On one hand alone, I can count the number of islands I’ve been to in real life. Ignoring that less-than-stellar fact, here’s a bunch of fictional islands I’d love to visit and explore for a day, just a day:
- The island from LOST, specifically Dharmaville and far from wherever the Smoke Monster dwells
- Amity Island, from Jaws
- The El Nido Archipelago, from Chrono Cross
- Gilligan’s Island
- Isla Nublar, home to Jurassic Park‘s dinosaurs
- Yoshi’s Island
Well, let’s add one more to that list with Ed Key and David Kanaga’s Proteus, which is actually difficult to describe, though I’m sure all the Gone Home haters would describe it as “not a game” or a “walking simulator.” Phooey on them. Sadly, I just discovered a new term, “anti-game,” while doing some quick research, and that really bums me out. I think anything that creates an experience can be called a game, whether it is highly interactive or not. That time you stabbed a pencil around your fingers and sped up each go? A game. Connecting dots to other dots with lines to reveal some kind of image? A game. Traveling to a foreign, digital world and taking it all in visually? A game. Really now, people.
I guess you could say Proteus is a stark adventure of exploration and discovery in a musical wilderness environment. There are no challenges and set goals, no Achievements to pop (well, on the PC version, at least), no text anywhere on the screen to tell you anything or provide lore. You can’t even really pause the game, only close your eyes to take a snapshot or exit back out to the main menu. As you explore the island, a reactive audio mixing system modifies your soundtrack, with frogs, tombstones, flowers, and birds each acting as individual notes that sound as you draw nearer.
There’s plenty to see on the island, as well as plenty to not touch. All the animals scurry away as you draw near, and you will eventually stumble across a cabin and small circle of statues, but all you can do is look at them and wonder. There’s no “Press X to Pay Respects” button, and that’s more than fine. You can, however, press a button to sit down on the ground and absorb all the sounds. I also found a giant tree-thing that teleported me to the other side of the island. Otherwise, it’s a lot of walking, looking, listening, and learning. Sounds simple, but it’s beyond effective.
I explored Proteus‘ island once on Steam during my Extra Life stream and then a second time on PlayStation 3 just the other evening. Each trip takes about twenty or so minutes, and each island is randomly generated, though you will see a few familiar pieces and critters with each playthrough, as well as summon the swirling vortex of floating white lights that fast-forward the seasons from spring to summer to fall to, lastly, winter. I have not tried simply standing next to the vortex and not causing this shift to happen, though I think that’s possible too. Both of those games ended differently; the first time, I flew into the sky, chasing after the aurora in the night sky, and the second time I got lost in a bleak, snowy winterland, heading for the moon.
So, there are Trophies to unlock on the PlayStation 3 version of Proteus. I got one, and I have to assume I got it for beating the game once. I don’t know. They are overtly obtuse, and I’m looking forward to unlocking a few more–hopefully by accident–though their inclusion does break a bit of immersion and uniqueness. Oh well. Not the worst thing ever, though trying to read all their descriptions in one sitting gave me a headache.
Ultimately, Proteus is about time, about mortality. The experience is all at once deeply relaxing and terribly unnerving. The music will warm you, fill you with hope; then it will drain you, drain from you, and remind you that hope is fleeting. Life goes round and round, until it stops. There’s more than a vicious cycle to experience here, and it’s certainly a walk to remember.
Interesting summation, particularly your closing paragraph. I didn’t appreciate the game the way you do, whig is sad because I’m a fan of adventure games and am very inclusive in my definition of what a game is. But sadly Proteus was kind of lost on me.