Posted in Games

thomas was alone: a beautiful example of narrative and gameplay

I completed ‘thomas was alone’ a while ago now.  I intended to write a blog at the time, I even began one, but then work and, well, work took over and I had no time for anything else.

It is, I think, a profound game.  You can tell that it’s profound because it leads you to care about a red rectangle.  Truly.  You care about the fate of a little red rectangle called Thomas.

This game is genius.

It makes you care through the music, the sound effects, the aesthetic, the clever use of short sentences that give it a jackanory story-time feeling, and the bigger narrative about free-will and self-awareness.  Oh, and the narrator.  The narrator is wonderful.  Not to mention the gameplay itself – lovely, rich puzzles and individually-realised characters:

  • Thomas is curious and happy and kind;
  • Chris is grumpy;
  • Claire thinks she is a superhero…

The list goes on.

They all face challenges that they need to overcome – usually by enlisting help from everyone else in the group – and, crucially, they all learn something.  There is character development.

No mean feat for such a small game.

But what makes it profound?  Well, it reminds me of one of my favourite things about us humans, and that is our capacity for empathy.  If we can emote with a red rectangle, then surely that tells us something about human nature?  Often, we talk about human nature in survivalist terms: us versus them.  And this kind of rhetoric seems to be more and more pervasive in current political landscapes around the world.  But the us versus them narrative is not, at the heart of it, human nature.  Not really.  Not if we can empathise with characters like these:

Image Credit: Mike Bithell

The secret about human nature, is that we are creatures of empathy.  We are so empathetic, that in order to make the us versus them narrative ‘ok’, we have to engage in elaborate language systems and propaganda to vilify others and make them seem less than human.  We have to be repeatedly lied to about others, before we begin to let go of our empathy.  And I know this is true, because we are so empathetic that we are able to care about a red rectangle bouncing about on a screen.

And this gives me hope.  This game gives me hope.

It is simply beautiful.  And if you haven’t already played it – go on, give it a go.  It will delight you, it will show you something of what a game really can be, and it will show you what people really can be.

Author:

I lecture in creative writing, games and education. I write. I make the odd game. I work with the odd school to make learning more like playing a game...

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