Normally, I don't read reviews. I try to stay away from them as much as possible. I like making my own decisions about what I purchase and what I don't purchase. When I do read reviews, it's usually after I buy the game. But I needed to read the review for The Witness because it's Jonathan Blow's sophomore game and I like him.
And while reading through Stephen Totilo's review over on Kotaku, I felt like I had initially made a mistake. But towards the end it only made me want to play the game even more. The way he describes his relationship with the game and his ability to e-mail Blow about one puzzle is fun, I guess, but it also made me feel a little envious. But by the end of the piece you realize this is a relationship that every player will end up having with Blow.
He describes the game as if it's some kind of adversarial match between the player and Jonathan Blow, himself. It's an interesting way to look at a video game and also something I've yet to experience. But this isn't the reason why I'm writing about a game review for a game that I was already going to pick up. It's this part of Totilo's review:
The Witness’s celebration of earnest exploration is articulated by a hidden audio file near the game’s first area, which quotes Albert Einstein: “Of all the communities available to us there is not one I would want to devote myself to, except for the society of the true searchers, which has very few living members at any time.” A much more deeply-hidden file quotes the spiritual teacher Gangaji reinforces the game’s endorsement of peaceful curiosity over impatient urgency: “...if you choose silence, that is the end of ideas. You are willing to have no idea, to see what is present when there is no idea, past, present, future. No idea of love, no idea of truth, no idea of you, no idea of me. Love is apparent.” In other words, choose silence to recognize the presence of love, rather than actively pursuing it.
He then writes:
The Witness makes a statement about the lovely balance of knowing and not knowing.
And that really struck me. When's the last time a video game, or any piece of entertainment, had made a statement about something as robust as this? Sure, we can all head to the library and pick out a couple of hardcovers from the Philosophy section and enjoy these heavy ideas. But this is a video game. A video game asking us the questions.
And mechanically, video games reward the player with something, anything. Whether it's a new piece of gear, another level, or a story. But it seems like -- from Totilo's experience anyway -- The Witness's main source of value, its reward to the player, is knowledge.
I'm being completely honest when I say that I have yet to play a game that uses the actual mechanics of learning outside of video games in order to inform the gameplay. I haven't played a game that made me feel like I had learned something about myself after or while I was playing it. It's an interesting move and I love that these ideas are a part of the game.
It's also important to note that these lofty themes are all optional from what I understand. The game doesn't hit you over the head with philosophy. Instead, it puts the player in charge of what they want to get out of it. You could be like Totilo, or me, and want to pursue everything the game has to offer. To try and understand it outside and within the world of gaming. Or, you could just want a puzzle to solve and an island to explore. The Witness leaves it all up to you, apparently, and I can't wait to play it.
The Witness will be out on PS4 and PC tomorrow, January 26th, 2016.