Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Monthly Game Club: Passage Discussion

As you may remember, this week we're discussing Passage, a short game by Jason Rohrer. If you haven't played it yet, no problem! The game is free to download, takes five minutes to play, and you can get it right here. So go ahead and play it, and come on back for the discussion. I'll wait.

Oh, you're done already? Awesome.

Here are some questions to get us started:

1. Do you feel that the visual style helps or hinders your enjoyment of the game? How about the accessibility of the game? How about your ability to think about the themes and ideas present in the game?

2. Why do you think the game world appears so narrow? The first time you played, did you realize that you could go up and down as well as forward and back?

3. What do you think about the way the game represents relationships? How does the game change if you join up with the woman, as opposed to going it alone?

4. Did you find any treasure chests? What do you think they represent?

5. Did this game provoke any emotional responses from you?
As always, feel free to discuss any aspect of the game or the experience. These questions are just to get the ball rolling.

(What's the Monthly Game Club? Click here for details.)


  1. Passage was an interesting play for me. A number of different aspects of the game grabbed me, one of which was the narrowness of the game world. I think that particular aspect captured with great accuracy the frustration that I face some days with not having a save button on life; the choices that I make to explore a certain direction are irreversible, if only because of the time lost, and I often don't know if the direction I take will be profitable or even a possible direction in which to continue forward.

    Speaking for the visual style, I believe that watching the player slowly lose the vitality and youthful look is perhaps as visually arresting an element as I've seen in any game, and I think expanding or enhancing that visual style would detract from that experience. Joining with the woman is part of that aesthetic experience, and a non-essential but very enjoyable part of the game; much like a real world relationship, it is meant to enhance your enjoyment of the life experiences you encounter. While sometimes it may prove frustrating that having a partner cuts off access to certain parts of the game (or life), ultimately the reward is watching the two characters grow old together, regardless of any "point" benefit derived from her company.

  2. The first time I played Passage, I just walked forward in a straight line, the woman joined me and travelled with me, and I watched the characters grow old and die. It was sort of poignant, but I didn't really get what else there was to the game.

    After I learned that you could go up and down as well as just walking from one side to the other, my experience was completely different. I tried avoiding the woman altogether and seeking out treasure chests, going for a high score.

    But the most interesting thing to me now is looking back at my first playthrough. How many people go through life with blinders on, never turning down an alternate path from the prescribed one, getting married, growing old and dying without seeking strange adventures? I didn't find that game experience any less interesting than the treasure-seeking one.

    In fact, my later playthrough felt less fulfilling in a lot of ways: I didn't find as much treasure as I wanted, my score didn't get very high, and I died alone.

  3. It's impossible to get as high a score with the woman, because she blocks off so many paths, but, like Daniel said, you die alone. I think it's subtle, but rewarding.

  4. Almost immediately after beginning the game, with a brief period of independent wandering, I came across the female character. Before I knew what I was getting myself into she was following me, constantly preventing me from further exploration. After several attempts I came to realize that there was no way of getting rid of this ultimate cliché of a clinging girlfriend.

    Terrified I ran through the game, attempting to quickly gather any treasure that I could muster with this mooch in tow. Within moments I began to age and my trophy wife died at my side. I was surprised to find myself grief stricken, once again exploring the wilderness of the game alone without purpose or partner.

    Ultimately I ran into a dead end, dying alone.

    Harsh message, Passage. Any chance we could get some subtlety next time?

  5. It's interesting that Johanna seems to think that the game is unsubtle, and Oh Tics praises its subtlety. I fall somewhere in the middle. I think that some of the mechanics are quite subtle - the scoring system, for example, and the way different treasure chests provide different rewards, and you can learn which ones are best before landing on them. Also, I love the visual blurring at the edges of the screen, which starts far off in the distance ahead of you, and slowly migrates to the other side of the screen, showing your character's shift from looking towards the future to reminiscing on the past.

    There's also a fair bit of unsubtlety, but I think aptly so. Your character/s travel, grow old, and die in a very dramatic, unsubtle way. But what's subtle about old age and death? I think that, considering the visual limitations and five-minute time span of the game, it does a pretty incredible job of conveying complex ideas.

  6. In its own simple way I think Passage did a fine job of highlighting a few universal truths. We all start from somewhere and end up in the same place. We get to choose whether we chase love, fortune, glory, or adventure. I am not sure what else to say about Passage. The themes were so stark that if this were any other medium I would probably dismiss the experience as hammy. However, given the implicit limitations of game play variety, music, and graphics I think passage is a very nice little piece. Not earth shaking, but very effective for what it is. It’s a video game that makes you feel something. However contrived, surely that is a step in the right direction.

  7. It's been a while since I've played it, but I recall reading that there was more to the girlfriend/wife dynamic -- namely that while she would prevent you from getting to some treasures, she also multiplied the amount of points you got otherwise.

    It might be interesting to see what a min/maxer would conclude about whether "love" is a mathematically superior option in Rohrer's simulation.

  8. Oh, man do I want to see that equation.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.