I’ve been playing games for as long as I can remember. The NES, SNES, Genesis, N64, Dreamcast, PS1 to PS4, Xbox to Xbox One – I’ve pretty much played them all. However, every once in a while there comes a game that I deem “too challenging” for me. But I knew what the real answer was – I was too intimidated.
One of these games is Jonathan Blow’s The Witness. It's a game that released in early 2016, and it got great reviews, especially here on Gamezone. Everyone touted how challenging, yet rewarding, the game’s puzzles were – but it seemed too “hardcore” for me to try – so I brushed it off.
After all these months – there was still something so damn alluring about that game.
I wouldn’t call myself a puzzle enthusiast. In fact, the only puzzle game I’ve ever really enjoyed was Tetris, but thanks to The Witness’ recent Game Awards nomination as one of the best independent titles – there was a huge discount on the game – so I finally decided to jump into it.
Right from the get-go, I could tell you the reviews did NOT overstate how the game gives you little to no direction in how you should play. After aimlessly walking through the “tutorial,” I was already well on my way to discovering the many secrets of The Witness’ grand scale island. It’s certainly beautiful to gaze at thanks to its pastel painting aesthetic, but I wasn’t quite sure where I should go.
I followed the initial path that led me to my first true puzzle piece: a blue board containing a light grid resembling a domino chip. I navigated my way through my first attempt and failed. I tried a different path and failed again. Once I charted another course, I unlocked the first puzzle and moved on to the next board. This second board was a little bit more sophisticated, but I was starting to pick up the subtle clues as to the “rules” of these pieces. Before I knew it, I was on board number eight and couldn’t get enough.
I obtained a certain groove. It was a gaming high I had never really experienced before. I was able to overcome what I deemed to be “intimidating” without having to bang my head against the wall. I moved on to more challenging puzzles that required different rule sets, but through some navigation, and pure addiction, I figured out the rules and overcame even more obstacles. One puzzle in particular forces you to use refracting light to solve the board. I was stuck on a single board for about 15 minutes — not because of frustration, but purely because I knew the solution was within my reach. I even took pictures on my cell phone to study the pieces, which ultimately led me to my solution.
In an attempt to put my own OCD mania aside, I got some of my friends and even my wife involved in the puzzle solving. We worked together deciphering the rules for each set, and once we figured it out, we worked together to figure out the light path for each grid. It was a genuine gaming moment I’ll never forget: all of us working together trying to navigate a puzzle. At one point I got so excited trying to solve a clue I threw the controller to a friend and started using my index finger on the TV screen to outline possible solutions. We had a blast doing it, and I’m glad to have experienced that moment.
After about 10 hours of playing The Witness, I still have A LOT to explore. However, I suddenly feel a newfound confidence in trying out games I used to deem “intimidating.” I’m now looking into playing titles like Dark Souls, Bloodborne, The Witcher, and even Jonathan Blow’s prior work, Braid — which I don't think I would have done had I not played The Witness.
If you’re like me, you probably get intimidated by certain titles, but I’m here to tell you that you should keep an open mind. Sure, someone’s skill level will be better than yours, and it might take you some time for things to click – but you could be missing out on some genuine gaming moments.
And to think: who would’ve thought a puzzle game would help me find my gaming groove?