I’ve been doing a lot wandering lately to clear my head. I’ll eat my lunch while continuing to work so that I can use my lunch break to go for a walk. I like to pick a direction and go; sometimes pretending that I’m never coming back. I downloaded the Audubon Society’s app which is great for keeping a journal of bird sightings, so I also keep an eye and an ear out for any birds I haven’t yet recorded. I like to look at people’s gardens and imagine what I’d do differently with their yard. I try and guess what the few people I see along the way are up to at 2:00 p.m. on a weekday. My new hobby of Geocaching used to be a great way to create a purpose for these walks, but since I’ve found most of the caches within walking distance of work, that’s becoming less of an option. Mostly, my wanderings are a reason to get away from my computer screen and not think about work for a few minutes.
A lot of the games I play fill a similar need for me. Many offer randomly generated terrain to explore, nooks and crannies to delve, and let me create my own story. Most often though, these programs bow to a sense of “game” to sate players who need direction and offer things like monsters to slay or quests to fulfill. I find myself more and more attracted to forms of the medium willing to risk not having mechanics at all.
I bought Proteus without hesitation. Its big, bright, pastel pixels and description of “a game of pure exploration and discovery” were all I needed to see and hear. It wasn’t long into the video game that my work-break walks sprung to mind as I calmly wandered, without true purpose, admiring the world around me. That’s really what Proteus is, a quiet neighborhood made up of pixilated flora and shy fauna going about their routine while you walk through it. An atmospheric soundtrack changes as you wander into different terrain or as rain clouds gently glide past, building an emotional resonance with each step.
In Proteus’ Internet forum, players clamor for more creatures to be added to the game (technically Proteus is still in beta) and I think a larger game world would be nice, but I hope the game’s developer makes changes in moderation. It’s the occasional, not the commonplace, discovery in the land of Proteus that makes it special.
Proteus has a very particular place in my gaming life. It’s perfect for those first few minutes after coming home from work when I can’t stop my brain from churning over the day’s events. The game is a great portal for mental meditation when I’m too tired physically to go on a real walk (or the weather isn’t permitting). I’m excited to see interactive art head in this direction, where I can visit it on my home PC, and will gladly explore whatever comes next.