I remember where I was when a video game almost made me cry. Third year of university, shared kitchen. Alone. It was sunny outside.
Well, I say video game, but being devoid of any rules besides movement and collision detection; it is not scored and achievements are all arbitrary; it is more representative of the open-world “sandbox” many video games attempt to offer as part of the experience.
I happened upon it because the late Roger Ebert posted a link to it on his Twitter, a retweet actually from from a user called “adamjhendricks”; “Please give 5 mins to a simple video game that may be the best example of a new art”.
This is art. But as I described, it’s not actually a video game; a definition which infers scoring, progress, competition and contestation. But I digress.
My first playthough of Passage had me trying to work out exactly what it was trying to achieve, as I witnessed gradually the slow shift of my character from the left to right of the screen, and the compression in the scrolling conversely disappear from the right and later appear on the left. True to its’ name, there is a passage of time present; this all happens as the pixelated character slowly ages before leaving a gravestone at the title’s denouement.
I wasn’t moved, but slightly shaken; the almost-abstract pixelated graphics remain barely representative and the faux-PSG ‘retro’ soundtrack suits the aesthetic as well as providing the right mood of this virtual journey through life.
I was curious though, and played again, opting to explore vertically more than I had before; and I found a virtual wife. All of a sudden, this curio became more beautiful — I couldn’t explore the various niches offered by the game space, since the addition of an avatar-spouse almost tripled the width of the character collision, but it felt fuller somehow. I reached a part where my singular avatar could continue, but my pixel-pairing was forced to backtrack and search for alternate routes. Problems, approached differently as a unit than alone – poignant, and moving.
Deciding on a whim to return to where I started, I moved to the top of the virtual space and started to move left. Then the spouse died, leaving behind the tombstone I was already familiar with and so was happy to leave behind as I continued leftward; but something was different. My character was now much slower, stricken with ‘grief’. Mouth open in awe, I continued to the left and watched my singular onscreen persona expire just pixels short of the green wall on the very far-left.
I exited Passage fighting back tears that were welling up in my eyes. Astounding.