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Where the Water Tastes Like Wine
Pros: Tonally perfect: It captures feelings of wandering, wonder, and melancholy.
Cons: Slow-paced, which is good for a meditative experience, but not so good for single classroom sessions.
Bottom Line: While it's not perfect, it could serve as a nice complement to a unit on American folklore or as a way to inspire students to write their own tall tales.
Where the Water Tastes Like Wine does a good job of weaving its own story of how folk tales and tall tales were integral to the shaping of the American experience in its early days before modernity. This would be a good game in an American history or an American literature course, and could be used as an optional activity for students interested in delving further into the topic of folklore.
Finding time in class to play this could also work, but due to the game's slow pacing it'd have to be spread out over multiple class times, maybe over a month or so. This would allow for students to see how stories spread and change in their retellings. A creative writing assignment could ask students to embellish one of the in-game stories themselves, then pass it on to another student to add even more embellishments. Students could pass this story along several times over the month -- similar to a story circle or chain story game -- using tall tales as their medium, with each round perhaps focusing on a different aspect to the story such as character development, descriptive writing, emotion, or tone.
Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is a narrative game focused on folklore and tall tales. At the beginning of the story, the player loses a poker game with a supernatural wolfman (perhaps a metaphor for the devil) who turns the player into a skeleton. To pay off the debt, the player must then collect tall tales and influence America's mythology.
The actual gameplay (besides moving across the map as a giant skeleton with a hobo sack) is to encounter various text-based events and react to those events. Each event is very short, just a vignette of strange occurrences during daily life. Some are humorous or joyful while others are ominous or downright horrific. Every so often, the player encounters another fellow traveler and can camp with the traveler and trade stories. The goal in these trades is to tell a story that matches with your companion's needs. Quinn, one of the early characters, wants to hear stories of adventure and daring. The main challenge then is to collect a library of stories and then trade those stories with the right traveler.
This is a truly one-of-a-kind experience focused on a subject -- how Americana was transformed through the retelling and propagation of tall tales -- that no other game deals with. Still, there's a lot of room for improvement, specifically regarding how the game handles the retelling of stories. It'd be great to be able to re-read collected stories, and it's odd that this isn't a feature, since there's an inventory system that includes a catalog of which stories were collected. Also, even though the game places a huge emphasis on how stories change in their retellings, Where the Water Tastes Like Wine doesn't do a good job of actually presenting altered stories along the way. Instead, when the player hears a previously told story, the game just says that it's been altered without showing the player the altered story. It's likely that the small studio responsible for the game didn't have the budget to present each iteration of each story (the ones presented have voice-over narration), but perhaps there's hope for a future enhanced edition.
Even with these drawbacks, though, Where the Water Tastes Like Wine could serve as a good complement to other activities in a unit on how stories change as they spread. There's also a good online community around the game, and the developers have written a series of postmortems or debriefs on the game and its development that could help students dig deeper into the themes of the game.