Having grown up around game consoles and being more than passingly familiar with Gen X/Y gamer culture, I have come to hold a certain set of expectations for gameplay. When I play a platformer, I expect to jump on blocks and enemies and collect things until I eventually reach some kind of desirable end. These expectations are deeply ingrained enough that It’s difficult for me to enter into any kind of gameplay experience with an open mind.
Passage is a game best played with an open mind. It took a few tries playing the game to finally experience some empathy for my avatar during the loss of his partner and the emptiness of his life in the late years, because I was too preoccupied trying to figure out a) the mechanics of the game and b) whether I was missing out on something really obvious. My first play through, I did not venture ~down, and instead I walked as far right as I could before dying — it was a confusing experience, and I didn’t even realize that my “partner” was my partner, or that she had died. I just thought it was odd that she’d disappeared.
The second play through, I wandered down into the maze and was trying to figure out what I was supposed to find in the maze. Moving the avatar and his partner through narrow passageways felt more like Tetris than anything, so I tried to move down as far as I could and mostly just was stuck until my partner died. On the third play through I found the treasure chests. So I thought, is that what this is about? Collecting points from chests? That approach to the game was just as if not more tedious than the straight walk through and the Tetris-ing.
My experience of playing Passage was more frustrating than it was immediately affective or sad-making. I wonder, then, what this might say about the medium itself and the process of discovery and acclimation that is built in to every video game. By my fourth and fifth plays of the game, I started to come to terms with the lack of a clear objective and started paying attention to how it made me feel (still frustrated, but more aware of the sadness). I wonder how many times I’d have to play the game for me to actually get it in the way that I’m sure many of my peers will have. Mostly, I wonder how frequenly others felt that the mechanics and learning curve of game play get in the way of the game’s objective, or whether that was really the point all along.