Everybody’s gone all nuts about this game The Witness now. And, before you say anything, I know it’s not a Myst-clone. I know because Agustín Cordes says so.
A damn shame people are giving The Witness bad ratings because they were expecting another Myst (thankfully, it's nothing like Myst).
— Agustín Cordes (@AgustinCordes) January 27, 2016
It doesn’t bode well, though, when I put on a Let’s Play of the first couple of puzzles that actually put me to sleep.
Okay, it was late. And I know fans of the game are going to have a knee-jerk reaction and berate me for not giving it a chance to develop. That’s not why I’m writing this post at all.
Seeing this game and the first couple of puzzles (as I was nodding off) just got me thinking about why I really, really dislike Myst and its ilk.
One of the things The Witness does right off the bat is something I truly hate Myst for. It drops you into a game world without any explanation as to your purpose and just expects you to solve puzzles with the sole enticement being that your efforts will somehow make sense later on.
It gives you a world that is fantastic to look at, but with absolutely no motivation. The puzzles are just context-less brainteasers strewn about a picturesque environment that seem to have been put there for no reason — or at least a reason that’s not readily available to you.
Apart from the landscape and puzzles, there is literally nothing else. No other characters, no dialogue, nothing to ground you into the world you’re in. Nothing to anchor you to the situation you find yourself in.
Again, you’re supposed to fill in those blanks as you go along. I’m sure the game reveals itself to you in a startling and wonderful manner — why else would it be given these rave reviews? — but, at least for me, this stark sense of solitude and loneliness is anything but conducive to my exploration.
And the puzzles themselves don’t give you anything to go on. Solving the first handful of puzzles in The Witness only seems to accomplish switching on some cables that run along the ground. Likewise, I seem to recall Myst throwing you into a bunch of switch-pulling and letting you work out for yourself what that switch-pulling actually accomplished.
To some, that’s enough. The thrill of exploration just for the sake of exploration. But not to me.
I want to know why — why I’m here; why I’m doing this; why I should give a shit. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t need to know everything right off the bat. But some semblance of motivation would be swell.
To me, games like Myst — and at least what I gather from the first moments of The Witness — are toying with me. They’re enigmatic and at least mildly alluring, but in a very smug way. It’s like they’re saying, “Here’s my world. Now go explore it, you cunt. No, I’m not going to tell you why. I’m just gonna stand here and wait for you to figure me out.”
And I have a real “well, fuck you” reaction to that kind of game design. Maybe it’s my own insecurity about feeling dumb that makes me have that reaction. That could very well be. But I don’t like games that treat me like I’m an idiot for not being instantly infatuated with their ambiguousness.
I like games that give you feedback and interaction. I like dialogue, or at least interaction. I like relating to characters.
Again, I’m fully aware that those things might indeed be forthcoming in games like The Witness and Myst. I just don’t care enough to stick around to find out.