At first glance, The Witness is simply a puzzle game with a nice package. It is often compared to Myst because we move through an open world in much the same way as in the classic adventure game. The core, however, is completely different. The Witness lives from its urge to research – but literally. It is a puzzle drenched in logic. All tasks and puzzles are connected logically. What didn’t make sense at first gradually falls into place. It’s a bit like learning a new language, which in this case is based entirely on logic. The last puzzles can only be solved once the first ones have been solved and – this is importand – understood.
But although I love these kind of puzzles, in the end they only played a minor role for me in The Witness. There was a reward for solving particularly tricky tasks. You got codes that could be used to unlock short videos in a small cinema. And those videos were the real treasure of the game. Developer Jonathan Blow has collected little masterpieces by witty people celebrating the pursuit of knowledge, and he also recorded an own contribution describing his ambitions. It’s two hours of inspiring perspectives, philosophical questions and clever ideas. They encourage us to engage with the world we live in. They call us not to accept the simple truths, but to ask questions and think for ourselves. And it is about not losing focus and staying with oneself, even in the complicated modern world.
I was thrilled!
“Verweile doch, du bist so schön” (“Stay a while, you are so beautiful”) – this sentence from “Faust” by Wolfgang Johann von Goethe is synonymous with the restless curiosity of humans. It stands for our constant striving and the never-ending thirst for knowledge. The clever Faust made a pact with the devil that he would get his soul as soon as his hunger was satisfied. But as much as the devil tied, Faust was never completely satisfied.
Even today, the subject remains topical. There is an ongoing battle for knowledge and truth, but on the fronts are rarely defenders of curiosity and knowledge. We discuss widely the value of facts and emotions – but mostly miss the point. We give our attention to trivial things, while there is no time for important things. And rembering this, that’s why I like The Witness and its hidden treasure. It reminds me again and again how wonderful life is when we wander through life with open eyes and fathom, what holds the world together at its core.
The Witness was released in 2016 for PC and PS4 and is now also available for Xbox One, Mac and iOS. It is Jonathan Blow’s second game after the indie favourite Braid. He estimates that an average of 80 hours of play time is needed to solve the more than 650 puzzles. Included is also a task that Blow says less than 1 per cent can solve.
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