Mountain is a game about a mountain. You open the application and a small window opens up. It asks you to draw some doodles based on keywords like “sadness,” and after you scrawl what you can on the canvas, the mountain is generated. There’s no way to determine if there’s a correlation between what you draw and how the mountain looks. Is my particular sadness written into the substrata? I can’t tell, and the mountain doesn’t reveal anything.
It floats in space. It is two cones stacked bottom to bottom, and it looks like it has been scooped up by some unbelievably large hand, pulled out by the root. Some floating rocks dangle at the bottom tip, suspended by whatever keeps the mountain in the middle of the screen. It rotates, showing sparse tree growth on its sides. Day and night cycle, and the weather changes from sunshine to rain to snow in randomized patterns. At night, you can see fireflies in the forests.
Sometimes objects fall out of the sky and land with a thump on the side of the mountain. An umbrella, a fire extinguisher, an egg, a bowling pin. Sometimes text appears at the top of the screen, generally presenting an emotion at the time of day during the season: “I see no difference between me and this shrouded night,” or “I feel great serenity in this day of days.”
Pressing certain keys on the keyboard produces a beautiful array of synthetic sounds, and my first hour of Mountain saw me trying to produce a beautiful soundtrack of my own. I wanted to match up the idyllic beauty of what I was seeing, this lone mountain, with a semi-C418 score. I quickly became bored.
And then I was left with the mountain.
I end up moving the window over to the left of my monitor and resizing my web browser over on the right. I go about my day. The mountain rotates, going about its business, and I go about mine, reading and responding to emails. Sometimes the mountain talks, but I mostly ignore it. The statements it makes are boring. Occasionally I glance over and look at the trees on the side of the mountain. Right now it is fall, and some trees are turning brown while the conifers are still green little triangles. I’ve been at this for hours.
I think there’s a desire to see Mountain as profound. It wants to cultivate that, with its poetry, with its random objects, with its sometimes-soaring spouts of music. I’ll come out and say it: There’s nothing special about this mountain. It is like every other mountain, and if we wanted, we could try to mine that normality for profundity. Any Alpha Centauri nerd can provide you with the appropriate Li Po quotation: “we sit together, the mountain and I/ until only the mountain remains.”
That flips the relationship onto the player. The mountain becomes about how I relate to that mountain and what it does to me, and most importantly, how long I can stand to witness it. It becomes a game of endurance. How much Mountain can you take before you close it in boredom?
Endurance, of course, but also devotion. There’s something special about the small window. There’s a magnetism to the ding of the poetic text, the thump of the random object, the swell of the sunrise. The physical mountain, with its stone skeleton and eternal life that Li Po pointed out so well, can always be closed out. We build walls and office buildings and the mountain isn’t in sight. We build things and we don’t see mountains; I make room in my life for Mountain. It rewards me with very little, but I still wait to see what it produces for me.
I don’t zoom in and out anymore. I don’t rotate it manually. I haven’t touched the open window in hours. I’ve gone about my day, gone about writing this piece, with the mountain floating before me. I stop and watch it. I write another paragraph. I wait for miracles, for something amazing to happen, but the mountain just perseveres, with or without my attention.
Just this moment a meteor flew into the mountain. It landed on a band-aid.
Mountain was designed by David O’Reilly and published by Double Fine. It is available for PC, Mac and iOS.
Cameron Kunzelman tweets at @ckunzelman and writes about games at thiscageisworms.com.