TFG Discussion: Comparing the Nancy Drew and Carol Reed Mystery Game Series, Part 4

​​In this five-part series, Kathryn and Hayley discuss some of their favorite indie mystery games. You can find part 3, which was published last week, here. In part 4, Kathryn and Hayley continue their discussion of the Nancy Drew and Carol Reed mystery games. In this installment, they speak about games’ varying themes, and in turn, the different audiences that the two series might appeal to.

Created and edited by Kathryn Cooperman and Hayley Garden. Transcript edited for clarity.

Cover image per Helen Capstick – Pinterest.


Hayley Garden 0:00

Yeah I think Nancy also is very subtle about exploring these more mature themes. There have been situations where Nancy is trapped in quicksand, or something is threatening her life, or she’s trapped in a room and if she doesn’t get herself out, then something bad’s going to happen. There are definitely hints and shades of maturity and darkness but it’s all very subtle, whereas Carol Reed is much more upfront about being for adults, and being mature. For instance, a Carol Reed game will open with, “somebody has been murdered. We have to find the murder mystery” whereas a Nancy Drew game will never be about Nancy solving a murder. It’ll always be “someone stole X’s treasure” and “we have to figure it out” or “a horse ghost is haunting the ranch” and we have to figure out what that is. It’s a very PG 13, very family friendly premise, and within the confines of that family friendly premise it’s able to sneak in these more mature concepts and themes and scenarios that Nancy ends up in. But it’s never going to be, “Nancy’s friend got murdered. Who did it? Let’s find out.” In general, Carol was way more upfront with its mature themes in that it pretty blatantly will discuss themes like alcoholism and murder and addiction. These are just ideas that Nancy, given its audience, just can’t quite cover and has to be more subtle about. I think that’s an interesting difference, and interesting to think about how Nancy has to be more subtle where Carol, by nature of its audience, can be more upfront about it.

Kathryn Cooperman 2:00

Right. I will say, the themes in the Nancy Drew games do get of course developed throughout the plotline of the mysteries. So, the game with the horse is called Secret of Shadow Ranch, and yes, we find out that there’s this ghost horse that is haunting the ranch and we have to find out who is behind it. Often we find there are very simple explanations for these fantastical premises, and many of the characters will think, “oh, it’s haunted.” But then we find out later that it’s actually there’s somebody behind that. There are more examples of this in other games, in Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake as well, which we didn’t finish because we got stuck in the forest. There’s this impossible forest in that game. But anyway, I would say in Secret of Shadow Ranch, it develops to the point where Nancy finds herself in this ghost town in the depths of Arizona – it’s this desert, there’s the creepiest music ever; you feel like somebody is going to hit you over the head from behind. I’d say that veers more into the Carol Reed kind of themes. But as you said, Hayley, it’s not upfront, it doesn’t hit you in the face, it’s more in the background, and there are themes where, you know, kids are encouraged to join in as well. And the games are marketed as being appropriate for children.

Ghost town in Secret of Shadow Ranch. Image per Nancy Drew Wiki.

Hayley Garden 3:35

And I think that speaks to the longevity and the long-term success of these Nancy Drew games. Something that I appreciate in media that is marketed towards kids but can also be enjoyed by adults, is that there’s something for everyone. And that universality and that timelessness is appealing. You said at the beginning of the discussion that you played these games when you were a kid, but they were more fun to play as an adult. And I think that’s probably because these more subtle themes now stick out to you, vs. when you were 10 and you didn’t understand the inherent creepiness of the ghost town, or the creepiness of being stuck in a room and having to get out, or you suffocate, or something like that. I feel like those kinds of ideas only really start to hit when you’re an adult, and the great thing about Nancy is that it’s fun on the surface when you’re a kid, and then there’s so much to explore when you’re older and you can appreciate themes more. So there’s this timelessness to the Nancy Drew games that’s really worth commenting on and appreciating, whereas Carol is not for kids. So you really have to be at a certain age in order to be able to appreciate those games in a way that you don’t quite have to do with Nancy. Nancy is truly for everyone in a way that I find that Carol quite isn’t.

Kathryn Cooperman 5:25

I agree. Yeah, with the Nancy Drew games I also find there are more topics discussed, there are a lot of jokes you can make about the characters, and there are very interconnected relationships. I know there are a lot of funny memes that we like to discuss amongst ourselves and share with each other. But with Carol, it seems that the plot lines are more tightly wrapped up. There’s less to comment on and have a side plot or a side conversation about. It’s more straightforward, I would say. But then the Nancy Drew games have evolved to the point where there are five different subplots and puzzles that don’t really further the games. There are some fans that don’t like the direction it’s headed in. I mean, I appreciate the games at every stage and what the developers are trying to do and what they’re trying to work with, you know, the criticism they have received, and how can they make them better for next time and also have this universal appeal.

Join us next week for part 5, our last installment of this discussion series.

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