For the most part, gaming is about sharing experiences, whether you do so with the NPCs littered throughout your favorite adventure or the friends and loved ones in your life. But sometimes, a break from the norm can be a comfortable change of pace. Gaming is a very social activity, but sometimes it’s cathartic to set off on adventures that let you enjoy the silence, if you will.
There’s a small subset of games in the world that let you take in what it means to be on your own, offering the truest facsimile of loneliness that the realm of gaming can offer. If you’re feeling the need for a bit of space from all the awfulness going on in the world or want to distance yourself from action-packed narratives? for a bit, why not give these games that perfectly channel the feeling of loneliness a try?
Abzu is a somber, solitary journey teeming with vast seascapes and endless calming environments. From your first dive, you’ll soon realize it’s a thrilling yet lonesome adventure as you take everything in. It’s a beautiful sensory experience that brings to mind the thrill of free diving, and that sense of weightlessness you experience when submerging your entire body underwater. The opening moments of Abzu give way to a pulsating, endless abyss of water that stretches out before you.
There’s a subtle feeling of grandeur, like you’re one small drop in the ocean of the universe – probably because in this one, you are. You’re a lone diver in what’s essentially an aquatic jungle, surrounded by the rainbow of life below the water. The multi-hued ocean floor, spectacular ocean wildlife, and flora of the sea are truly a sight to behold. This tranquil undersea narrative is truly stunning, but it’s also a solitary one.
Gris is a pastel watercolor brought to life, and it’s as isolating as it is beautiful. Players take on the role of a young woman who’s suffered a great deal of trauma, having lost her voice and entered an extremely fragile state, stripped of her powers. Stumbling around a vast, alien desert, she must work to eventually rebuild her self-worth as well as the world around her.
The world of Gris is a solitary one, as you navigate ornate, behemoth structures and weather violent storms with no one around you. No NPCs are waiting for you at the end of your struggle. There’s no one there to pick you up when you fail. It’s a journey of the mind as well as through this strange, multi-hued world, though you’ll have to go it alone. Perhaps it’s better that way, as you can come out on the other side a whole new person.
Journey is a solitary game that offers some elements of social interactions, but for the most part, you’re left to your own devices in a vast desert. Across the sea of sand, you can see an enormous mountain in the distance. – that’s your goal. As you trudge through the dunes with the cruel sun beating down on your back, you may see others and they may even assist you, but there is no speaking or intimate interaction beyond the occasional wordless assistance others offer.
It’s not often that you find others playing at the same time, however, in the same area you’re in. Thus, your trek through the sands is like an awe-inspiring solo trip across a seemingly endless expanse toward a mountain of some sort of renown. It’s easy to lose yourself in your surroundings as you make your move toward your goal, while feeling awestruck by your surroundings.
Firewatch reminds you how alone your fire lookout player character Henry actually is when he starts working at the Shoshone National Forest after losing his wife. Though he ends up interacting with his supervisor Delilah through walkie talkie, you can’t help but shake the feeling that you’ve just missed out on the individuals who have passed through the campgrounds.
Despite remaining in constant contact with Delilah, Henry’s job alone feels like isolation. Though there’s evidence of people throughout the game and even the items they leave behind (and later actual interactions) it can often feel like you’re chasing the ghosts of visitors who have long since been gone. In many ways, this improves the game’s experience and improves your time with Firewatch. Talking via walkie-talkie is only satisfying for a short time, after all.
Jonathan Blow’s brilliant The Witness is an arresting and engaging series of puzzles that delight, obfuscate, and teach. Players find themselves on an island with no idea of why or how they’re there, much like Myst before it years ago. They’re also completely alone, from start to finish. Challenges manifest across the island in the form of “line puzzles,” or grids featuring an entrance and an exit you’ve got to reach by drawing a line. On the other side of the puzzle the line is mirrored, and the lines you’re drawing cannot touch.
It sounds simple, but in action it can become very involved and frustrating. When you figure it out, there’s a refreshing “a-ha!” moment as well – but no one in-game to share it with or chat about your moments of intellectual prowess. Still, it’s a moving and gorgeous adventure that feels wonderful to set out on, even if you can’t help but wish there were others around to, well, witness.
Those are our picks, whats your favourite game steeped in atmosphere and intrigue? let us know in the comments below.