations on how to type as well as what to type (we will come back to this several times).
As a game mechanic, typing is internalized by players as one action. When playing a platformer, you don’t think about pressing a button, you just jump. When you type, don’t think about a sequence of letters; the whole word is read by your brain as one thing and typed in one go. Muscle memory makes typing known words a single input.
A typing game has typing words as its main mechanic.
Set up your main challenges in relation to typing: speed, accuracy, word reading…
Reward good typing: bonus points for fast typing, combo for no mistake…
Words for Evil (2014)
Let’s end with an example that may be harder to classify. In Words for Evil, making words in a matching game triggers attacks in RPG-style battles that take place at the top of the screen. Typing is used to enter text; the real challenge is finding long words to make from the grid and integrating colored letters into them. But when enemies are fighting back, it adds time pressure that makes typing fast somewhat important. BloodType (2021) gives you scrambled letters from which to make words to shoot at zombies. The time pressure is there, but the challenge is mostly on fast thinking and having enough vocabulary.
Regardless of how you want to categorize these games, here we will focus on typing games in which the primary challenge is typing words, as this is what brings new opportunities and challenges.