Drowning in Problems – A Game

Ready for a game? No skill needed, but if you are prone to existential crises, this might not be a good one to play. Don’t worry, it won’t take long.

The game is called ‘Drowning in Problems‘. Give it a shot and come back.

There is nothing. Solve.

Seriously, give it a go and collect your own thoughts first.

Some of you might be wondering what or why that was. Others of you might be like me and quite enjoyed it. But what was it?

Message or Rorschach Test?

Did the author intend a message, or was it a blank slate for you to insert your own message. My answer is: Who cares?

I’m not a fan of authorial intent. It’s interesting to know what they have to say, it’s interesting to guess what the author might have intended. But ultimately they are not their work. But when you play, think about what the author’s concept of existence might be. What assumptions and biases does the game present? More importantly, reflect on your own judgement. What does your reaction say about your assumptions and biases? I found this an interesting thought exercise, both for existential questions and for game design.

Progression

One of the things I noticed about the game play is that it generally lets you go at your own pace. There is no timer, no necessary goal. The game itself progresses when you want it to. You can go as fast, or as slow as you want. You can have multiple ‘solutions’ processing at the same time. Generally though, either curiosity will propel you to the next stage or boredom will compel you to find something more interesting. I enjoy the curiosity driven flow, but I felt like there weren’t enough variations to allow different paths. Is this a design flaw, or a reminder that our lives, while we feel are special, are pretty much like everybody else’s?

While I enjoyed the curiosity driven nature of the gameplay, one thing bugged me. You could easily stay in any stage of life. While this allows you to explore the possibilities in each stage, it also lessons the sense of urgency. The game only progresses when you’re ready. There is no inherent reason to stay or continue. The only time your choices seem to actually matter is in the extra time you might have to wait to build up points to progress.

Labels and Values

I found this an interesting aspect of the game. The labels and values assigned seem to suggest something is good or bad. But those are the values we put on it. This is where the game starts to break down at times. You have to bring value to the words, otherwise they are meaningless other than for progression. But there really are no repercussions, even minor, for choosing one way to play or another, other than perhaps extra clicks to get to the next stage. Worse, since there is only one way to progress from any given stage to the next, exploration within the stage is not needed. You might try out each thing to see where it goes or what options are made available, but you are directed one way and only one way. This has serious problems for re-playability.

Play wise, there is no reason to worry about stress. Sure, your character ‘has stress’ but this doesn’t seem to affect anything. You will still end up broken hearted, forgotten and dead. Which is fine! I’m all for that, but the quality of your job, how many lovers you’ve had, how much you’ve experienced or not experienced does nothing but change numbers on the side.

Reflection

All of which might have been part of the point. It’s a tad too nihilistic for my own tastes. While one’s experiences and memories will fade and be forgotten, they have an effect here and now. This doesn’t reflect well in the game, because the character you create and move through life has no interactions or possible variations for his choices. This character you play must do these things and the options are always the same.

The cliche goes ‘variety is the spice of life’ – and I wish the game would had more variety to explore. That it all doesn’t matter in the end is fine. It’s the journey, not the destination. But here, the journey doesn’t seem to matter either.  But perhaps that’s part of the point. If you could relive your life over and over, perhaps all the variety would just blend together.

I guess if you wanted a game that has potential existential questions while providing variety, the Sims might be a better choice. But the Sims presentation is almost the opposite. They provide more variety to explore, but you have to provide the existential questions. Likewise, unlike the Sims, I would feel safe to say Drowning in Problems is non-addicting.