Nothing else compares to the greatest video game of the decade – National Post

Posted: December 6, 2019 at 11:43 pm


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The Rinzai school of Zen, in Japanese Buddhism, has an unusual tradition of higher thought. As astrophysicist David Darling explains in his book Zen Physics: The Science of Death, the Logic of Reincarnation, it puts the intellect to work on problems that have no logical solution. The point of such exercises, Darling writes, is to induce a kind of intellectual catastrophe, or a sudden jump which lifts the individual out of the domain of words and reason into a direct, non-mediated experience.

Its a kind of holy rite for the super-cerebral: problem-solving as religion.

Darlings account of the intellectual catastrophe in Buddhism appears toward the end of the video game The Witness, hidden on a tape recorder that only the eagle-eyed will find and play. It proves very illuminating. Its not exactly a mission statement, Jonathan Blow, the games reclusive, ridiculously brilliant creator told me several years ago, when I spoke with him for a profile. But it is an analogy. We can do some very interesting things if we put down language as a crutch for communication. Thats the experiment of this game: just dont use language at all. I wanted to see what kinds of knowledge and experience we could build up without it.

Released in 2016, The Witness is a puzzle game. Rather its the puzzle game. By the standards of scale and complexity, it seems pretty much definitive, an unimprovable exemplar of the form. The Witness is set on a large, uninhabited island furnished, maybe by the hand of God, with an enormous number of gridded, chessboard-sized puzzles, elaborately wired and fixed to various doors, walls, fences and trees. Each puzzle has the same objective: to maneuver a slim line from one end of the board to the other. The obstacles introduced over the course of the game to impede that objective, however, are wildly frustrating and utterly ingenious a catalogue of impediments involving sound, light, and colour thatll challenge, and ultimately blow, your mind. There are more than 600 puzzles arranged across the island. It could take a hundred hours or more to solve them all.

The hours I spent immersed in The Witness were some of the most taxing and arduous of my adult life. There are no hints or tips. There are no arrows to guide you, manuals to consult or winning strategies of which to be apprised. There isnt the softest whisper of instruction or council. There is simply your mind and the puzzle direct, non-mediated experience. Sit in front of one hopeless problem for an evening, head aching terribly, as in mounting desperation you attempt to fruitlessly reverse-engineer your way back to an answer you are evidently missing: you will swear with sincere certainty that the game is broken and that no solution insists. But stick with it long enough and the solutions will occur to you. The sensation when they do is indescribable.

Triple-A video games have a tendency toward childishness, broadly speaking. They are like blockbuster movies: entertaining, but superficial. The greatness of The Witness, meanwhile, is less a matter of difficult than seriousness intellectual and philosophical, it is a work of serious thought.

When I sit down to try to make a game, Blow has said, its not that different from what a seriously novelist tries to do. Im seriously wrangling with an idea that Im trying to express in a particular form. What Blow expressed with The Witness is something akin to the intellectual catastrophe of the Japanese Buddhists, forcing with its maddening puzzles the individual out of the domain of words. Its aggravating and beautiful, and there hasnt been anything like it in gaming before or since.

The 10 best video games of the decade:

10. Her Story 9. The Stanley Parable 8. L.A. Noire 7. Undertale 6. Bloodborne 5. Life is Strange 4. Portal 2 3. Cuphead 2. Red Dead Redemption 2 1. The Witness

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Nothing else compares to the greatest video game of the decade - National Post

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December 6th, 2019 at 11:43 pm

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