This Game Makes Me Wish I Was a Bird

Vane and the Freedom of Flight

Games Features Vane
This Game Makes Me Wish I Was a Bird

The tragic irony of being a bird is that you don’t know how lucky you are to be one. As I play Vane, a recent PlayStation 4 game by studio Friends & Foe, this week, I’m consumed with regret over having been born a human. Birds are not obligated to the same rules as people do; whereas much of our experience is defined by the limitations of distance, birds are free. They can fly and go wherever they want, and quickly, without worrying about money, fuel or time. And yet birds do not appreciate this privilege, nor are they aware of their advantage of perspective. They have no idea what it’s like to be bound to the ground.

Vane has the relaxing sense of flow that has personified many other popular soothing games, like Flower. If you’re distracted and need the low stress comfort of low stakes exploration, it fits the bill. The puzzles are environmentally based and rely on a curiosity about the surroundings, aided by the simple problem solving skills of the common corvid. While crows themselves are complex in their ability to observe and communicate, their motivations, and the solutions to each challenge, are by contrast uncomplicated. Spot a shiny item and fly to it. Hop and perch on an iron vane. Call to the flock, and watch them neatly assemble, a line of construction workers lunching on a girder and watching from the vast expanse of sky.

Soaring above the spires and plateaus of Vane, searching for the next landmark, it’s remarkable how the view from above emphasizes the value of perspective. As a tiny human indentured to this miserably limited field of view, I rarely get a sense of how much I’m missing. Unlike a bird, I am not guided by the distinctions on a horizon, and I don’t have the benefit of seeing what’s ahead. Instead I am condemned to wander blindly in one direction, hoping I don’t waste hours, months, years of my life by heading down the wrong path. The game’s moments of transformation, when the player turns from a bird back into a small child, only make me more wistful, even as I solve puzzles specifically designed for the human body. A bird doesn’t have to worry about falling. They don’t have to land a risky jump or pull themselves up on a ledge. Their bodies are built for flight. They don’t have to be strong.

If only life were so easy and we could just switch perspectives and tactics whenever we needed. I’m definitely that person who is guilty of staying committed to a mistake because I spent a long time making it. So often I’ve wasted my time in a broken situation because I hoped it would get better, not knowing how to make life happen instead of letting it happen to me. I wonder how many times I’ve given up because I could not see the ravine ahead. I wonder how many times I should have moved on.

I’m sure there are many lessons that can be learned from a game as quiet and beautiful as Vane. It leave lots of room for contemplation and self reflection. But the only one I can take away for now is that I wish I were a bird.

Holly Green is the assistant editor of Paste Games and a reporter and semiprofessional photographer. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.

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