Must Play - Device 6

I wasn't entirely sure what to call Device 6, the latest project from Scandanvian studio Simogo in Sweden.

I enjoyed their previous effort, Year Walk, intrigued by it's minimalism and how it challenged the user to get the most from it without being lead by the hand. It was a curious, and occasionally engaging experience that rewarded the player for peeling back layers you didn't realize were there initially. It was though still identify-ably a game, in an old school adventure game style way, with a modern touch screen twist.

Device 6 shares some of those qualities, yet is also entirely, amazingly, frustratingly, different.

What is Device 6?

Your first reaction will be that Device 6 is not easily categorized. 

It's not a traditional game ...

Some would say it's not even a game ... 

So what is it?

The lazy temptation is to call it interactive fiction. It uses the written word, is presented somewhat like a book, in so much as you read it at least, yet it also lacks many of the conventions of interactive fiction. No real branching narratives here, no choose your own adventure style paths. 

You could just call it a puzzle game, but that really doesn't do it justice in isolation either. It does have puzzles, indeed the puzzles are the gate to progression through the games chapters. Each chapter is a puzzle, undeniably so. You need to solve these, often incredibly challenging, puzzles in order to finish the chapter.

They are in part challenging due to the fact the experience is using an interactive form that you don't quite have a frame of reference for. The interactions, in this interactive fiction, are using a syntax that won't immediately feel familiar. You might feel like they should, that it should be obvious, and part of some early frustrations will almost certainly stem from that dissonance. 

I have to admit that the very first chapter found me looking online for a guide. I didn't want to, far from it, I genuinely didn't ... but even with the game designer head on, I couldn't quite piece together what I was being asked to do, or rather how I was supposed to do it  ... I almost had it. It was like I could see there were signposts in this strange city, but they were written in a foreign language. I could follow arrows, but I wasn't quite sure I was heading in the right directions ... and I knew one thing.

I knew I didn't want to quit. 

I could tell there was something worth exploring there, I just needed a nudge.

How did I know?

Device 6 is presented so wonderfully, that I was not going to allow a learning curve to come between me and the opportunity to unwrap it's secrets.

It's instantly intriguing, a novel and engaging way to use the written word to progress a narrative. It's interactions are not branching, not revealing some hidden intricately woven web of a story, rather they initially seem purely linear. The touch screen interface, and the ability of a mobile device to work in any orientation is used to fashion an unusual symbiotic relationship with the text. The character turns a corner? You will be asked to flip the device around to follow text that actually turns with the character. It sounds simple, yet works well, and draws you into the narrative.

I knew I wanted to explore this strange city ...

So I looked up a spoiler. Then, as is the way with many puzzles, a light went off in my head and I 'got it'. I made the connection between the mechanics and the puzzles, and the instantly set about solving the remaining chapters. 

Some of them are very challenging, invariably requiring a hefty degree of lateral thinking. The best approach is to try and forget gaming conventions and try and think about what has (or hasn't) been presented, and how it might relate to the interactions that are possible in any given chapter. 

Alas, this does mean that, in this day and age, this experience is probably not for everyone.

It's an elegantly designed, superbly presented and atmospheric offering, but it is challenging to the point of frustration on occasion, so if patience is not one of your virtues then you might want to look elsewhere.

It is however well worth exploring for everyone else. It's testament to the belief that we haven't scratched the surface yet of what is possible with new mediums and platforms, and how they combine with some of the oldest platforms, like the written word. 

... and looping back to the start. Device 6 is a game. 

The combination of formats, mechanics and presentation, that it deploys might throw us at first. It's different, and we, as a species, have an inherently primal distrust of the new, of the different. Not fully understanding a language, or syntax, puts us ill at ease, even if it's a language of mechanics. 

They do however create a wonderful space for play.

Not the muscle memory, mechanical play, that you might find stretched in a first person shooter, or an action title. 

Device 6 rewards a more mental form of play. The play facilitated by being curious. The play inherent in being asked to explore. The play that sneaks up on you, when you realize that your are actually already solving problems that you weren't aware had been presented to you. The play of trying to solve a conundrum whose solution is not immediately apparent. The play that feeds the mind, and finds you firing off neurons that you might hove forgotten existed.

That's more play than many modern games can claim credit for, so I'm comfortable calling this experience a game. A damn fine one at that.

It is perhaps a touch strange to recommend a game that had me reaching for a spoiler in its very first chapter. The design gurus of accessibility may turn their noses up at giving a game a second chance on that most central of gaming pillars, but sometimes, just occasionally, a wonderful experience hides behind an initial frustration. This is one such occasion.   

I love titles that explore those spaces. Anything that encourages people to experience this kind of play, and maybe get inspired to create their own opportunities for it, is a good thing in my book.