Have You Played… Sym?

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

Over the last few years, the ‘indie renaissance’, for want of a less hackneyed term, has seen videogames tackle a whole host of complex social issues. From depression, to suicide; alcoholism and drug abuse, to cancer – games are exploring all sorts of intricate sensitive areas nowadays, and are systematically educating as they go. To this end, Sym [official site] is a neat 2D puzzle platformer whose central mechanic is built around social anxiety.

Sym’s protagonist Josh suffers from acute social anxiety disorder. His shyness and tendency to avoid social scenarios are portrayed in-game by his ability to switch between light and dark areas, and, as he makes his way across Sym’s abstract monochromatic levels, inner-monologues are writ across its walls to remind us of the hero’s enduring struggle. Here, he must dot between both planes in order to succeed.

Metaphorically, then, the light area exists to encourage Josh to show more of himself. The game is basically saying that being reserved is fine, having anxiety is fine, however is also suggesting that a balance is required to push forward, and that protagonist Josh should try to avoid being overwhelmed by his moments of darkness. Sym’s taxing puzzles in turn show this isn’t always easy to do.

In practical terms, this creates a really intuitive puzzle platformer, where levels are rarely straightforward and result in a whole load of trial and error and the occasional spat of blind cursing, yet its eureka moments are second to none. It echoes the likes of Shift in its presentation, but operates within a far more interesting, far more abstruse world.

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  1. mashkeyboardgetusername says:

    While I think it’s great games are exploring these topics, I can’t help feeling they’re often a bit too metaphorical (and, as a result, sometimes verging on the pretentious).

    It’s like, a lot of the time I feel if I wasn’t told the topic of the game beforehand, I don’t know that I’d work it out from playing the game.

    (Sorry to be negative about what is, at the end of the day, a noble endeavour. These sorts of games just don’t work for me.)

    • Person of Interest says:

      I feel a bit of the opposite: that a game, or any art, loses a bit of its power when you’re explicitly told its motivations. Better to be a bit vague, and let the player/viewer/listener make their own personal connection.

      From the trailer, this game reminds me of The Basement Collection by Edmund McMillen: a collection of puzzle platformers and other short games, all disturbing in various ways.

    • LW says:

      They’re okay when the actual game portion is decent. The other side of the coin is when they’ve got a message and just kind of staple some gameplay in place around it.

  2. Kinsky says:

    The “indie renaissance” happened circa 2008 and a handful of years thereafter. That has long since passed; indie games are a broad and storied class of their own now. These games aren’t really a renaissance so much as entries in an already established genre. The only real characteristic of note which might warrant classification as a subgenre is the way the design direction of the game is utterly overwhelmed by the need to teach you a lesson about people, sometimes to the detriment of the experience as a whole.