Warning: vague spoilers for Vesper.5 ahead.
The days I hated Vesper.5 were best. It meant the game was accomplishing what it set out to do. On these days, I chuckled at the severe limitation of moving a single space per game session were wasted and I shook my head thinking, “Oh Vesper.5, what a silly concept,” while the game’s purpose was still shrouded.
Michael Brough’s game is simple: explore an ethereal temple, but only take one step every 24 hours. That’s five moves per week, if you take weekends off. But on a bad day, a restless Monday, with work piled to my ears, that’s when Vesper.5 fulfills its purpose and pisses me off.
I touch the number pad only once. My avatar moves one square towards the mysterious edge of the screen. Just one move, and he sits his ass down, content with his progress.
“What a stupid game,” I think to myself. It’s literally unplayable except for three seconds a day. The passageway looms ahead of me. I count the number of moves/days it will take until I reach the end. Five spaces. It will take an entire week, for what?
Eventually I do reach the far side of my computer monitor; the passageway opens up, forking in two diverging directions. If I find a dead end it will take the better part of a month to retrace my steps.
I take a single step, and wait. There’s no point in turning back.
Everyday is the same, straining to see what’s hidden in the future, weighed down by the maddeningly slow plodding of time. Twenty-four hours later I move again. There’s a pool of water just a few spaces away. I should make it there by Thursday.
The discovery is a little too thrilling, when I reach the pool and the screen dissolves into a blocky swirl of aquamarine.
Life is a lot of waiting. It’s waiting to finish school, to get a cool job, to buy a house. My wife brings up the idea of having children soon, and I feel bolts of adrenaline surge through me. Her expression sours as she watches the colour drain from my face.
“It’s a good terror,” I assure her.
Children scare me for one reason: they grow up. Offspring become an all too real barometer of time. Babies begin talking, and then reasoning and soon they’re up to your knees. They’re a living, breathing reminder of how quickly time moves.
“Let’s make a baby.”
The great irony is time moves both quickly and slowly. Slowly because I imagine good things happening in the future and want them, and quickly because I realize later that good things have happened all along the way.
Some days I want a future thing to happen. I want to start my own company, become a famous writer, develop rock-hard abs, and it’s easy to strain and grasp for whatever thing is out of reach.
Impatient, that’s the word I was thinking of.
Jason Rohrer’s indie game, Passage is sickeningly sentimental at first glance. Any game that shows the passage of youth to old age in a few minutes using 8-bit graphics will probably make me tear up and feel slightly depressed. The first time I booted it up, I walked in a straight, seemingly two-dimensional line as the background scenery swirls past in a mash of colours. My avatar begins young like myself, but I continue walking as the scenery materializes from the murky future, unfurling in exquisite detail in the present, before compressing into a mess of pixels behind us. I silently hold the left arrow, watching my avatar fall in love, grow a bald spot, outlive his wife, and finally, die.
I understood the idea almost immediately. Yeah, life is fleeting, I get it. Afterwards I read a note from the game’s creator, urging the player that there’s more to the game. Sure enough, I realized, it’s not a two-dimensional game at all, and there’s more involved than moving from left to right.
In the middle of the second playthrough, I try moving horizontally instead of forward, and to my surprise the game world opens up. There are nooks and crannies to explore and treasure to open. Suddenly the game is not a sentimental trudge into twilight, but a world to explore. I don’t feel depressed when I reach the end. This time, I feel the fullness of living.
I sit down with Vesper.5 today, frustrated with work, listless, straining toward a future I’ve promised myself. My avatar moves one space, then satisfied, gracefully settles down to meditate until tomorrow’s action. I just want to “play” the game, navigate the corridors and “win”.
I glare at him. Sitting so calmly, pleased with himself and our pitiful progress.
A “butterfly” made up of three pixels flutters across the corridor in a seemingly randomized pattern.
Look how far I’ve come. Three or four screen lengths at least. It’s quite far, actually. I turn off the game and settle in for another day, a little quieter, a little more content.