Alexander Bruce began development for Antichamber in 2009 and released the game in January of 2013. Antichamber challenges many of our assumptions about how games should work and in so doing challenges the players’ assumptions about life. We recently had the opportunity to chat with Bruce about his curious perspective and determination to create a game of substance.
What are the core beliefs that most motivate you?
I am very analytical but I also take a lot of inspiration from other things around me in the world. I am a very curious person and I just want to try to understand things.
I think that curiosity shows in Antichamber.
Yes. Making games was a way of expressing a bunch of that. Antichamber was a way for me to understand other people. By watching them play and then making all these changes to the game, I could sort of understand how other people were thinking. By trying to change the game to mold it around that, it is giving me some insight into other people’s minds.
One of the things that impresses me about the process you seem to have gone through with Antichamber is how committed you were to being self critical. How did you learn to be self critical of your work in a healthy way?
A lot of this would just go back to my upbringing. I was always a bit of a different kid, so when I was in kindergarten and a bunch of other kids were off playing, I would be off playing by myself. My mother has told me that originally they wanted to hold me back at kindergarten because I wasn’t socializing with other kids, but my mom said, “Its not that he doesn’t know how to socialize, its just that he is on another plane from what those other kids think about.”
So as a really young kid, I would ask really deep questions because I was really curious about the world and I wanted answers. I went from being curious about the world to being curious about myself as well. This just sort of strengthens as you become self aware about your self awareness and really try to understand where that comes from and working out what kind of things you can change.
Some people take the mindset of “This is just who I am, and I can’t change it.” Where as I kind of feel like I can change whatever I want. There have even been times when I feel like I radically changed my personality. I was just like, “These are the issues with who I was at this stage and these are the solutions so I am just going to stop doing all of that and start doing all of this.” Start believing this other stuff instead and just be a different person going forward. The game was an extension of this whole process.
An extension of your personal growth?
Maybe there is a parable there about perseverance or something (laughs).
Absolutely. I also have a history of being a fairly spiteful person because throughout school I had to be defensive all the time. I was a bit different and I always had to defend myself. I developed this attitude of, “Oh you don’t think I can do this? I will do this just to prove that I can do this.”
When I was working on a previous version of Antichamber in 2009, it was a much more personal game and there were areas of the game that did have negative messages after them. So if you think about the game now and you feel like there are some misguided messages, imagine solving a puzzle and then getting a negative message.
Kind of a “screw you” to the player?
Yeah like, “Hey, you tried really hard but in the end you didn’t get anything.”
Eventually I was like, “This doesn’t really fit with the rest of the game, which is about positive reinforcement to overcome challenges. I can’t not have this message here because its important that I say something about it, but I don’t want to lie. I don’t want to say a positive message that I don’t believe.” I guess because I care so much about the game and am learning so much about myself outside of that, I can just change my beliefs and write a positive message in the game. Then I can just change my beliefs in the real world moving forward as well,” and that just makes you a more humble positive person.
A lot of people say, “You can’t do that.” I am like, “Why not? I have done this several times.” If I have gotten certain data about why I should act a certain way, then I will just change my mind about it.
Would you consider yourself a religious person?
No, not really. This comes down to being raised as a Roman Catholic and going through religious school. Up until the end of my final year of school, my teacher was one of the priests at the school. I am obviously a very analytical person and I started talking to him about why I was getting a bit of a disconnect between things. He said, “No that is fine. You are coming up with your own reasoning for things and you don’t want to believe things just because a book says you should believe them. It’s better that that you make up your own mind about things.”
I fine with people being spiritual about things. Whatever helps people get by day to day. Me, I have myself and my introspection whereas other people need to look externally.
Certainly there are some strong philosophical elements to Antichamber. What do you think about games that address religious, spiritual, or philosophical themes?
I think its fine. When people make such games, they obviously feel very strongly about those things, like with Antichamber expressing my introspection and my wanting to communicate with other people. Religious games are just people wanting to express their beliefs and see how other people receive that as well.
It’s just getting more information about the world and maybe confirming some of the things that you believe and maybe pushing against some of the things that you believe. I am not the kind of person who says, “People shouldn’t do x.” People should do whatever motivates them, and what they do is going to be very different from what motivates me.
Have you gotten any feedback from religious people about their experience having played Antichamber?
I don’t think [the feedback is] from religious people, but people in general talk about the personal struggles they have had, or how the game relates to their life experience. For instance, there was this old lady from France who didn’t speak english, but she found the game to be this personal, relatable thing because it related to her personal struggles throughout her life and she felt a very personal connection to the game.
I come from a place of religious conviction but it wasn’t easy for me to get there. Even being there is difficult sometimes because I can be very analytical and I want to process things.
Antichamber is a game that presents these challenges to you and you have to overcome them. As you overcome them, it encourages you process how it might relate personally to you. So for me, there was a real parallel between Antichamber, my journey in life, and my struggle to trust God.
Well that did use to be the name of the game. It was called Hazard: The Journey of Life.
Oh really? (laughs). Games don’t really tend to invite introspection or challenge you to internalize things.
I was writing it throughout my twenties as I was going through a maturation phase. I was having to move on from school which was fairly safe, and now I had to figure out what I was doing in the world. I was just trying to work out what the hell I was doing with my life.
All throughout school, there was always something that set me apart from people. I would always learn things really fast and helping other people with some of that. Some of Antichamber was like, “These are the things that I have sort of discovered about the world and I feel about the world, so I am putting them in the game so that people who play will be able to see some of that.” Maybe some of them will agree with me. Or even better, maybe some of it will help other people.
Back in 2009, I gave the game to someone who suffered pretty severely from depression and they said playing the game really helped them out because it is about changing perspective and about challenges.
It presents these things: they are just walls. But if you think about them a little bit differently, then you are able to progress.