The Witness is fucking stupid

this game was reviewed with a download code provided by James Blow over twitter

the witness seems to relish in a kind of narcissism, James Blow aside, which presumes it has figured out videogames. it has figured them out as the arbitrary series of gates and keys that they are. that games are not in fact real places, but merely digital representations. it revels in the the divine epiphany that this is all no different from a theatre set, as if that weren’t a plain observation. it is a deep, shallow intellectual cynicism that frankly only someone so self-absorbed as James Blow, in an industry as self-absorbed as videogames, in a country as self-absorbed as the United States could have produced.

in reducing a world down to a bare network of abstract interactions, by laying the internal functions of the code bare, it seems to offer some kind of statement about the arbitrariness of videogames. or perhaps merely walking games, or 3d rpgs, or myst. the common thread between these genre classifications, myst, and the witness is this idea that videogames are merely a series of clockwork mechanisms with no further meaning, or perhaps even so audaciously saying that any attempts at imbuing meaning into systems is trite. this incredibly masculine intelligentsia perspective unfortunately infects much of the discourse on videogames, and in this respect there is little unique to the witness’s impotent polemic. it is a dot in the sea of men screaming “listen to me, i’m important” in a world that threatens to leave them behind. they band together in comfort and reaffirm each other, and create games like the witness to affect some sense of triumph over their dwindling relevance in the artistic vanguard.

at the heart of this idea that game mechanics, in the sense of an abstract mathematical concept, are all that matters in games is a deeply humanless worldview. it is the bastion of the coldly rational, distant people who think they can understand the world through formulae and quantatative exchange. it is the worldview of tyrants and gatekeepers

perhaps it is clever that the island in the witness more closely resembles a minigolf course than an earnest place. it carries with it all of the deep capitalist ennui and shallow tourism of places and cultures you might expect–perhaps even to imply it thinks its smart for recognizing these things as hollow in meaning, in the way an egyptian or lava themed level in mario is. however, i’m not quite ready to relent that the witness may in fact be so clever to comment on its racism. it is the kind of thing which feels like i’m supposed to applaud it for evoking all these shallow things in a stuffed room together without really saying anything at all. you cannot have subversion without counterpoint, and the witness itself thinks its lack of counterpoint is a statement itself.

it is a wordless game, indulgently so. the kind of wordlessness that bros scream “get your dang words outta my videogames” to protest expository tutorials and things. that is the kind of design accomplishment this amounts to. congratulations. the silence occasionally broken by evocative sound effects and philosophical quotes seems to want to impress me with its atmosphericness, its demand for somber contemplation, perfectly in character with the orientalism of a wealthy white man who does tai chi alone in the park and clearly thinks of himself as a guru to videogames.

the witness is the product of people who indulge lavish tourism in exotic and envied places. james blow smugly documented his vacation in the pacific northwest, obviously being inspired by this place. dense evergreens dot hills and streams which contrast the oxblood and grey industrial detrius, merely one component of a themepark world spread with a gradient of haphazardly applied cultural symbols. clearly this is the product of someone so worldly and insightful.

i would lay off the relations to the people and structures which produced this game if it felt the game were saying particularly much otherwise. but it isn’t. this is a game about its creators, a game which hoists its own ego as a surrogate for another’s. it thinks it can deeply patronize its audience by offering them nothing as some kind of triumphant gesture. its puzzles are stupid and sarcastic, and it knows they are. it revels in throwing puzzles in your face you lack the familiarity with its systems to solve before throwing a series of tutorial puzzles equivalent to patronizing textual exposition. you couldn’t do the puzzle, you stupid idiot. it was right there all along! the witness holds a unique contempt for its audience, unique in its contempt for having no particular basis for that contempt whatsoever. it is because you are stupid, and you need to sit down and listen to these people who are brilliant masters of the videogames megaverse. it is because you are too stupid to recognize the artifice in games, to recognize their underlying functions or to buy into meanings like some kind of pathetic emotions-haver. it is a condescending sentiment itself to charge $40 for this thing which offers you nothing whatsoever. this disdainful trash doesn’t deserve your time. james blow doesn’t deserve your time.

 

further reading: Daphny Drucilla Delight David on why james blow is a classist asshole

IF JON BLOW WAS INTERESTED IN HELPING PEOPLE SURVIVE WE WOULDNT HAVE TO JOKE ABOUT HIS PISS

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