Do We Need Tengami’s Rest?

“When I look back at the stress-addled games of today, I can’t help but wonder if Tengami is just what we need: a game about rest.”

When I look across the videogame landscape, I see some of the most intense games ever created. Titanfall, Dark Souls 2, and Towerfall all came out just in one week. But then I look at little Tengami, sitting quietly in the corner as calm as can be. It’s content to focus on walking and quietly collecting cherry blossom flowers while folding paper. When I look back at the stress-addled games of today, I can’t help but wonder if Tengami is just what we need: a game about rest.

I recognize that I want stress in my games. I’m addicted to it.

Rest is kind of the nemesis for a lot of gamers. With all the excitement and tension of our hardcore offerings, anything that lowers the heart rate usually puts us to sleep. Or at least it does, me. So as much as I anticipated and looked forward to Tengami, I couldn’t help but struggle with the slow plodding nature of a peaceful game.

Tengami’s narrative never gets explained. But I imagine it would read something like this:

A long time ago in feudal Japan, war-weary samurai would long to observe “Tengami” – the Sabbath-like rest where they lay down their swords. They would seek to reconcile their hearts with heaven by walking slowly as Koto players musically intercede with the calm plucking of strings. During Tengami, the disarmed samurai would pause at each intersection in his or her path to fold origami in quiet reflection.

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Tengami developer, Jennifer Schneidereit, told Gamestar said that Tengami is a made-up word that she and Phil Tossel created by combining the words “heavenly” and “paper” specifically for the game. This complimented their choice for Japanese Buddhist paper drama as the game’s art style. All that to say that Tengami’s developers probably didn’t have the Judeo-Christian practice of Sabbath in mind when they designed the game. But that concept seems to transcend cultural divides and get to core of restful reflection.

In the middle of Tengami, I found a pagoda with rings dangling from each terrace. Without any instruction on what to do, I just tapped each bell hoping to magically enter the correct combination. But as with many other aspects of Tengami, shortcuts and guesswork didn’t get around a slower and simpler solution. I had to walk around and explore the area at a snail’s pace, patiently folding each scene into place in pop-up-book fashion. After taking the time to patiently look around, I discovered a piece of the puzzle that I had been missing. To be completely honest, I didn’t solve this problem over a day. The game just sat for a bit because I didn’t want to slow down and patiently work my way through this puzzle. I went and found my “tension games” to keep my BPMs high enough that I didn’t fall asleep. And yes, Tengami put me to sleep more than once or twice.

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“Putting me to sleep” may sound like the harshest indictment on a game. But I think that’s exactly the thing Tengami is after: to be a place of rest in the middle of an over-intense videogame meltdown. Where red-blooded stealth, action, and tension rule, Tengami goes for the blue ocean of Sabbath rest. I found it hard to pick up and finish Tengami because I recognize that I want stress in my games. I’m addicted to it. And rest seems to be the enemy of my gaming. Tengami seems to be the enemy of my game-playing.

Tengami’s pace invites us to slow down. And to enter into it without that consideration is to ignore the value that rest adds. When all you do is invite stress into you being, an invitation to fold “heavenly paper” is an odd proposition.

I had an instructor in art school who said, “Sometimes it’s nice to just cut and fold paper.” I didn’t know what he meant at the time. But as I fold my way through Tengami’s Japanese pop-up book world, I get what my old instructor was talking about. Rest is where we can slow down and see clearly, not so consumed with the cares of this world or the cares of the digital ones.

M. Joshua Cauller

M. Joshua Cauller is an interactive designer who has spent far too much time trying to dodge a calling to the videogame industry. You can follow him on Twitter @mjoshua or check out his blog, Love Subverts:

  • Zachery Oliver

    I am in the thick of Dark Souls as of this moment, so I sorta understand some games as “tense”. But there’s a lot of traveling downtime in a big game like that which, while not relaxing, tends to even out the pacing with dynamic changes to the game itself.

    My relaxing game of choice is Dragon Quest. It keeps me awake with resource management and tiny brain-pleasing exercises without putting me to sleep necessarily (although, admittedly, this has happened to me at least once). A game can be challenging and relaxing at the same time, though that is a difficult task.

  • M. Joshua Cauller

    Sure, From Software does level design and pacing particularly well. But I also think that if you’re in a daily habit of playing Souls games before bed, your sleep may leave something to be desired.

    I have a Jewish friend who struggles with whether or not to play games on Sabbath – as he really wants to take the whole rest thing seriously. It’s got me thinking that some games might be better for that than others.

  • Zachery Oliver

    I have been in that habit, and it depends on whether or not you need to beat that boss at 4AM or not 😛

    I can imagine defining parts of a game as “work” versus “play” would be incredibly difficult from a Jewish perspective. I wouldn’t even know where to start with that.

    But yes, totally agreed on relaxing vs. not. My family plays Fortune Street on the weekends, and it’s pretty relaxing overall. Yes, cutthroat, but relaxing…

  • M. Joshua Cauller

    That reminds me! When speaking at my buddy’s church last week, I asked a dad and his boys what games they liked/played. They said their absolute favorite to play together was Fortune Street!

  • Ayk Iano

    In light of your recent rest, I’m just wondering if there’s a restful version of social media. Like maybe you can only choose to look at 5 of your friends’ status updates per day, and 5 link shares, and you can only post 5 comments (with word limit)…all the rest shall remain eternally unread and forgotten.

    Or maybe that you’d have to choose 1 day to be the Sabbath, and on that day it’s total blackout. That’d be interesting.

  • April-Lyn

    I used to have a technology blackout day on Sunday. My rules for myself were that from when I woke up on Sunday morning to 6pm:

    – no social media
    – my laptop remained off unless I was using it to check information on the Internet
    – minimal email checking
    – my phone stayed in a different room than I was in, minimal texting
    – video games on xbox only (and no multiplayer games)

    Now that my personal commitments to facebook and skype are integral to my daily life this is a bit more difficult. But I keep feeling like there has to be a way to get back to something like this. It was definitely beneficial.

  • April-Lyn

    I like this. It reminds me of a game I loved when my family got our first Windows 95 computer, called “Endorfun”. It was the game I played when I wanted to relax and be encouraged. It was meditative and filled with positive affirmations.. it didn’t feel so much like playing a game as it felt like doing yoga with my brain.

  • Joe Mike Step

    I think I’d like this game for the same reason I like a lot of more tranquil music: I love the easing into sleep and the restful euphoria when art like this can serve to calm your nerves and your mind.

  • M. Joshua Cauller

    Great points, Joe! Sorry I didn’t see this comment until now!