When you finish The Witness (Thekla, Inc., 2016) you’re simply sent back to the start, all your efforts undone before your eyes. What a pointless exercise. But you may notice that a few lasers remain inactive and there are more puzzles to solve, so there’s still some hope that your effort will be rewarded. Once that’s done and you return to the top, there’s yet more puzzles. You’re on the right path, you found the reverse castle and don’t have to settle for the bad ending – you see right through its tropes. You beat the puzzles scattered around, you beat The Challenge, you’re ready for the true ending. Back to the start, but intentionally. You input the code and prepare for ascension. But again, you’re snubbed of your victory as the human that stumbles out of the simulation seems to have achieved nothing more than a strong Tetris Effect. The game’s message remains “don’t play me, I’m a waste of time”.
But that doesn’t quite speak to the spirit of the game. Throughout the whole thing, you unlock video clips and find voice recordings about the meaning and role of life, art and science. By the end it has covered a spectrum of different approaches, not only refusing to give a unifying answer but most of them even directly contradict each other. If you play the game to see a victory screen pop up and feel like you saved the world, then yes, the game will be a waste of time, because there is no satisfaction to be found there. But if you embrace the journey itself for its intrinsic value, if you welcome differing perspectives to meditate upon rather than blindly seeking an easy, ultimate truth, if you embrace your role as the witness – the game is worth every second.
THEKLA, INC. (2016). The Witness.