Drowning in Problems

“There is nothing.”

Solve.

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:

Solve.

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

Comments

It's... kinda depressing, isn't it? Seeing all the choices reduced to numbers like in a jrpg. If someone did that to my life, that would be weird to see.

I think it is actually quite beautiful, and depressing even as it is simultaneously uplifting. Really great idea, and it certainly was affecting.

I really value the perspective that the game takes, being able to zoom out and see one's life this way. I'm not sure I agree with all the rules that this game sets up (see spoiler), but then this game is about one sort of life—not necessarily my own life.

Spoiler:

The "You need to feel accepted. (- Lover, + Broken Heart, +Experience)" seems off to me, especially.

I feel like using "Solve" as the text for links creates interesting meaning. It makes sense when the prompt is "You need X," but "You are Y" ... ?

wordsmythe wrote:

I really value the perspective that the game takes, being able to zoom out and see one's life this way. I'm not sure I agree with all the rules that this game sets up (see spoiler), but then this game is about one sort of life—not necessarily my own life.

Spoiler:

The "You need to feel accepted. (- Lover, + Broken Heart, +Experience)" seems off to me, especially.

Sadly, that's how that's gone for a lot of us.

"Grow up, try a thing, screw it up, get disillusioned and bitter, die."

Great positive outlook there, Notch.

Hmm. Seems like real life to me. I'm just a bag of meat that responds to stimuli.

Floomi wrote:

"Grow up, try a thing, screw it up, get disillusioned and bitter, die."

Great positive outlook there, Notch.

On playing a second time,

Spoiler:

you don't have to "solve" the "You are human" status at any given point. It's that meta-level desire to progress that gets you into trouble

.

Strangeblades wrote:

Hmm. Seems like real life to me. I'm just a bag of meat that responds to stimuli.

Congratulations! You qualify under most technical definitions of "life."

wordsmythe wrote:
Floomi wrote:

"Grow up, try a thing, screw it up, get disillusioned and bitter, die."

Great positive outlook there, Notch.

On playing a second time,

Spoiler:

you don't have to "solve" the "You are human" status at any given point. It's that meta-level desire to progress that gets you into trouble

.

Strangeblades wrote:

Hmm. Seems like real life to me. I'm just a bag of meat that responds to stimuli.

Congratulations! You qualify under most technical definitions of "life."

Excellent.

This game is an uncanny recreation of my life.

I spent most of it "solving" the fact that I needed to make love, and while I was waiting for that to recharge I "solved" the fact that I needed to play.

Didn't accomplish much, but oh, the memories!

I played through twice, and I think what I find most lacking is conflict. There's no balancing act required. If your stress outweighs your memories, you should have some negative consequences, for example.

I like the concept, further complexity would make me a lot happier

wordsmythe wrote:
Floomi wrote:

"Grow up, try a thing, screw it up, get disillusioned and bitter, die."

Great positive outlook there, Notch.

On playing a second time,

Spoiler:

you don't have to "solve" the "You are human" status at any given point. It's that meta-level desire to progress that gets you into trouble

.

Spoiler:

But there's no other constraint on the length of time you spend playing, is there? You're effectively immortal as long as you don't chose to bring things to an end, which is perhaps more odd than the specific formula for "You need to feel accepted."

Cathadan wrote:
Spoiler:

But there's no other constraint on the length of time you spend playing, is there? You're effectively immortal as long as you don't chose to bring things to an end ... .

I think that's the fundamental "conflict" of the game. I like it a lot!

It's not "deceptively" simple.

So far, all of Notch's projects have proven that Minecraft will remain his masterpiece (even though it was based on another game). There's nothing wrong with that. But it does amuse me how people look for genius in everything he does now.

shihonage wrote:

It's not "deceptively" simple.

That's a valid view. It's an inherently simple game, though, through dint of being a game-jam project.

So far, all of Notch's projects have proven that Minecraft will remain his masterpiece (even though it was based on another game). There's nothing wrong with that. But it does amuse me how people look for genius in everything he does now.

I hope you're not insinuating that we're "looking for genius in everything he does" here. He has earned the attention of games critics, is all.

I judge the tree by its fruit. The fruit you bear is ascribing depth to a simplistic coding project with tedious gameplay (if it can be called that), reflecting an angsty adolescent view of the world.

Why do you do it? My guess is, "because Notch".

wordsmythe wrote:

I feel like using "Solve" as the text for links creates interesting meaning. It makes sense when the prompt is "You need X," but "You are Y" ... ?

wordsmythe wrote:

On playing a second time,

Spoiler:

you don't have to "solve" the "You are human" status at any given point. It's that meta-level desire to progress that gets you into trouble

.

My read is that it is about questioning the assumptions that it imposes on you. Everything is a problem to be solved, but solving them like that creates other problems. The only way to escape is to question the assumption that something needs to be solved. Maybe you don't have to fix everything, even as our needs drive us to chase acceptance, wealth, or our dreams.

shihonage wrote:

I judge the tree by its fruit. The fruit you bear is ascribing depth to a simplistic coding project with tedious gameplay (if it can be called that), reflecting an angsty adolescent view of the world.

You don't have to see value in the game, but I think it's clear that others do.

wordsmythe wrote:
shihonage wrote:

I judge the tree by its fruit. The fruit you bear is ascribing depth to a simplistic coding project with tedious gameplay (if it can be called that), reflecting an angsty adolescent view of the world.

You don't have to see value in the game, but I think it's clear that others do.

I feel like I fall more in the category of seeing potential value in it, which may in effect amount to the same thing.

shihonage wrote:

I judge the tree by its fruit. The fruit you bear is ascribing depth to a simplistic coding project with tedious gameplay (if it can be called that), reflecting an angsty adolescent view of the world.

I'll answer this -- because, well, my words and all.

The mechanics of the thing aren't too involved. I'm pretty sure you could replicate them in a Ti-83 for example. I think the writing behind it is thoughtful enough to make it an interesting experience, though. In my case, there was a very clear "wait wait I'm not done" reaction when I triggered the end-game series.

I think the deceptiveness comes in reducing everything to a simple state of "lose this/Gain That" which flows from a choice. It's one of the things I do when I look back at my life, after all. I didn't think that it was possible to get some emotional resonance from a series of actions. Mayhaps that's a condemnation of my own emotional/psychological state.

To be honest, I've had next to no experiences with Minecraft. I don't think fumbling with a portable version of it on a Sony Xperia or reading the occasional newsbit about it makes me too much of a fan. I'm not so sure why you thought I was after some kind of glorification of Notch, but that seems to be the avenue you want to take this discussion in.