Press Down To Cry: Is It Time?

By Adam Smith on August 30th, 2011 at 12:23 pm.

I am not a cruel enough man to recommend that anyone plays Is It Time?, for it is not enjoyable and it contains a bleak message of despair that made me feel empty inside. Even more so than usual. It’s also quite definitely one of those indie art games that a lot of people simply have no time for. If that is the case, may I suggest that it probably has no time for you either. Or maybe it has all the time in its rapidly diminishing world. Despite not being able to recommend you play it, I am going to leave a link here and suggest that you consider clicking on it. Be warned, it’s bleak and in many ways it’s boring, but then it’s a game about loneliness and death so I could perhaps also call it honest.

The intro is like a condensation of the opening of Up and the game itself is a lot like what would happen if that’s where the plot ended. There are no adventures here. The player character is an old woman whose husband has passed on. She lives alone, eating, sleeping and…that’s about it. It’s a game about waiting to die and eventually wanting to die. To live, you eat and sleep. But how do you make living worthwhile when there’s so little left in your world? If you’re planning to play through, maybe do so before reading the rest of my musings. I think this is best experienced fresh.

Is It Time? has a lot in common with pieces like Rohrer’s Passage and Tale of Tales’ The Graveyard but it just about manages to have a character of its own. It’s a personal and emotional statement rather than a commentary on the way games deal with death, but by allowing the player to choose when their time is up, it does raise an interesting question. Why would anyone choose to keep playing after the first painful day? The agonising pace of the game, the bleakness of the subject matter and the promise of nothing but repetition should have us quitting straight away. And the game throws that option directly in your face. Later on, it tries to convince you that there’s no choice left in the matter and yet I fought to continue.

It’s mostly because there is always the promise that something else will happen. Some things do change from day to day and the game does more than simply grinding the player into submission. Actually, I used the word ‘promise’ before and that’s not right at all. The game promises nothing but death. It’s hope that drove me to continue every day. Hope without the promise of fulfilment. There was no evidence that things would improve or that I would gain a greater understanding of the life to come or the one that had gone before, but I still believed I might. My hope for my character in the game, as can be the case with hope in real life, was self-generated and unsupported by external factors.

The theme dominates the gameplay. There are status bars to manage but the core of the game is interactions with other characters, particularly the limitations upon those interactions. The friend who talks at you and then simply sits, also waiting, with nowhere to go and nothing to do. Then there’s the daughter. She bustles around the room so fast that you can’t catch up with her. She won’t stand still or adjust to your pace and this apparent callousness forms the basis of her character for a long time. There is a moment of kindness, which is certainly one of the things I was hoping for, but I found it the most heartbreaking moment of all. I quickly wished it hadn’t happened because it made that final choice, which is the only real choice you have throughout the game, all the harder. Easier to believe yourself a burden than to realise you will be missed.

As time passes, words become jumbled and incoherent, the screen is darker by the day and sometimes the controls are switched around. This led to me trying to move left and instead standing at the window with tears flooding down my cheeks. Not a happy moment. In fact, there were no happy moments. Not one. I’d say the game was a success though. It made me sad and it made me want to go and spend some time with my beloved old mum. Maybe if I play enough of these things I’ll become a decent human being. If your cheerful disposition remains intact after Is It Time?, might I recommend Home. You can thank me later.

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57 Comments »

  1. Premium User Badge AndrewC says:

    Life demands extrinsic rewards to become meaningful? I disagree with the ludo-meta-mechana-narratival commentary of this game! Or something!

    Anyways, i’m not sure this game says much beyond the developer being considerably more depressed than he will admit. In response:

    :) :) :) :)

    • IDtenT says:

      I fear the developer had just recently realised that life doesn’t mean much, when (s)he created the game. That said, old people who keep to themselves have nobody else to blame but themselves.

    • ArcaneSaint says:

      Not true, they can be very social and outgoing, but when all of your friends have passed away, it’s kinda difficult to not be lonely.
      I remember seeing a documentary about lonely old people one day, there was a man who would play cards every evening (can’t remember the game, it was for four people though) by himself. Because his friends who he used to play with were dead. He simply outlived them. At a certain moment in live, there just isn’t much left to do, except to wait. Your only “fault” is not dying sooner.

    • Premium User Badge Hypocee says:

      Fuck you, shy bitches. I have lotsa friends all over.

      FTFY.

    • aerozol says:

      “That said, old people who keep to themselves have nobody else to blame but themselves.”
      On behalf of the old people who keep to themselves, and do have something to blame: f*ck off

  2. JJMarmite says:

    I am excedingly depressed.

  3. Zogtee says:

    Being diagnosed with and treated for actual depression in real life, I will stay away from this.

    • Kollega says:

      I agree with this statement. I see enough depressing things and big enough motivation to hang myself in real life, so deliberately adding more reasons to that list feels like an incredibly dumb move to make.

      I should thank the author for forewarning people, at least.

  4. JackShandy says:

    This is a total rip off of that other game where you play an old person who slowly dies!

    I can’t remember the link, but I didn’t think this sort of thing was going to become a genre.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Senile’em’ups.

    • neoghoul says:

      you’re propably talking about “to the moon”?

    • Waltorious says:

      @neoghul,

      Actually, he’s probably referring to Home, which Adam Smith thoughtfully linked at the end of the article. I had forgotten the name of it also.

    • impeus says:

      There’s also The Graveyard from Tale of Tales.

  5. McDan says:

    I was going to say how many days I waited until the final choice, but I think that would be kind of missing the point. And could turn it into a competition which, I think anyway, would be wrong with this game. It’s wrong to say I enjoyed it, but it was certainly an experience. Also I do like tale of tales games, like the graveyard and especially The Path, the passage is good as well.

  6. Cynicide says:

    This sounds similar to “Every day the same dream”.

    http://www.molleindustria.org/everydaythesamedream/everydaythesamedream.html

    • Pijama says:

      Disagree. Every day the same dream is more of a critique of the capitalist society rather than an essay on hope and living, methinks.

  7. Squirrelfanatic says:

    I don’t know. Do we need a game to be aware of the fact that you possibly will feel alone and useless when you are, well, alone and depraved of social life? Maybe I don’t get the idea behind the game, but I feel like this is a very obvious statement to make.

    • LionsPhil says:

      I feel like this is a very obvious statement to make.

      Yes; it is “art”. Now brace for the horde of people claiming it’s too deep for you to understand in non-specific ways.

    • Adam Smith says:

      I’d say that’s true of many of these type of games (and they are becoming a genre). They can be heavy-handed in their approach and the statement is often obvious but, in a way, it’s all babysteps. I’m intrigued by the personal and emotive but I try not to forget how easy it is to go overboard in praise of every game that aims for the tear ducts rather than the headshot.

    • Premium User Badge AndrewC says:

      Oh good lord LionsPhil, you can do better than throwing that old ‘pretentious’ thing around again.

      Anyways, the whole point is to make you experience it, or feel it, as this is a very different way of understanding an idea than a flat, one-sentence description. Otherwise all ‘arts’ would just be their wikipedia entries.

    • Jikid says:

      @ Squirrelfanatic: Everything obvious isn’t necessarily obvious to everybody. :) But what I find most important (and hence kind of agree with Adam’s reply) is that it’s trying to make you see life from another perspective. Not necessarily your own future perspective, but that of your older contemporaries. And so, maybe, the next time somebody who played the game goes to visit their mother (or father or grandmother …), they’ll be more understanding of her (his ..) different disposition.

      Also, one of the few games that have made me feel like only a book or a movie has done before (in this case, like Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons).

    • The Colonel says:

      It was a fairly blunt instrument but I still found it moving. The best thing about it is that someone is trying to explore something other than what it’s like to be a tooled up space-marine-witch pirate. Walking past that grave every morning on the way to the only human interaction was pretty powerful.

    • Alexnader says:

      It effected me a little, not much but it made me think about my grandma. I’m pretty sure she’s much better off than this though.

      Anyway the thing that got to me most was how bloody annoying it was to keep the old lady alive. All that struggle because I wanted to see some flash backs and my game bugged out. Is your friend supposed to keep talking after the first 3 or 4 times you see them? Because their “happiness” level goes up to 8 and I expected at least 8 sets of dialogue. Also is it supposed to just keep getting darker?

      Anyway I don’t think I’ve missed the point of this game by playing it like a game or at least I think I found a different one. Namely the will to be useful/do things being hampered by how quickly you wear yourself out. Sounds like a good representation of old age to my 18 year old self.

    • McDan says:

      It’s a game, there doesn’t have to be a statement from it or for it to mean anything. Of course there could be, but that’s up to the person who made it, I’m just saying there doesn’t always have to be a message from games.

    • Squirrelfanatic says:

      Thanks for all the replies, I guess this is more about the experience of playing and what you make of it than the “take home message”. @MacDan: I would agree with you if this was Super Mario or Call of Duty, games made for the very obvious intent to entertain the player. I think games of the kind as this one are supposed to have a meaning.

  8. stahlwerk says:

    “This led to me trying to move left and instead standing at the window with tears flooding down my cheeks.”

    And in the game!

  9. DeanLearner says:

    Boom! Heart shot :(

  10. Burky says:

    Like most indie art games, it goes for cheap emotional hooks without actually supplying a game.

    And the “old dying person indie art-game with minimal interaction” really is becoming a genre.

    • Pemptus says:

      Yes. There are like two more games dealing with that. Definitely a new genre…

    • Gnoupi says:

      “And the ‘old dying person indie art-game with minimal interaction’ really is becoming a genre.”

      I wouldn’t call the Modern Warfare series “indie”, though, but yes.

  11. Ian says:

    Let’s all have a big hug to cheer ourselves up. C’mon, bring it in people.

  12. Pijama says:

    Now, it would be just GREAT if every indie who decides to do “emotional conflict” games would read a bit of literary theory before getting his or her hands on it. This stuff can become so heavy-handed to the point of being overwhelming (and not in a good way – whatever the author’s intention is).

    tvtropes, people!

    • LionsPhil says:

      >Read a bit of literary theory
      >TVTropes

      I cannot wait for Kieron to see this comment.

    • Malawi Frontier Guard says:

      Let me tell you about my animes.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      TVTropes is so the Reader’s Digest version of literary criticism. Well, parts of it. It’s probably more than you learned in high school English class, anyway.

      I mean, I like Harold Bloom, but that’s only because I’m a massive Shakespeare nerd. We’re not all writers here.

  13. Fondue says:

    So I played Home.

    It’s like the world’s most depressing Tamagotchi.

  14. Gasmask Hero says:

    It’s like the The Sims, but slower and more boring.

    I guess I missed the point, then.

  15. Longrat says:

    I’ve had it with low fi depresso-games. You don’t need to be emotionally manipulative to make a person feel emotional. Just look at Bastion, that game managed to make me feel all sorts of things, and it was never THIS insultingly blatant and full of despair.
    Cut it out you indie assholes. Find a better way to produce emotions in your players.

    • soldant says:

      Pretty cruel way to put it but pretty much sums up my opinion on most of these kinds of games. They approach the entire thing with a sledgehammer, basically beating you around the head with their ‘message’ such as it is. And then they use Atari graphics… maybe they can’t draw or animate, maybe it’s ironic and hipster, I don’t know. Having worked in healthcare though I’m probably just desensitised to these kinds of things, but the ham-fisted approach which receives so much praise just grinds my gears. I don’t think it’s baby-steps either; it’s more about writing and delivery than gameplay mechanics. A lot of it is probably lost in translation with overly simplistic environments (like this one) or with pointless “gameplay” mechanics (like The Graveyard).

    • coagmano says:

      I think the usual reasoning for the lo-fi graphics is that it requires the player’s imagination to fill the gaps, which is likely to include personal and related situations; also by involving your imagination more, it can involve you more.

    • FataMorganaPseudonym says:

      “I’ve had it with low fi depresso-games.”

      The most depressing part? You apparently seem to be under the mistaken impression that you are forced to read about/play them for some reason, rather than, you know, simply ignore them at your leisure.

  16. IDtenT says:

    I love these types of games. :D

  17. Tokjos says:

    Not depressing at all, if you ask me. Of course, i just came from a funeral of someone who died way too young, so i might be a bit jaded.

  18. MFToast says:

    Being youthful doesn’t require denial of a fact. You will get old and die, and you’ll probably be lonely in some way. Don’t be afraid, make the most of your precious life.

    I’d say more than half of this game takes place in your head.

  19. bongosabbath says:

    We’re being trolled, right?

  20. Homercleese says:

    Um, I thought it was effective, if not much of a game.
    Question; I recognise that people seem to have refrained from slapping their experiences down on the table to compare but I made it to day 12, completely blind, without ever leaving the house. Someone mentioned walking past a gravestone to see a friend but whenever I went to the door without a knock it just told me there was no point going outside.

    Should I have pressed down more?

  21. sinister agent says:

    I had to keep going. Someone needed me. I’d have kept going to see what happened when they no longer did (presumably they’d stop appearing), but the game didn’t give me a choice there and I carked it anyway.

    Hmph.

    I sill call that a win, though.

  22. enobayram says:

    I’ve just played the game. It’s like sims 4, (except that sims 4 will probably be less fun) this one also happens to have a message to convey.

  23. Sinomatic says:

    I liked this a lot. As “obvious” as some people might find the message – we get old, lonely, lose our abilities, lose our reasons for living, then die – I don’t think people’s attention is really brought often enough to what that really means. How it is to live like that. What it’s like to struggle to do little tasks. How lonely it is when there is no one left. How fleeting a short visit from family can feel. How, as your body slowly fails, your world becomes smaller and smaller. Darker. More confusing.

    I don’t think it hurts to be reminded of that. Not to depress us about our possible futures, but to draw attention to those who are living like this right now.

  24. BobsLawnService says:

    So the moral of this story is that it is better to die young?

    But yeah, I’m interested in games that try for emotion but I’m ready for someone to try a bit more subtlety in their approach.

    I find it interesting that the intro of Up was far more emotionally evocative than this. Maybe the medium of gaming is just not as conducive to evoking emotion because of the interactivity or something.

    • coagmano says:

      the moral of the story is that this could be how your grandparents/parents might feel, so you should spend more valuable time with them.

  25. allen says:

    seems similar to home:

    http://www.increpare.com/2009/10/home/

  26. laurent says:

    This game made me laugh, I mean death is part of life so who care.

    And then I thought : it would be awesome if it continued to the after life and then gave the choice of re-incarnation. And like this live through a few iterations until you decide, hey I’ve had enough with this cycle, liberate me

  27. Darthus says:

    I don’t think this game is useless, but I also think it’s not very… helpful. It’s like a super gory war movie “based on a true story” that is meant to make you think but just makes you feel bad. In fact what I drew from it is how poorly our society prepares people for aging and treats the elderly. In many other cultures, elderly stay with the family, have continuing roles and are taken care of by loved ones. It’s a decidedly western idea that old people should go “enjoy the rest of their life”, despite the fact that most of the things that we enjoy: social interaction, meaning and purpose etc are harder to come by as we age. It’s this illusion that all anyone wants is unlimited free time to do whatever they want. That’s a recipe for depression without purpose and meaning.

    It’s also a warning of how important it is to cultivate hobbies, relationships etc outside of just your significant other. Of course none of that was explored by the game, there are no options for those things, it’s just “Hey, go feel depressed” and then it’s on you to do all the extra work, or not.