Have You Played… Passage?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Passage, Jason Rohrer’s small game about life and death, suffers for having become more renowned than it was perhaps intended to be. It was a small thing and an experimental thing, not a signpost to an entirely different future for games.

But, soon after being hailed as progressive and powerful by many places, including here, it became a by-word for every stick ‘indie’ games get beaten with – navel-gazing, not-a-game, egregiously lo-fi… When encountered with any kind of expectation that it will be uncommonly resonant and moving, it can only disappoint. As a thoughtful curio stumbled upon unexpectedly, Passage is as much a bittersweet surprise as it ever was.

Which is why I’ll try not to say too much about it now. Pedestals hurt it. I can understand why people – both those who despise ‘artgames’ and even some of those who admire them – hate it but as a tiny, quiet statement that games can be made to press emotional buttons beyond fight or flight I’m very fond of Jason Rohrer’s third and possibly most direct game. Put aside all expectations other than that it’ll take ten minutes of your time, and see if it has any effect on you.

14 Comments

  1. RobF says:

    Never got on with it really. I found, and still find, all the partner stuff in the game fairly gross. You can either take a shot at all these things and have it comparatively easy or you can take a partner and find she stands in the way of what you want to do but you’ll be very sad when she dies.

    Well, no. That’s not going to choke me up anytime soon. It’s a pretty awful attitude to me and the polar opposite of a relationship I’d ever want (or indeed, have). And I dunno, maybe it’s having a couple of way too close for comfort calls on the dying front but all that then leaves the game with is “things happen then we die” and ok, if you like.

    I’ve never once gotten the fuss over it and due to finding its outlook a bit repulsive, no tears or sadness during it from me.

    • surreal_pistachio says:

      I agree, from my personal experience, my relationship bring to places I wouldn’t go, gives me motivation and bring me out of my comfort zone. So it’s actually the opposite of the game.

      • ryanrybot says:

        I would have to disagree with you based on my experience. I find the game to be very accurate of life, as there are places that I’m just not willing to risk going with my spouse for fear that I would get stuck or not make any forward progression. The journey forward is all that I would care for as long as I’m with my wife. There are places that we just can’t go together, and I’m okay with that.

    • roguewombat says:

      I’d suggest there doesn’t have to be a negative connotation in the fact that keeping your partner prevents you from going certain places. It’s simply a fact that there are certain things in life that you can no longer control once you bind yourself to a partner. It might frustrate your individual plans, but in the end, a relationship requires compromise and mutual decision making.

      Additionally, I don’t often know ahead of time that a direction I want to go will be “blocked” by my spouse; I may experience it as frustration, but in the end, if it wasn’t a place we could go together, it was an illegitimate goal. You can only really figure that out in hindsight.

      So… not going where I want and doing what I want is just a fact of tying myself to another human. And after a life full of compromise and adventuring together, I sure hope I’ll be said if she dies first.

  2. metric day says:

    I don’t find it a bittersweet surprise at all, it’s disappointing how the dev views relationships.

  3. Unknown says:

    I don’t think the point of the game is “if you choose a partner, they stand in your way”.

    Just that choosing to traverse this life with someone else requires a fair amount of sacrifice.

    • RobF says:

      It’s not THE point no. It is *a* point, mind.

      “In fact, you will sometimes find yourself standing right next to a treasure chest, yet unable to open it, and the only thing standing in your way will be your spouse.”

      From the statement he put out with the game. Each to their own interpretation and all that but I find the whole thing really uncomfortable. YMMV, natch.

  4. Sin Vega says:

    Man, this takes me back. Passage definitely marked a sea change for games, alongside a few less artsy but equally independent games like Mount and Blade, both sorts of game finally starting to do more than peek nervously up from the underground. A couple of years later and we have both indie and conceptual games coming out of our ears (arguably a little TOO much, certainly from an economic point of view for a lot of unknown devs, but hey ho).

    I do wonder what it must be like for someone just discovering it now, especially if they’re very young or only got into games in the last seven or eight years. Would be interesting to hear about.

  5. jgf1123 says:

    First time I played the game, I knew nothing about how it worked, so I just started walking to the right. Before I knew what was happening, I was old and alone. Then I died soon after.

  6. cpt_freakout says:

    I wasn’t really there when this was important, so as a first time player in 2015 I think the amount of ideas compressed into this little game is quite amazing. I can see stuff like Braid and walking simulators taking cues from it.

    Like RobF above, I disagree with the ‘burden of relationships’ bit, but I think Rohrer explored that aspect (and turns it around completely) much more comprehensively with Sleep is Death. His ‘strong authorship’ is overbearing in Passage, and that’s what the ‘burden’ reflects, turning (or revealing) agency into a matter of power and identity (thus the talk of sacrifice, having more or less points at the end, etc). After playing this I realized that perhaps all of his games can be seen under that lens, as games about relationships, and how those relationships are built (through fiction, through violence, through economics). I don’t know, it would seem like his authorship has become less tyrannical in a way, smarter about itself, very consciously questioning how it works at every step.

    Thanks for the recommendation!

  7. elderman says:

    I’ve found this is a good game to put in the hands of people who don’t know much about computer games. It a small, unchallenging, peaceful game that communicates an idea. That works against some of the least attractive images of obsessive violence that attach to games when all you see is big budget trailers. It been a good way to open people’s minds to the notion that there may be something worthwhile in this hobby after all.

    I also really like that a number of people responding here reject the game because they disagree with what it says. It nice that occasionally games mean something.

  8. dethtoll says:

    Jason Rohrer is a fraud whose “games” rely on cheap emotional manipulation and player self-projection as opposed to having any depth.