He’s a meadow-dwelling giant known for experimenting with the artistic boundaries of videogames. This is a man who isn’t afraid to experiment and invent for the sake of getting science done. His games are evidence toward the argument that he is one of the greatest gaming revolutionaries to date. I don’t want it to sound like I’m stroking the man’s ego here, but Jason Rohrer isn’t bringing us hidden object games (although maybe he should be, because clicking objects on a grainy JPEG file is what GameCola awards a 10/10 for these days).
Released in silence over the turn of the new year, this almost unnoticed collection contains three games envisioned by this man: Between, Gravitation and…
If you’ve heard of Jason Rohrer, then you’ve probably played Passage. The GameCola Faithful will no doubt remember Passage being mentioned in GC Podcast #30: Age in Videogames. It is an intrinsically built game with complex gizmos and whatchamacallits. Everything in the game is deliberate—every mechanism and every system in place is meant to be there. There are no accidents in Passage, no glitches or bugs or unintended tricks: the game is well built and serves one purpose.
Passage begins with your player character, early twenties, ready to take on the wide world. Literally wide world, as your character begins seated on the left-hand side of the screen, and the world underneath him scrolls along with him. He can move left and right, and also up or down. The first time I played this game, I wasn’t aware that you could go up or down, but this just added to the replay value when I discovered the game contains more and more secrets of which I wasn’t aware.
The goal is simple. You play the game how you want; the outcome is yours to choose. You can opt to find a loved one and spend the whole game exploring together with your spouse, or you can search for treasures and rewards in the maze of life. An experience ever so simple is made ever more deep by the choices available to you. A seemingly short list of options and yet such a wide number of outcomes.
As you tackle life alone, the macabre music leaves you feeling lonely and empty, like you are missing a very important aspect of your life. When walking with your spouse, you feel like the two of you must stick together no matter what happens. The game fills you with strong emotions and really makes your heart ache at the end.
After five minutes, the game is over. Just as death is inescapable, your player character dies at the end of the game. Jason Rohrer describes it:
“The treatment of the character death stands in stark contrast with the way death is commonly used in videogames (where you die countless times during a given game and emerge victorious—and still alive—at the end).”
This is as deep as deep gets. An emotionally fueling and dark game that will stamp on your cheerful outlook on life. So, actually, you don’t want to play it, because it will fuck you up.
The other game that you might recognize is Gravitation, an experience like no other. Taking elements from the platformer genre, this game much more resembles a “game” than Passage does, though it’s still packed with just as much meaning as its predecessor. This is more an autobiographical game, something that I’ve never seen before. I’m definitely interested in playing more of these such games, as they help provide insight into the life of the subject in a way that autobiographical books or memoirs cannot.
Winter seems to be coming, and with it comes darkness. The subject finds light in spending time with the ones he loves. That, in turn, makes him feel on top of the world, like he is capable of anything. It is during this time that he feels so creative and powerful, like he can achieve anything he sets his mind on. But then, suddenly whilst enjoying life, he loses interest and his mood drops to an all-time-low. He sits around in the darkness—hating himself, and all the things he has done. Then, the light starts to flicker, and the cycle repeats all over again.
I know this feeling, and I feel like I connect with Jason Rohrer ‘s Gravitation because it makes me see how pointless sitting on my fat arse and moping around is. If I’ve done something bad, I have to face the music and stand up for what I did and for myself. If I have hurt others, I have to apologize to them and try to comfort them. If I have alienated people, I have to try and win their friendship back and discover what I did that was so wrong. Life is too damn short, and Gravitation shows us this. We witness winter come and go; it brings…darkness and sadness…
Everything in the game is deliberate and thought-of, without anything coincidental in its design.
The other game in this collection is called Between. I haven’t played this, because it’s a multiplayer-only experience. The great thing is that you can share the whole of the game with someone else via Nintendo DS Download Play, so should I ever get the chance to rope a sucker into playing with me, it’ll be simple enough to.
The collection of games is organized with a clean, simple menu that also contains a biography and Rohrer’s comments for each of the games in this package. It doesn’t cost much, either. Get this collection if you want to see a genius at work. Experience thoughts and concepts of extremely high value, and cherish them forever.
However, they’re not really games, so they don’t offer much bang for your buck. We should really support the few creative individuals in the industry, so if you have credit knocking around on your 3DS eShop after buying Link’s Awakening, then do what I did; buy this collection, play it twice, then forget it even exists.
You can find everything Jason Rohrer has ever made here.