The Witness Sparks Discussion on Games, Art, and Accessibility

If there’s one thing that’s been on the tongues of the gaming populace lately, it’s The Witness. After around seven years of waiting, gamers of the puzzle persuasion have finally been able to wrap their minds around the vibrant, and at times trying, world of The Witness. Created by Jonathan Blow of Braid fame (a 2-D puzzle game involving time control mechanics), the games takes the player through a setting rife with puzzles—around six hundred of them—which teaches them the mechanics along the way with no outright statement of “this is how you do this”. Both Blow and the game have been hailed as artisans who take an innovative approach to the genre while providing a game that is strangely compelling despite the seeming lack of story. However, not long after the game’s release, issues began popping up with the game’s accessibility, causing frustration for some of those who had been waiting for the game. Now, unintentionally, Blow finds himself in the middle of not only a conversation about molding gaming paradigms to fit an artistic vision, but a conversation about the adaptivity of inclusion in games as well. And for his part, Blow does little to add to the latter.

The WitnessFor a long time, game creators and fans alike had been arguing for the “outside world” to take games more seriously, to view it as an art form not unlike film or literature. By now, few are arguing that point anymore: games are as much art as anything else that can be considered art. However, certain subsets of game fans take up this strange spot where they don’t want allow games the same sort of criticism as any other form of art, not realizing that this is counterproductive to what they may have argued for in the first place and misunderstanding how most video games aren’t art for art’s sake. Still, critics and players have found themselves in this strange grey space concerning The Witness. The question concerning games—indie games, as compared to games for a larger audience—has shifted from “is it art?” to “should art be inclusive indefinitely?” And that’s a hard question to answer. A simpler concession is that if it’s not, then the artist has a duty to let their consumers know.

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