So after helming and hawing and writing my last article I went back to The Witness. This time with different expectations. What changed since last time? It's a couple of key things that made it far more enjoyable for me. The first was expected, that I went into my next session of the game with new expectations. I knew I was stuck, I knew the task before me was hard, and I knew that I'd have a hard time figuring it out. That actually changed how I played the game. Ryan 2.0 was reborn with a sense of patience and didn't mind taking a stroll across the beautiful landscape when I was at an impasse I couldn't handle.
The second thing that transformed the way I played The Witness was something simple but surprising. I used Shareplay on my PS4 to share my session with my brother who lives across the country, he was able to sit in, and through us being on a call together, we were talking through the puzzles together, learning together and making huge progress with our combined efforts. Sections of the game I once though to be unable to be understood not only came easier with us talking it through together, but there was shared knowledge building too. We both learned the language of the game together, and though talking with each other, I was retaining it better.
I couldn't help but have a profound takeaway from this. It taught me something about the way I learn things, and maybe a little bit about the way other people learn things in general. It makes so much sense to me that I would respond better in a group. I've never really played the part of lone genius, instead, all of my work has always faired better when I'm able to bounce ideas off of a collaborator or a team. It's even how a lot of design teams in tech companies around the world are set up. Little scrums of ideas and prototypes floating around and making each other better.
This revelation was made all the more impressive by the fact that having a second person didn't read the game at all. We still hard times, we still celebrated success with the same intensity and delight as if each of us were playing the game alone, and it may have even sold another copy of the game that otherwise has no demo, nor any way for my brother to just pick up and try it.
The other thing that's pulled me back in can be summarized in this clip in which Chris Remo of Campo Santo and Idle Thumbs describes how a game can be rewarding:
The Witness has no system of apologies, and like many other great games, asks the player to simply learn. Everything to learn is in the game, and if you pay attention, there is nothing in the game that's truly out of reach. It doesn't feel like the type of game that was play tested and whittled down to a core of silky smooth milk chocolate like most typical AAA releases. Instead, it's like eating raw coco beans right off the tree, or bush, or plant, or wherever the hell coco beans come from. It's a challenge that gets underscored when you are able to overcome it. Perhaps that's why the game didn't seem at first blush like something I wanted to give any more time to.
The Witness is doing that for me, and once I learned that it wasn't an experience to be shot like bad whiskey, but sipped like.... Good whisky.... It can provide a challenge that reveals it's brilliance though a players revelations, or two players in my case. If you've got a friend, sibling, or partner who compliments you nicely, you may want to invite them to join you on the couch for this one.