Witness Me!

I’ve been getting asked the same question over and over again lately: “Have you played the Witness? Have you heard about it?”

“No,” I answer, because yeah. I have. I’ve totally heard of the Witness. I’ve known about the Witness for a long, long time. I’ve heard of this game, and I know all about the man who made it. I know that he has claimed to want his game to be “respectful” of the player as an intelligent human being. I’m a sincere Christian and an arrogant Pharisee, so obviously that’s an ethical project I’m all on board with.

See, I know video games far too well. I know video games like ranchers know wolves: I lived with them, they ate my welfare, and there’s nothing noble or entertaining about any of it.

I haven’t played video games in a long time. You get bit hard enough, you learn to stay away.

So yeah — a game that’s respectful of my time? That desires me not as a whale for DLC and playing time, but as an intelligent human being? That only wants to give wonderful, beautiful, thoughtful diversions to me? Tell me more, Jonathan Blow. Keep whispering.

The day I heard that it was released, I immediately went to go buy it. But alas: no The Witness. Not on my platform, at least.

I’m an addict, though. An addict doesn’t relapse with a product; an addict relapses with a decision. And my decision had already been made.

So what now? What game would I have?

Not all games are respectful of your time and intelligence. Some games stalk you. Some games look at you on their ad analytics platform as you idly click on game reviews. Some games are tuned at every moment, programmed like a fuel injector to give you just the right juice in just the right amount at just the right moment, to keep you from losing so bad you don’t want to come back. Some games get you thinking, “I’ll quit after this turn,” and immediately give you the next turn the instant you start to think about it. And some games will target you on Facebook and Twitter and Google and Talking Points Memo and reddit and Clickhole, and you’ll sit there looking at that ad graphic for years and say to yourself, “Bill, don’t you damned do it. You’ve had ten good years. They’ll eat your life,” and the ads will talk back at you. “We both know you. We know the depth of your desire. Let yourself be consumed.”

Mmm, I wanted it. I did. And I downloaded that damned game (it’s called X-COM and yes it’s great), and I played it for hours and hours and hours, for mission after mission and turn after turn. “I deserve this,” I said to myself. “I deserve to treat myself.” And from 11am on Saturday until 2 in the morning on Valentine’s Day, I did what I deserved.

I’ve learned through fool’s experience how that’s the kind of belief that breeds itself. I’ve been here before. “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” True enough for me, T.S. I deserve every bit of it.

When I woke up the next day, I was finally ready. I couldn’t wait to say “Fuck it.” I walked the dog. I spun that “Blue Valentine” record I’d let lay around unplayed for too long. I read a book. And I did none of it because I wanted to or not.

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