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Case Study on Passage

Life is often the subject of many artistic pieces and for good reason; a journey filled with so many different experiences that always ends with the same inevitable end: death. Passage captures the ‘spark’ that life fills us with, the path we take as we venture throughout the chaotic world, and gives us the entirety of a man’s story as he walks toward death without pause. The topic it touches on is so powerful because we all associate with life and death, making it “one of the most clever, meaningful, affecting, and memorable games ever made” (Burch, 2007). The player can only go right, never left, “you can head in several directions, there’s only one ultimate destination – and that’s your death” (Meer, 2007). Along the way the player comes across treasures and different areas whilst their avatar changes.

Despite it being a game, Passage does not abide by traditional narrative techniques to address and communicate the story to the player. The main character is readily identifiable as the man that the player controls due to him being the only character present at the beginning of the game and the only character to last the entire length of the game. The setting is rather difficult to make out as the constant barrage of pixels doesn’t make it clear as to where the player is per say. It is safe to say, though that as the color scheme of the pixels changes the player enters a new ‘area’ of life or phase. This can also be seen with the player’s sprite seemingly changing age as the color palette shifts. There isn’t much of a backstory hinted at, only the fact your sprite starts out taller than an infant and has the ability to walk meaning the main character managed to pass infancy and the player is picking up during the pre-teen to teenage years. The plot itself of the game revolves around the player’s “life”, or the life of his or her character. The inclusion of another character, the wife or lover, is a good representation of a progressing story as is the aging of the appearance of the sprite used for the player’s characters. The game goes even farther with how it handles the inclusion of the female sprite. Running into the female character and acquiring her as a partner is actually optional, demonstrating how love can be hit or miss and there are instances where people don’t marry. The price of having a companion is heavy as the female sprite can obstruct the player from traversing smaller spaces or obtaining treasures in narrower spaces. This illustrates the aspect of sacrifice in marriage; that those who are married give up their flexibility in order to experience life with their significant other.

Eerily enough, players have referenced that the treasures found throughout the duration of Passage reward points. Interestingly though, players have stated that these points are meaningless as the ending is always the same: death. There isn’t a different ending based off points or a leaderboard system to compare your choices to other players, the game is somber and the message is powerful enough to where the points rewarded are disregarded.

Passage heavily utilizes visual cues in the substitution of traditional narrative techniques. As stated earlier, the constant changing color scheme of the areas represents the different stages of life. Much like how the games of old such as Super Mario Bros., a swapping of color palette is very indicative of progression and in this case Passage illustrates the passage of time with this technique. Further, the changing of both character sprites tells the narrative of aging and emphasizes the passage of time and life itself. No text, no cut-scenes, the player simply keeps playing and these narrative techniques take place. While they’re not elaborate techniques, their simplicity is a very new and unique way to address the story to the player. It happens in a very natural way, however, at a very quickened pace. What would happen if someone were to take a character from a MMO that starts at level one and took a screenshot each level? What areas would we see? What equipment would they be wearing? A story is readily available just by using visual cues in the characters and the environments that surround them.

References

Burch, A. (2007, December 11). Passage, the greatest five-minute-long game ever made – Destructoid. Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http://www.destructoid.com/-i-passage-i-the-greatest-five-minute-long-game-ever-made-58961.phtml

Meer, A. (2007, December 7). Time Goes By | Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2007/12/07/time-goes-by/