Run (Christopher Whitman)

A literary game with a novel structure: a series of interlinking segments twisting text into action into strategy. – [Author’s description]

[Play Online (Flash)]

9 Comments.

  1. This is amazing! I love the intertextuality of it.

  2. Let me preface this by saying that I haven’t finished playing through the game, but I suspect I was one or two segments away from the end when I stopped for the night. (The free version doesn’t save your game, I guess. I had gotten up to the ‘dream’ that starts off with the artillery game. Is that the last one?)

    So, obviously it’s completely unfair of me to be evaluating based on a partial playthrough, but I wanted to write *something* because I haven’t seen anyone else trying to take the game seriously yet (here or elsewhere) and I think the game deserves an attempt at this sort of response. I think this might be a ‘difficult game’ the same way one can talk about ‘difficult music’ and that’s interesting. So take the following as just a sketch of a response, an initial (maybe preliminary) reaction:

    I have mixed feelings about this game, but I feel a bit guilty about that. I’m not sure ‘fun’ is the right rubric to be using here, but from purely that perspective the slowness of movement in the game/dream segments is far from ideal. After making a mistake at, say, the very end of the snake portion of the artillery dream (get your snake line too close to the platformer sprite and it’s instant game-over upon switching to platformer mode), the player is left in a position where s/he fully understands the mechanics at play, understands more or less how to implement a solution, and recognizes that implementing that solution will be fairly trivial, if mistakes aren’t made. I couldn’t help but feel like slogging through the *time* it takes to watch that solution play out represented a bit of a lack of respect for the player’s time. The problem is that especially in contrast to the rest of the piece, there’s nothing to be gleaned from actually taking the time to play through the arcade game bits. (I guess a speed-up button would mitigate this a whole lot.)

    (This is partially an explanation for why I’m unfortunately typing this up without going through the game all the way to the end. Each dream is more or less identical to the previous but with the previous dream nested inside a new outer layer. So my reluctance two nights ago to immediately play through the artillery dream again is multiplied four-fold when thinking about going through all four(?) dreams from the beginning. [update: I went and started playing again, but just couldn’t power my way through the second dream this time. I did note, however, that the game timer was taking well over one second per click, so maybe the excruciating slowness I’m observing in the arcade dreams wasn’t intended.])

    The farming segments I found surprisingly pleasurable, and they tie nicely to the text segments’ general story about (and I hope I’m not being too awfully reductionist here) the terror of modernity. They also serve to remind the player of the outer framing device, the opening title segment, etc.

    I find myself questioning the place of the classic-game segments entirely, despite the first text segment’s introduction of a dreaming ludologist. Maybe the final text segments draw a firmer connection, but from what I saw the rest of the text seemed much more grounded in the dawn of newsreels and/or television than in anything having to do with games. It’s hard for me to say whether these game segments are meant to function as a marker of modernity (I mean, they’re obviously from a well post-agrarian, post-industrialized age) or its opposite (these are from the dawn of electronic gaming, potentially idealized as a golden age?) Neither of these two possibilities provide much satisfaction. It’s hinted that these games might be positioned as having the potential to *save* the agrarian population, but I have trouble buying that. (Obviously, the farming game is doing precisely that, but within the logic of the piece, the farming segments aren’t framed as games in the same way.)

    [It crossed my mind that perhaps the game dreams are intended to be received based on their subject matter and not based on their form — that the progression internal to those segments are meant to be dramatizing the awful onslaught of history — but space invaders preceding artillery ruled that out for me as a valid reading.]

    As for the text itself, I can’t help but compare it to Braid’s. Braid’s I thought was successful when grounded in the form of a fairy tale — when the language was simple and direct but also pointing toward various more complex readings — but I remember feeling sort of embarrassed for what I took to be J. Blow’s lack of self-awareness about how the more overwrought language presents itself (if only he collaborated with a real writer!).

    The writing here I thought was totally leaps above Jonathan Blow’s. I genuinely wanted to see how its system played out. I really like its conceit of agrarian-age savior-figure dreaming of modernity and the modern resembles a total nightmare. And maybe you could say its style is pondering without being ponderous? (It’s possible I’m cutting it some slack for being ‘game writing’ the same way I suspect many did with Braid’s, but I at least think I genuinely like it.)

    Conclusions: I like this. I want more things to be made like this. I like the cleverness of the nested arcade game segments but I don’t like actually playing them (and, as of dream number 3 or 4, I question their place in the outer framework). I would like to read the entire script. I’ve never felt this way beore. I guess I’d like to watch a video playthrough. I’m not sure what that means.

    • I should add something: In the aftermath of feeling frustrated, I almost forgot how much I did enjoy the process of discovery while playing the first arcade dream for the first time, the way you’re all but guaranteed to fail your first attempt because there’s no way to anticipate what will happen when your snake grabs the last full-brightness circle-collectible. The subsequent discovery of what the task at hand exactly is was really satisfying and I had thought it was a really clever mechanic.

      • This is a really interesting analysis. I hadn’t even considered the form/content relationship in the dreams. I think that the game is at times purposefully obscure, but it didn’t annoy me. I just felt like it was trying to conjure the kind of challenge you get from modernist poetry, instead of pure mechanical challenge. It’s difficult in a different way than we’re used to thinking about difficulty in games, and I think that’s a good thing.

        I like the shadow people that show up in the later farming stages. They make it impossible (for me at least) to harvest enough crops to feed everyone, and I thought that fit in nicely with the image of the false, digital sun and all that. I think that particular mechanic really lends substance to the tone the game is going for.

        The slow movement sounds like an internet/browser issue, and that’s a bummer. You might have to go with the download if you wanna give it another go.

    • Good analysis. I don’t think I experienced the same slowness in the dreams as you, it flowed pretty smoothly for me.

      Yeah, I never got the feeling that the arcade segments were elegantly entwined with the rest of the game on a thematic level, but I enjoyed them for what they were. I’m really hoping for more syncretic, multidisciplinary games like this.

      • That’s good to hear, especially since that slowness obviously really colored my experience. It never crossed my mind the first time playing that it could have been my computer failing to keep up with the task, since I can’t imagine there ought to be many calculations being thrown at the processor during the snake segments. Hm.

  3. Is it just me, or does the writing look somewhat like The Wasteland? T. S. Eliot played a lot with verse shapes in it, so it seems to me an appropriate stylistic choice.

    Also, I don’t know if anybody actually noticed in the credits a passing mention to a fundamental game developer, now AWOL… Quintet, the makers of (in my humble opinion) the best JRPG ever, Terranigma. If you’ve never played it, you’re supposed to do it, get to the end, and cry like lambs.