“There is nothing.”
And from the solution, the stirrings of a beginning: awareness, the self, knowledge. And from those beginnings, a spiral of want, growth, memory, regret – the stuff of life.
Notch’s deceptively simple Drowning in Problems is told entirely through the kind of text found in a command-line interface, or an excel spreadsheet. There’s no florid language to highlight key points. No complex plot weaving loves and losses. No protagonists. No names for the people that form a life. Employment is a job, a means to an end. In fact, most everything can be distilled into a simple argument: IF :need: then (action)
IF :stress: then (rest)
IF :hungry: then (buy food)
IF :lonely: then (buy stuff)
IF then (?)
The result is a balancing act that feeds a daily routine of opportunity costs. Somehow, this becomes a life. It’s honest, elegant, and a little haunting. Watching a character be borne out of choices is pretty standard for games. But watching those choices tally up in real-time, divorced from context, to become meaningless statistics, feeds into the emptiness at the heart of this experience.
A quick run through, from start to ignoble end, can take 15 minutes or so. You can craft the game to an extent, deciding how many jobs to take, things to buy, lovers to take, hearts to break, but there’s never a judgment or value given to the actions you commit to. The system merely gives or removes assets from your life. At some point, you may think that you’ve gamed the system, creating a routine of clicks to find an optimal path. Whether that means anything in the scheme of things is left for you to decide. For all the time you spend in this microcosm of decision, there’s a tendency to pause and reflect on your own choices or to feed an existentialist funk. No matter how dark or bright the summation of your life turns out, Drowning gives you a glimmer of hope:
Drowning in Problems is an entry in theLudum Dare game jam (one of almost 2,500 games created for the event). To see the other entries in the 29th jam, whose theme was Beneath the Surface, visit their site at http://www.ludumdare.com