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Friday, April 02, 2010

I'm like the bazillionth person to remark on how oddly affecting Jason Rohrer's little game PASSAGE is.

In the game, you're a tiny little man, really about four by eight pixels tiny, in a maze of obstacles and occasional treasure chests. When you get to some treasure chests, stars come out, and your score goes up a lot. Other treasure chests just contain flies. You have five minutes to wander through the maze and find treasure chests.

As you move to the right, your score goes up slowly. So you can keep increasing your score just by going to the right. But there are fewer and fewer treasure chests.

You can't see downscreen, only right and left, because the screen is a very wide but short panorama.

There is also a tiny little woman. If you bump into the woman, you both fall in love and spend the rest of the game exploring the maze. It is much harder to explore the maze with the woman, because you can't go through the narrower passages.

If you're at all interested in games, stop reading this and go download the game and play it a few times. The computer versions are free. You can download it onto your iPhone for two bucks. It only takes five minutes.

* * *

Did you cry?

* * *

SPOILERS

So halfway through, you and your wife go grey. You get old. Then she dies. Then you die.

You had five minutes to explore your world, and then your time was up.

How does such a ridonkulously simple game tug at your heartstrings? Maybe because it resonates with your experience?

You can find treasure chests if you look. But some only contain flies. You can also rack up a score if you just keep slogging along. Treasure chest hunting is more rewarding. But eventually you run out of treasure chests, and you have to just keep slogging.

After I played it through a couple of times with a wife, I decided to see how far I could get on my own. I had a much higher score alone. I could get to all sorts of treasure chests I could never get to with a wife.

And then when my guy got old, what did I do? I did not want to finish the game without him ever having met the love of his life. So he trudged back to the beginning of the maze to fall in love.

Lasted about twenty seconds, their life together. After that he was very sad. But it seemed much more important to get him to experience love than to up my score more.

Some reviewers have questioned whether this is a game. This is an odd question -- there's a maze, and there's a score, and there's a time limit. It is definitely a game. It seems to be more than a game, though. Or at least, it is what a game ought to be -- both a fun challenge, and an emotionally moving experience.

Rohrer says he wrote this for his wife. I'm not sure what it meant to her -- she's an obstacle, and then she dies first? Not exactly a love letter, eh?

But I will tell you that although it is harder to play the game when your tiny little guy has a tiny little wife, it is much happier. It is not much fun searching for treasure alone.

This game is not my life. My wife makes it easier for me to find treasure chests. And I'm getting more treasure chests as I get older.

But the game is open to interpretation.

Isn't that a nice thing to be able to say?

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