GLITCHHIKERS and the strange beauty of driving alone

(This is a rehost of this article from tumblr after my blog got all switched around. Original publication was 15 September 2014)


I drive a lot. I mean, I guess that’s not that unique of a thing to say, given that I live in America, where driving could might as well be the national pastime. The act of going up and down the I-5 is as much a part of my history as the friends I’ve taken on the way.

But I genuinely enjoy driving. There’s a certain beauty in the time period late at night, when you’re tired and it’s too dark and you should have gotten moving earlier. Lonely radios and night skies. That’s the world of Glitchhikers.

Glitchhikers is a game by Silverstring Media with music by Devin Vibert. It’s short, probably completeable in around 20–30 minutes, and full of a strange wonder that I think few other games have captured quite as well.

The entire experience of the game concerns driving down a road at night, with only the occasional radio announcer being your companion. Every then and again, a hitchhiker will appear, lit by the beams of a passing car or lone streetlamp. They’ll talk to you, you’ll talk back, you each learn a little about the other. As suddenly as they appeared, they disappear, leaving you again, alone. Driving forward ceaselessly, the destination less important than the journey.

Games often try and capture a sense of ‘immersion’. Whether that be in a meticulous, action-oriented manner such as with simulators, or a ploy for graphical excellence with multi-million dollar budgets and teams of artists, ‘immersion’ is so often the stated goal.

It’s something that I think indie games often capture better than their AAA counterparts. Minimalist approaches to storytelling, if done well, can prompt the player into filling the gaps in the story with their own imagination, a tool that graphics and control schemes can only wish they were equal to.

Glitchhikers evokes the stark absurdity of the best magical realism and places it in a position of interactivity that few other games have managed quite as seamlessly. It’s evocative of Kentucky Route Zero and the Night Vale podcast series in its honest portrayal of unreality, but I think it surpasses the former in ambiance and the latter in setting.

Silverstring have managed to create a game where the journey really is more important than the destination. It’s unsettling and relaxing to equal degree, and has quickly become one of my favorite games in its field.

Glitchhikers is available for pay-what-you-want on the developer’s itch.io page, and for $10 you can get the soundtrack as well. If you’ve got a minute, and a dark room, I highly recommend checking it out.