Considering this blog is mostly dedicated to the trials and tribulations of gaming with my kids. It’d be a lost opportunity to not expand upon that on those occasions when it’s been the older adults that have been the ones brought into the gaming world.
Now I’ve mentioned before that my partner isn’t the biggest fan of gaming, occasionally even she would find something she enjoyed. Few games have captured the attention of the expanded family like The Witness did. A game that’s what feels like a never ending series of puzzles, some obvious for progression, some hidden and others you don’t even know are a puzzle until you stumble upon one and realized there’s a whole series of puzzles you’ve missed.. this happened a lot!
Giving some context; the family was visiting and the little one was asleep (at this point in time there was only 1) and while they were sitting around talking I decided to just put the PS4 on and continue where I’d last left off in The Witness. I’d been playing for a few hours and had progressed passed the more tutorial like sections of the game and had been exploring some of the far reaches of the island the game takes place in.
Puzzles in The Witness come in several categories, as you explore the island and try to find context in what your doing (the game has no traditional narrative, or set path to completion) Puzzles are displayed on signs for you to solve.. slowly teaching you the solutions to complete them, where a more complex puzzle will be revealed, slowly mixing in the surroundings and expanding out. Sometimes you’ll be presented with a board with a puzzle that seems impossible, so you’ll wander off elsewhere in hopes of finding the puzzles that will teach you how to overcome, but often I would forget and find a completely new series of puzzles to attempt to crack.
It was during a sequence of environmental puzzles in a quarry however that I noticed something unusual; I was being watched. The in-laws had taken an interest in my attempts to crack the puzzles. There not gamers at all but this was something I could see had sparked their interest, like me they were working the problems in their head to find a solution. I explained as much as I could about the aim of the game and from then on it was a collaboration.
Working together progression on of the game however didn’t just speed up, it forked and twisted. One person would point out something in the environment that looked like a puzzle, we’d work to solve it only to find out that while it was a puzzle, it wasn’t a part of the series we were trying to solve and we’d diverge down a different path, some times we also just give up and wander off elsewhere.
This is where The Witness shines, though I don’t know if it was designed as a singular experience or the idea of collaborations was always first and foremost. Though I’d think it’s almost impossible for any one person to complete everything in the game, and the collective internet apparently has yet to find everything in the game. However what it does show when you play it as a team is the different ways in which people think and analyse.
Speaking about one area in particular; the Greenhouse section in the Bunker. This area starts off with simple switch puzzles to help you gain access to different floors but the green house added perspective into the mix. Colors on the switch are mixed and the the correct colors are only revealed when viewed from behind the panes of glass in the green house filtering out certain rays of light. Even this took a lot of playing around but the ultimate challenge that we solved was a combination of discussion and all suggesting ideas outside the box. While I stumbled upon the solution by wondering if from the right angles a switch box could have more then one filter between us, it came from experimenting with everyones attempts to solve it.
I spent more then 25 hours exploring in The Witness, I’ve not yet finished what’s considered the main narrative of the game, let along the many hidden puzzles. Where a series of clouds or roads can be a puzzle when viewed from the correct angle it could be considered an endless game. I think for now at least my time with it has ended, for me nothing it going to live up to that night we spent hours trying to overcome what probably weren’t even the hardest puzzles in the game.
In a review of the game You Tuber Joseph Anderson described The Witness as a brilliant game you shouldn’t play. I don’t know if I’m on the same wavelength but I echo the sentiment. I could solve every puzzle in the game but my sense of fulfillment came from sharing the experience and working towards it as a team. Its how I’d suggest playing it as well, relax with friend or family and see if it changes how you see, play and progress through the game.
I think The Witness became something of an experience for us all, it’s not liked it magically opened up a wave of gaming across the family but it did make a memorable evening and if something in the same vein came along one day I give it a try as well… but I don’t think there will be anything quite like it again. It feels like a magnum opus of a project which should be remembered.