Monday, July 21, 2014


First of all, a tiny preface:

Yes, I like playing video games. Despite this, I’ve tried to avoid the topic of video games in my blog here. I know they simply don’t interest everyone, and, anyway, I have plenty of other things to talk about besides nerding it up and talking about whatever cool new game I played recently.


Thomas Was Alone is a masterpiece.

The narrative structure presented in the game Thomas Was Alone is truly exceptional, easily on par with some great post-modern pieces of literature.

The plot is extremely simplistic: some lines of computer code become self-aware, including the little red rectangle Thomas, who finds himself inside a set of geometric cells. There is portal which leads him out of one cell and into another, and along the way he meets several friends—other quadrilaterals of various sizes and colors—all of whom have distinct personalities.

Yes, rectangles.

The official website for the game describes it as “a minimalist game about friendship and jumping and floating and bouncing and anti-gravity.” This sums up the gameplay, sure. But the characterizations are brilliant, evoking personalities that go deeper than many popular movies and books out there.

If a game can make you care about sentient rectangles—make you anxious about if they’ll achieve their goals and learn to work together and overcome their self-esteem issues—then it must be doing something very right.

Thomas Was Alone could have easily been a children’s picture book (except, perhaps, for a single use of the word “damn,” a few minor pop-culture references, and the highly-conceptual nature of various ideas here and there). On the printed page, however, we would have lost the British narrator, Danny Wallace. A word on Danny Wallace: I’d even consider listening to Twilight if Danny Wallace narrated it; he was that good.*

Throughout the 100 levels of the game, each includes 1-4 sentences/lines of story, many of which include the thoughts of the various quadrilaterals—let’s average it to about 250 narrated lines.

All this to say:

Utilizing only about 250 lines of text (in other words, about 4-6 Microsoft Word pages) and a few variously-colored rectangles, Thomas Was Alone achieves more with its structure and its characterizations than many feature films or full-length novels out there. It is a brilliantly told story that any writer should take seriously, regardless of his/her impressions of video games.

Really, it’s nothing to me if you play it. But it might be something to you if you do.

*Actually, this probably isn’t exactly true. I don’t think anything could make me want to listen to the Twilight audio book. But Danny Wallace is as good as they come.


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