Game Of The Decade 3
Michael Bywater applauds Passage by Jason Rohrer as one of the most important games of the decade:
In 2007 Jason Rohrer uploaded his game Passage, 2Mb of big coarse old pixels moving along a 12px horizontal stripe. In the face of the vast, bigger-than-Hollywood monsters of the decade’s gaming, Passage was a brine shrimp. You -- the player -- were a guy. Shortly into the game, another rough assembly of pixels appeared: a redheaded woman. If you got close to her, lingered for a moment, up flashed a heart. Love struck and then you were bonded for ever.
“Ever”, in Passage, is five minutes. You wander around the maze. You can go up or down, left or right. Obstacles appear in your path. Many, you could edge past if you were single but with your wife you can’t get through. There is some kind of treasure. All the time, the future approaches from the right hand edge. Presently you lose your hair. She goes gray. And then she dies. Suddenly without warning she’s not there any more. There’s a gravestone where she should be. A few more moments and you die too. That’s it. The end.
There is no story. The inherent narrative is more bleakly deterministic than anything Beckett could have come up with. The narrative we can tell ourselves as we move through the game is negligible. Instead -- at least this is what I have found -- that five minutes passes in a sort of white noise of unvoiced ethical and emotional speculation. It’s almost as though Passage approaches Jacques Derrida’s grail of the “transcendental signified”, the thing which transcends all words which can signify it. Words -- “love”, “partnership”, “life”, “journey”, “grace”, “devotion”, “acceptance”, “wife” -- drift through the mind as the notes of a perfume. There’s no conclusion to be drawn. It’s very, very odd indeed. Yet Passage somehow with ridiculous economy of means releases something quite profound and quiet and sad and moving in the player’s own mind. And it stays there.
In the middle of the industrialization, the Hollywooding of the video game which characterized the last decade, Passage stood out like a good deed in a naughty world: something which gave us back our own voice, so nearly drowned out by the thousand-genius crews of the mil. spec. games industry, by handing us a device through which to contemplate things more important than getting to Mage level or avoiding the Hakkar Blood Plague. It changes the player’s mental landscape permanently. And, crucially, it could not have been done in any other medium. All these things qualify it as my game of the decade; more importantly, perhaps, they also qualify it as art.