Early into the relationship with my girlfriend, I discovered that she had a knack for solving puzzles in games. Admittedly, I have always been terrible at solving puzzles, even the most simplest of them. For some reason or another, grasping the logic behind them has been difficult, even though I consider myself to be a reasonably intelligent person. My girlfriend on the other hand solves them quickly and has no trouble in doing so. The Witness is a game that lives and dies by the puzzle. It is a game constituted entirely of puzzles without music and dialogue for the most part. It is for this reason that the game has allowed us to bond so well together.
Living in Japan and dating a Japanese woman has resulted in some language barrier issues, nothing we haven’t been able to overcome of course. Despite that, when I encounter something that transcends language and can be understood without words, I have grown to appreciate it all the more. The Witness is such an experience. It never attempts to confuse you with unnecessary menus or messy tutorials. The game sets you forth on a journey with a simple line, and it is from solving this line that the world opens up around you. There is a tutorial, but after leaving the beginning area, you are free to walk around in any direction you see fit. It is liberating and better yet, it is this freedom that drives the player and discovery of the island forward.
Solving puzzles in The Witness is done by drawing lines, but the way in which you can draw those lines is entirely dictated by the rules a particular puzzle group is presenting you with at the present moment. The freedom the game offers is both satisfying and frustrating at the same time because you can wander into any area that you do not have any familiarity with beforehand. A puzzle type you learn in one area can be quite useful in another area, but there is no way to know that unless you experiment and solve different areas through their entirety. Puzzles are usually introduced through a rather simple sequence where they are easy at the beginning, but become more and more difficult as you progress and attempt to learn the rules. These concepts are never outright explained to you by the game, and that is why the design philosophy is so powerful in The Witness. The structure of the game was something my girlfriend and I not only experienced together, we learned it together. I firmly believe that greater appreciation can be attained together if you and the other person first enter as complete beginners.
The Witness helped my relationship so much because it became something that left the confines of the TV screen. Often times after reaching a new area and coming across a seemingly impossible to solve puzzle, we would take screen shots of the puzzle, and mull over these pictures together while we were both at work. Several times, one of us would solve it in a euphoric moment, and I would be eager to rush home and see if the solution worked. If any source of entertainment can have its audience thinking about it outside of its immediate means, I think that is the true sign of something remarkable. I know for a fact that this extends to great stories. The ones that have always stuck out to me are those that leave me thinking about them for days and weeks after the fact. The Witness did that with its puzzles.
The Witness is in my opinion, the greatest puzzle game ever made. That is a high praise for any game in any genre, and it really does deserve all the recognition it has received since its release early last year. If a game can convey meaningful concepts without using any dialogue whatsoever, I think that speaks to how well it is designed. You will get frustrated. You may lose sleep over too many attempts. My girlfriend and I pushed past those hurdles. Even though I love the game itself, it is the memories The Witness provided, both inside and outside the game, that I will truly cherish for years to come.