Above: Screenshot courtesy of Thekla, Inc.
Though I enjoyed much of my time with it, I'm not as enamored with Thekla Inc.'s The Witness as many are, and I've laid my arguments for that out a few times. In my mind, I'd sort of put the game behind me and moved on—solved and left behind like one of its many line puzzles. And then, today, a video popped up on my Twitter feed, and now I can't stop thinking about The Witness.
Brought to my attention by Larian Studios' Kevin Van Ord and by freelance writer Nick Capozzoli, "The Unbearable Now" has drilled itself into my brain. It's a 30 minute long piece of games criticism by Joel Goodwin of Electron Dance, that weaves together analysis of game design, with Goodwin's personal experience, a dive into historical context, and (thankfully) some solid jokes.
What I like about "The Unbearable Now" is how it mimics the slow unfolding of information that The Witness does so well in its puzzle design. But what I love about this video is how openly Goodwin grapples with his own feelings and thoughts about the game. (This is also true about his more traditional 20-point review of the game, which is accessible if you solve a secret puzzle in the interpretation video... or if you click this link.)
Goodwin both identifies what Jonathon Blow and the other developers at Thekla are trying to get at and gives voice to his own issues with the game. Finding what he believes to be the "deeper meaning" of the game—a sort of synthesis of mindfulness practice and scientific inquiry—doesn't lead Goodwin to walk back his statement that it doesn't quite hang together cleanly.
Likewise, he doesn't let the frustrating sound puzzles prevent him from recognizing that there is something special in the way that The Witness asks us to turn off the outside world, sit quietly, and be aware.
There's a lot more to say here, too. I appreciate that he links out to other essays on the game that were influential for him (I especially like Liz Ryerson's "Taming the Inexplicable.") I think he mixes humor and criticism smartly, never falling into the trap of self-seriousness that Blow himself does. But beyond all that, it's also just a really well crafted video, frankly. It's good in the way that makes me upset when I look at the view count and see such low numbers. Let's change that.