Life is complicated. Things never quite seem to work out the way we plan. And when they do, those moments are either short lived or not as satisfying as we had envisioned. We comfort ourselves with notions that things will change when we transition into the next phase of life. When we are in high school we long for the days when we’ll be in college or joining the workforce. When we start working, we soon long for the day when we will retire. When we retire we don’t know what do with ourselves. If the size of the “self help” section at Barnes and Noble is any indication, we have tried many different ways of fixing this lack of contentment. We may attempt to find satisfaction outside our circumstances in love, family or religion, but even the moments where we feel satisfied and whole can evaporate in an instant under the weight of unforeseen circumstances. If there is a God, it feels that he is dangling a carrot in front of our eyes without ever telling us how to reach it.
I don’t trust the “god” of Antichamber—the creator of this first person puzzle platformer has left signs to direct my path. But the name Antichamber says all I need to know—when I start playing, I am confident that whoever designed this labyrinth does not have my best interests in mind. When I enter a timer begins to count down but I am given no reason or explanation for why I am here. This is fine by me. I am here to solve puzzles—I have no need for existential crises.
One of the first things I see is “JUMP” written above a chasm. I run and jump only to miss by inches and plummet blindly down toward the ground. Soon after I turn down a hallway and see an arrow appear on the wall as I approach. This leads to two stairways—one going up and the other down. I walk down the red stairway which leads to a hallway, and as I turn down it I see an arrow scrawled on the wall beckoning me to continue. As I turn right, I see two stairways. I see the same two stairways. I take the blue one this time which leads me to another hallway that turns right and returns me to the same two stairways. I turn around and a new passage opens up leading me to a dead end with a picture of a finger pressing the escape key. This returns me to a hub from which I can access any number of locations I have previously discovered. I reenter. I happen upon two branching paths—I go to the left and that path curves until I find myself once again standing in front of two branching paths. I go to the right. This time I notice a sign on the wall:
I am being encouraged to do the obvious and am immediately judged for that decision. I don’t need anyone to tell me the cake is a lie.
And yet, the more of Antichamber I uncover, the more signs I see. Each presents me with a picture scrawled in white chalk on a blackboard. When I click on them, I am presented with various platitudes about life:
Reasonable solutions don’t work in Antichamber. When I take the most rational course of action, I fail. Consequently it often feels as if these platitudes are designed to chide me for assuming that the world operates as it appears. When I think I have cleverly made it to the end of the chamber, a sign informs me, “Life isn’t about getting to the end.” My frustration at these signs, however, doesn’t get me anywhere. Antichamber doesn’t work like other similar puzzle platformers. Portal, for instance, teaches you the game’s basic core mechanic very early and every puzzle elaborates on it. Antichamber requires you to constantly discover new mechanics all while continuing to expand on the ones you have already discovered.
If I hoped to make any progress in the game, I had to start taking these signs seriously. Success would require swallowing my pride. The sign that tells me to “slow down” isn’t mocking me for my failure but hinting that I need to walk to make it across the bridge. The more seriously I took these signs, the more successful I was. I no longer saw dead ends as barriers or imperceptible problems as unsolvable. And these signs which I once found so annoying began to remind me of various life experiences and what I had learned from them.
There were moments where it felt like the “god” of Antichamber was dangling a carrot in front of me and laughing as I failed again and again to reach it. But the more I paused to consider the signs left behind, the more my eyes were opened to possibilities I probably wouldn’t have considered on my own. In this sense, Antichamber suggests that we can choose to let the unfortunate circumstances of life cripple us or we can refuse to bow to them and make our own way. Truthfully, Antichamber’s signs suggests a great deal to the player. We’re told of the inevitability of loss, the value of patience, the folly of pride, and the wisdom of humility. I no longer hate the “god” of Antichamber. I learned to persevere and to heed the signs. It’s hard work but it’s satisfying.
Drew Dixon is the editor-in-chief of Game Church. He also edits for Christ and Pop Culture and writes about videogames for Bit Creature and Think Christian. Follow him on Twitter.