We The Giants

While there's decades of evidence for the ability of a game's social commentary to affect us, there's few games that go the extra mile and add intentional meaning. A game can subtly play with important ideas, but explicitly evoking those ideas to provide meaning to the player seems to be a bit too far for most games.

The occasional quirky title decides to buck the trend and go all out. Instead of trying to subtly play with an idea in the background, it instead chooses to put the meaning and context of the game at the forefront. These “message games” are not just trying to have a little fun, but also to say something meaningful to the player.

We The Giants is a simple, quick little message game where you play as one of a race of little cube people who always refer to themselves as “we the giants.” You are introduced to their rituals, first exploration, then clairvoyance, then finally sacrifice. When you sacrifice yourself, you are allowed to leave behind a bit of “wisdom” for the ages in the form of a bit of text, then your body becomes a building block among all the other bodies of the other people that have played the game.

You can follow the “wisdom” left behind by other players at their Twitter accounts. If you go there, you'll also see why I put “wisdom” in quotes.

Why You Should Check This OutWe The Giants is a message game – light on the game but heavy on the message. You are asked to sacrifice yourself for the good of the rest of your race, in order to build something bigger than just your character. It makes for a short, quick game. But sometimes meaningful games require you to do things that aren't about getting the highest score, but instead are about learning the message. In other words, they have to sacrifice fun in order to get at some ideas that are bigger than fun.

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Comments

It's interesting that the game on one hand seems to bludgeon you with the message, but so many of these sacrifices amount to nothing--or even prohibit progress at times.

Tell me, what is the message?

grobstein wrote:
Tell me, what is the message?
The idea that by sacrificing yourself you create something bigger and more enduring than you could alone, but without any care or forethought you just end up another body on the heap.

The interesting dynamic here to me is that the developer clearly means the former part of that sentence. You're almost beaten over the head with the dramatic quotes and mesasge, yet the players clearly do not care and have created the more cynical second part of the sentence through apathy.

That's one of the interesting things to come out of this for me, the developer is clearly trying to say something meaningful about sacrifice yet because they players aren't really sacrificing anything other than 30 seconds of their time, the message becomes almost a parody of itself. Maybe the parody was intended all along?

I certainly got the message that the game was throwing at me every screen, but I didn't really get affected by it. Since the game never really encouraged or forced me to get attached to my character (or even gave me any context beyond the goal itself, really), the sacrifice didn't mean anything to me at all. It seemed more like an interesting thought experiment than a deeper message, though maybe that detachment is part of the commentary here; sacrifice is only appreciated when it serves or appeals to our own self-interests.

After playing the game, I'd recommend checking out the YouTube video that the developer compiled from multiple groups of playthroughs. Interesting stuff.

That is what I am wondering about. The wisdom left behind by the tutorial sacrifice seems a little silly (is it the same every time? about baking soda and water?). On the other hand, the heap is approaching the yellow star pretty well.

grobstein wrote:
That is what I am wondering about. The wisdom left behind by the tutorial sacrifice seems a little silly (is it the same every time? about baking soda and water?).

Yeah, same every time.

On the other hand, the heap is approaching the yellow star pretty well.
My first playthrough, the way was entirely blocked by a tower that climbed to the top of the screen in front of the sun. Made me think about whether there's inherent value in sacrifice if that sacrifice does not provide some utility.

OzymandiasAV wrote:
Since the game never really encouraged or forced me to get attached to my character (or even gave me any context beyond the goal itself, really), the sacrifice didn't mean anything to me at all.

I thought the game did encourage me both to take it seriously (through the seriousness of much of the talking as well as the color scheme) and to care about my Giant (because he's just so darned cute, and he's on a noble mission).

I officially cannot sacrifice as It blocks me.

I also can't seem to sacrifice. There seems to be a no-sacrifice zone right at the start of the area with the yellow star, but the way that the blocks are stacked in front of me, I can't progress to a point where I could sacrifice.

This game is a griefer's delight.

ClockworkHouse wrote:
I also can't seem to sacrifice. There seems to be a no-sacrifice zone right at the start of the area with the yellow star, but the way that the blocks are stacked in front of me, I can't progress to a point where I could sacrifice.

This game is a griefer's delight.

Same here.

Stop blocking!

That is what I've learned today.

As near as I can tell, two well-placed Giants could completely block out any progress from being made at all.

In general, the emphasis on sacrifice for the sake of the greater good reminds me a lot of North Korean propaganda. The only difference would be that sacrificed Giants would only be able to leave revolutionary slogans in their wake.

wordsmythe wrote:
OzymandiasAV wrote:
Since the game never really encouraged or forced me to get attached to my character (or even gave me any context beyond the goal itself, really), the sacrifice didn't mean anything to me at all.

I thought the game did encourage me both to take it seriously (through the seriousness of much of the talking as well as the color scheme) and to care about my Giant (because he's just so darned cute, and he's on a noble mission).

See, I felt like those aspects clashed a bit for me and left the tone somewhat uneven.

Upon loading the game, you get a very heavy quote about the virtues of sacrifice...then you're placed in a Patapon-esque cartoon world with a one-eyed square.

After talking to some giants and learning how to get around in the game, you eventually encounter the final ritual of sacrifice, which the giant is apparently all too eager to show to you. Of course, to cap off his honorable sacrifice, he passes on "eternal wisdom" that involves the cleansing properties of baking soda.

I just didn't buy into it.

OzymandiasAV wrote:
Upon loading the game, you get a very heavy quote about the virtues of sacrifice...then you're placed in a Patapon-esque cartoon world with a one-eyed square.

Bertolt Brecht used to argue that theater worked best when the viewer did not identify emotionally with the players, but rather was intentionally alienated from them by the author. This would allow the viewer to more consciously recognize and process the underlying social message. Maybe the author of this game was going for something similar?

Switchbreak wrote:
OzymandiasAV wrote:
Upon loading the game, you get a very heavy quote about the virtues of sacrifice...then you're placed in a Patapon-esque cartoon world with a one-eyed square.

Bertolt Brecht used to argue that theater worked best when the viewer did not identify emotionally with the players, but rather was intentionally alienated from them by the author. This would allow the viewer to more consciously recognize and process the underlying social message. Maybe the author of this game was going for something similar?

It's certainly within the realm of possibility, sure.

But, even if you're abstracting the actors on the stage, you still have to make sure the message they're delivering is clear (or at least consistent) to provide proper grist for interpretation. The art style wasn't the only mixed signal being sent there...and, in fact, I'd argue that the "example sacrifice" is much more damaging to the player's experience, in that respect.

The amount of griefing that's happening in this game might be a good indicator that it's a bit too easy to dismiss the message they're trying to convey.

boogle wrote:
I officially cannot sacrifice as It blocks me.

Cockblocks?

But, even if you're abstracting the actors on the stage, you still have to make sure the message they're delivering is clear (or at least consistent) to provide proper grist for interpretation. The art style wasn't the only mixed signal being sent there...and, in fact, I'd argue that the "example sacrifice" is much more damaging to the player's experience, in that respect.
Unless the message is more about the futility and stupidity of selfless sacrifice instead of it's inherent nobleness.

PyromanFO wrote:
Unless the message is more about the futility and stupidity of selfless sacrifice instead of it's inherent nobleness.

I don't see anything in the game to support this sort of re-interpretation of the obvious message.

ClockworkHouse wrote:
PyromanFO wrote:
Unless the message is more about the futility and stupidity of selfless sacrifice instead of it's inherent nobleness.

I don't see anything in the game to support this sort of re-interpretation of the obvious message.

The bit about the cuteness of the aliens? The alien's great wisdom is about baking soda and vinegar? Cute little cube animals who's only possible contribution to "the great project" are twitter posts and a dead body that still refer to themselves as "we the giants"?

Then I think there's also the other side of the argument that he did meant to be that straightforward but the players have co-opted the story to tell a story about stupid, pointless sacrifice that leaves no wisdom behind.

I don't think that in order for this to qualify as a "message game" that the message has to be perfectly told with no dissonance or problems at all. I think it's more interesting when it's so straightforward yet still manages to fail in some ways.

The art style is only somewhat at odds with the overall message. If your aim is to encourage the idea of teamwork, cooperation, and sacrifice in pursuit of the greater good, it would make sense to couch that message with cutesy, playful graphics.

The creature's message about baking soda and vinegar, while not profound, isn't useless, either. I don't know that the creature was meant to be passing along "great wisdom" as much as he was meant to be passing along a helpful, if small, piece of information. Also, that individual creature not possessing great wisdom is completely in line with the game's themes. If victory is achieved through the effort of the collective, why would an individual articulate great truths? Keep in mind, too, that the creature's sacrifice isn't in vain; the only way for the player to advance past that point is with the help of this other creature.

I disagree that the creatures' "only possible contribution to 'the great project' are twitter posts and a dead body" because those bodies are vital for the attainment of the collective goal: reaching the gold star. The creatures (the players, really) leave behind not only a comment, but a means for their successors to achieve victory. This is completely in line with the quotations offered to the players during the loading screens and the words spoken by the other creatures.

PyromanFO wrote:
I don't think that in order for this to qualify as a "message game" that the message has to be perfectly told with no dissonance or problems at all. I think it's more interesting when it's so straightforward yet still manages to fail in some ways.

I'm not arguing that this isn't a message game. I am, however, arguing that any dissonance between the obvious message and the gameplay is unintentional and not part of an incredibly subtle effort to subvert that message.

My dispute isn't whether the game can qualify as a "message game"; the content in the game pretty clearly distinguishes as such, in my opinion.

My question is whether it's a good "message game"...and I think the uneven tone, coupled with the fact that the players have co-opted it for griefing in this way, weakens its case.

If you give the game "credit" for the player upheaval, then you could postulate that any game can deliver almost any message, as long as it gives tools to the player to meet some end. I could co-opt Super Mario Bros. as a deeper allegory of the constant efforts that some men make to please women (to rescue the princess) to say that the "second quest" is just another example of how "women will never be happy, no matter how many times you try to please them*"; would you argue that this interpretation gives Super Mario Bros. more artistic value?

Extrapolating authorial intent in the absence of explicit cues is a fool's errand, in my opinion, because you're never going to know what was being intended unless you're in the creator's head. You can derive any meaning you want from a game under those circumstances, just like the quote says: "we don't see things how they are - we see things how we are." But then any arguments about the game's "message" are framed more on personal differences, rather than the actual underlying merits of the game...and, if games are meant to be taken seriously as any kind of expressive medium, then that conversation isn't really productive, is it?

I argue that we should take the game at face value instead. If the creator wanted to make a statement about the futility of personal selfless sacrifice, then why would they design the game mechanics in such a way that the players could reach a conclusion (reach the yellow star) that directly contradicted with that statement? The potential differences in player experiences undermines that interpretation, doesn't it?

* (Please note that this is not how I actually feel in real life and is only meant to be an isolated example for the purpose of this argument. If you're reading this, honey, I love you! :nicekiss:)

If you give the game "credit" for the player upheaval, then you could postulate that any game can deliver almost any message, as long as it gives tools to the player to meet some end. I could co-opt Super Mario Bros. as a deeper allegory of the constant efforts that some men make to please women (to rescue the princess) to say that the "second quest" is just another example of how "women will never be happy, no matter how many times you try to please them*"; would you argue that this interpretation gives Super Mario Bros. more artistic value?
If Super Mario Brothers automatically loaded your previous playthrough for everyone else who plays the game to see, yeah I think I would.

Not necessarily that it's the message Super Mario Brothers was trying to convey, but that it's the message it does convey due to player intervention. One of the more compelling aspects of games are that the player also helps create the meaning of the art directly. So if players have came in and altered the meaning of the work so much that when you play the game you can't help but be struck by it, I'd say the work as a whole gets credit for that, even if the original designer didn't intend it.

PyromanFO wrote:
If you give the game "credit" for the player upheaval, then you could postulate that any game can deliver almost any message, as long as it gives tools to the player to meet some end. I could co-opt Super Mario Bros. as a deeper allegory of the constant efforts that some men make to please women (to rescue the princess) to say that the "second quest" is just another example of how "women will never be happy, no matter how many times you try to please them*"; would you argue that this interpretation gives Super Mario Bros. more artistic value?
If Super Mario Brothers automatically loaded your previous playthrough for everyone else who plays the game to see, yeah I think I would.

Not necessarily that it's the message Super Mario Brothers was trying to convey, but that it's the message it does convey due to player intervention. One of the more compelling aspects of games are that the player also helps create the meaning of the art directly. So if players have came in and altered the meaning of the work so much that when you play the game you can't help but be struck by it, I'd say the work as a whole gets credit for that, even if the original designer didn't intend it.

I agree. While we could sit around trying to judge the work based on what the designer intended it to be, I think that would be the fool's errand that Ozy calls it. But there's more to any work than that, especially when the work is a game and even moreso when the game allows for multiplayer emergence. Regardless of what was originally intended, we have a story of thousands of player-characters being instructed on the importance of progress, perspective and sacrifice, only to ultimately sacrifice themselves in a way that lacks perspective or otherwise prevents progress.

And I think there's plenty there worth chewing on, intellectually. For instance, I think it's interesting that the initial slope of bodies could very much be an earnest attempt to help later player-characters toward the sun--or it could be a joint effort to grief--or it could be a combination of individual wills building in slightly different directions and with different intent, with different results each time. Seems to be applicable to the wisdom/tyranny of crowds discussion.

PyromanFO wrote:
One of the more compelling aspects of games are that the player also helps create the meaning of the art directly. So if players have came in and altered the meaning of the work so much that when you play the game you can't help but be struck by it, I'd say the work as a whole gets credit for that, even if the original designer didn't intend it.

Did the players intend to come in and make a collective statement against the original meaning of the work? Or did they just feel like screwing around and/or griefing just to see what would happen? In either case, we're fishing for player intent in actions taken in an extremely limited context, which isn't all that different than the general search for authorial intent, in my opinion.

Now, if the game built up more a context to the player -- by, perhaps, setting up trials for each of the rituals of "progress" and "perspective" to test the giant's courage before revealing the ritual of sacrifice -- then we could have much more of an ability to deduce intent from the player's final act.

Completely blocked, but I really like my 140-character wisdom, so I'll share it here:

There once was a cubeman called Giant,
Whose eye was not glasses compliant,
He went to the base
With a sad face
And joined the dead alliant.

Did the players intend to come in and make a collective statement against the original meaning of the work? Or did they just feel like screwing around and/or griefing just to see what would happen? In either case, we're fishing for player intent in actions taken in an extremely limited context, which isn't all that different than the general search for authorial intent, in my opinion.
It's not about intent but what the work as it stands says. I'm not trying to guess anything about player intent. It's actually a pretty good statement about players without any conscious intent creating something pretty interesting anyway.

Hey, I made it! Got the credits. Nice.

I got to the sacrifice area, and some folks had tried to block off the area, so I plunked myself down and made a step-stool over them. Then I just left some simple advice for someone else. They pissed their two minutes away trying to bug someone else, and now they're just part of the foundation. You don't have to change the world for your sacrifice to be worth it.
The game is too short for an obstruction to ruin someone's day entirely, and the one-time-only affair makes it near impossible, short of a Goonrush or someone hacking the game to get multiple runs, to ruin the project entirely.
However, if I'd made this, I would have had some basic physics apply to the outermost blocks, to prevent even the most strenuous and thought-out attempts to block it off permanently; park your block too far to the left of a given surface, and other players can push you off into the pile to where you're useful. But with how many players it's going to take to finish the pyramid, that would have been resource-intensive, I guess. I doubt it will be necessary in the end.

I like how, on my subsequent visit, I was given no option but to look at the progress of others, all of them standing on the shoulders of giants, all of them reaching towards that Star of David, all of them shown in the slow-blinking eye of yet another giant.