“Every journey is a series of choices. The first is to begin the journey.”
This message is written in white on one wall of a black room, paired with the image of an unborn baby. This is the first message I encounter in Antichamber. I ignore it until, after a bit of exploration, I return to this hub area and see the dark surface now has a collection of similar pictures and phrases that I’ve found among Antichamber’s many puzzles.
While the game has no explicit narrative, the writing on the walls of the Antichamber provokes thought about our own personal and intellectual journeys, guiding and teaching despite its perceived ambiguity. Much like with my Bible, I didn’t always understand the text I found in this complicated virtual space, but I found wrestling with those words to be valuable.
Making my way through the bewildering world of disappearing surfaces and impossible architecture, I came across many little black posters with white images on them. At one point, after an unintended fall into a deep hole, I found a picture of a sheep jumping off of a cliff. When I clicked, it faded out and the the phrase, “Failing to succeed does not mean failing to progress,” appeared. However, it was only a few minutes before I reached a dead end and found a black and white picture of a finger pushing an escape button. After I clicked, the square read, “Some choices leave us running around a lot without really getting anywhere.”
They weren’t saying, “Use W, A, S, and D to move,” but the direction I received from these blurbs had been helpful up to this point, a sort of minimalist, staccato tutorial. They were the only help I got from the game’s creator, so I was taking them as truth. After guiding me this far though, the only advice these messages from on high seemed to give was to quit.
I hit the escape button and was immediately transported back to the hub room. On the wall opposite the one covered in the Antichamber scripture, I saw a world map of the area I had explored so far. From this viewpoint, I could see several new pathways I had ignored or missed completely. I wasn’t supposed to give up. I was supposed to try something different.
Despite feeling betrayed, it turned out that I actually could trust Alexander Bruce’s words. Even if they seemed to conflict with my agenda, I’d benefit from testing them with my actions. Applying lessons learned from a source who understands the world, someone who knows more than the guy just starting to learn it from the inside, is wise.
As I continued, the adventure became less linear, much more confusing, and I found myself having to rely on the messages to be able to solve more of the Antichamber’s puzzles. They usually didn’t give direct commands or perfect solutions, but did often cut down on the trial and error, helping me to see the challenges in a new light. Sometimes, though, I couldn’t parse what I was supposed to be learning.
One corridor split off into three directions that I thought I had thoroughly explored, but the game kept bringing me back around to the beginning. A nearby poster bore the image of a duck and the words, “How we perceive a problem can change every time we see it.” I knew there was something I was missing but I obviously didn’t know what it was. An offshoot of this hall had two tips mere feet from each other, one saying, “Rushing through a problem won’t always give the right results,” and the other, “Moving through a problem slower may help find the solution.” Frustrated by the redundancy and lack of clarity, I saw it as a personal victory when I finally did get past this area.
For much of the game, Bruce’s messages read like mere platitudes. While, “A dead end will only stop you if you don’t try to move through it,” certainly rang true, the words now felt devoid of their inspiring quality and I was doing okay on my own. It wasn’t until I reached what I thought was the end of Antichamber that my thinking changed again. On the other side of a door labeled as an exit, all I found was a wall with a picture on it. A man on crutches, wrapped in bandages, was limping away from a hospital. I clicked and the man disappeared, replaced by the words, “Life isn’t about getting to the end.”
Sometimes, I need to feel that there is more to life outside of my plans and expectations. Sometimes, I need help figuring out the right path. Every once in a while, I need to be told I’m doing something wrong and how to change. It does me no good to simply read these messages, though; I must analyze, learn, and internalize them. I have to wrestle with them to come out better-equipped on the other side.
By the time my journey in Antichamber actually ended, the collection of messages had taught me a lot about that world, despite the lack of a central theme or lesson in them. Just as with The Bible, it still left me with a few questions. All the messages were placed there intentionally, or so I had to believe, so why were some of them unclear? If the creator of the game knew how my experience in it should go, beginning to end, why weren’t his words always relevant? As with a religious text, discussions could be had over issues of interpretation. Whether we find them in our world or a virtual one like Antichamber, we’re better off struggling with these words of guidance, even when perplexing, than we are ignoring them.