Sunday, 18 August 2013

'Loneliness'

http://www.necessarygames.com/my-games/loneliness/flash

Play it first, then read this. 

It's a 3-minute flash game. It was made by two guys. One guy did the music and another guy did the actual game. It consists of one block moving into other blocks, and the other blocks disperse once you have done so. Yet this the most touching and deep flash game I've played.

This is an article on the typical school week in Korea. "The Korean Teachers' and Education Workers' Union (KTU) found that 27.9 per cent of students say, "I eat alone."" My friend said that an average study period for a Middle Schooler in Korea is 12 hours a day. More often than not they have a 1-day weekend. Yet South Korea are such a progressive country, economically and culturally. Working that hard and that consistent leaves out any kind of human interaction. But that's off topic...

The topic of Loneliness is indeed loneliness, in which a title has never been more clear in describing the game. It's incredibly simple; you move your block until the game ends, but along the way there are other blocks that are jumping about and moving and having fun, but when you go up to them, they stop, disperse and fade. It has no tutorial, no little speech bubbles or objective markers along the way, no forms of text at all until the end; it simply conveys its message through the gameplay. It does this so powerfully.

Its power is not only expressed through the beautiful, looping piano riff, but through the implicit choice. What did you do whilst playing Loneliness? Did you purposefully avoid the other blocks because you didn't want to ruin their fun? Did you go up to every single group? Did you go up to every group then give up after a while because you knew they would go away? Did you avoid them all throughout the game, but approached that last block in hope that he would partner with you? Only to find out that that block would disperse like the rest of them. More importantly, what do these choices say about you? Are you a person who doesn't want to get involved with other peoples business, and stays away from them? Are you a confident type who approaches everyone anyway? Do you give up trying to socialize after everyone rejecting you?

Think of the symbolism as well. These are small, black blocks. You are a small, black block. You are the same as them. They don't know that though, so they stay away from you because you're not part of their group. You're the same as them, just that they fear change, they fear being challenged by another block. So they leave. There's also the symbol of a black block on a white background. You're black, and the background is white. Hell, the world is white. You contradict the world. It would be better for you to fit in with a crowd of black blocks, so the world wouldn't feel so different, so opposite, so scary, so big.

The background then stops being white, it starts becoming grey, then darker, then darker, then black. You descend into darkness. This means two things. One, that you have become so used to being isolated and lonely, that the world becomes the same colour as you. You are now used to a cold, unwelcoming and lonely world. A world where you fit in. Two, that you descend into darkness. You have become lonely and isolated that you become a darker person. You become darker, and darker, then black.

We've all been lonely once in our lifetime. I had a lonely childhood. I had one or two friends that I had when I was younger, and a friend I was really close with when I was younger. But then he left to Australia. I was on my own from then on. I was constantly excluded, bullied, lonely and picked on. I was picked on because I had no friends, and I had no friends because I was picked on. This game feels a lot like my early school life. I was alone, and decided I was going to join in and play with someone else. They rejected, and went off. I went to another group, which rejected me and went off. This has happened to all of us at some point.

Once you finish the game, it ends with a message. It's a message so powerful and thought-provoking. A message that can convey so much emotion and satisfaction that many games with big budgets and huge man-power fail to do with pages of script. It reads:

Now read that article again. These kids are so forced and pressured into doing well that they don't have time for any human interaction. Despite them doing really well in school and whatever instrument they play, they will still be alone. This is what I think Edmund McMillen's Aether is about. That a kid riding on a monster goes round solving problems and becomes so focused on his work and objectives, that when he returns back to Earth, it's so small that when he touches it, the Earth shatters and then just goes floating in space. It says that when you work so hard and so long on something, you lose sight of Earth and what is real, that when you come back to it, it breaks under your feet.

With Loneliness, you're not encouraged to do anything apart from move until the game ends, just that there are other blocks along the way in which they are optional to interfere. And that's what life is. You keep on moving. It's depressing and unwelcoming, but you deal with it because you have no other options. Your option is to move forward. Move through whatever curve-ball life throws at you. After all, what other option have you got?