Review by Caryn Lix, Common Sense Education | Updated August 2014


Compelling conversation starter about loss and coping hindered by bugs

Subjects & skills
  • English Language Arts

  • Character & SEL
  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
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Pros: Unique puzzles and a beautifully designed environment.

Cons: Glitches and bugs frequently render the game unplayable.

Bottom Line: If you can get past the bugs, Chained is a great way to both explore metaphor and symbolism and facilitate conversations about heavy topics like guilt, loss, and how to deal with emotions.

Teachers can treat Chained as a novel or short story, encouraging students to look for evidence to support their viewpoints and use strategies for textual analysis. While teachers could certainly have students complete such traditional activities as essay writing around Chained, this game can also be used in other ways. For example, students could write short stories explaining what happened to the character before the game's beginning. They could create dramas in which they show how a student their own age might become "chained" by an experience, or they could create artwork inspired by the game's rich scenery.

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Chained, a game created as a senior project by a group of game-design students, puts players in the role of a young man chained to ... something. Players start the game shackled to a heavy iron ball. This is intentionally frustrating at first -- it prohibits players from running, forcing the character to shuffle slowly. Soon, though, the ball becomes a tool: It can be used to advance through the game, smashing down barriers and obstacles. The ball can even be thrown onto an unreachable ledge and the chain used as a rope to climb.

It's fascinating and thought-provoking, with beautifully designed levels rich with metaphor in which the players destroy elements of the protagonist's life -- his home, his family, and the like -- to progress. Unfortunately, frequent glitches and bugs often make the game unplayable.

On its own, Chained provides a challenging puzzle-solving experience. When analyzed like a novel, however, it can become a very powerful undertaking. Because the ball and chain symbol is never explicitly called out, there are excellent opportunities for students to discuss what it all means. And there are a lot of possible interpretations. In some ways, the character's burden is useful -- without it, he can't move forward. But at the same time, it's clearly destroying his relationships. Throughout the game, it becomes obvious that the chains have alienated the protagonist from his family. Students will be able to have deep discussions about what that chain could be -- addictions, anger, past relationships, or something else. 

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Chained is a beautifully designed game with an intriguing game mechanic that will keep kids interested, but it's not something kids will experience over and over.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Although it doesn't explore topics directly, Chained offers many opportunities to analyze and understand metaphors about addiction, coping, and responsibility rarely dealt with in games.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

There's good instruction for how to play, but abundant glitches and bugs will make the experience frustrating for students.

Common Sense Reviewer
Caryn Lix Classroom teacher

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