​“Sit Down”: My Invisible Game

I made a game...I don’t even remember when… And I never talked about it. Time to rectify that. And explain why I didn’t.

October 8, 2017

[Just a note, this is a post I wrote a year ago and never published, which was already 6-8 months AFTER I made the game. So, yeah, this is old news. Now is the time to get it out.I’ve just touched up the article and refreshed it a bit, but the core is as I wrote it then, a year ago.]

I sat, one evening, staring into my orange-tinted monitor and considered what would happen if I uploaded this game I just made. This personal, strange, unexplained game that I thought no one would understand.
I sat in my room late at night, listening to music (sorry, don’t remember what, but might as well have been the new Tycho album (which I’m listening to now, it’s good)). [Hah! Just listened to that last week, too. Pure coincidence]

And then I didn’t. I chickened out and hid it from the world. I forgot it.
Until, I suddenly remembered it.

It was the kind of game that was so personal I didn’t know how to share it. The kind of thing I would love to make but can’t get myself to share. The kind of game I find myself inspired by but yet don’t talk about ever.

I made it, and even finished it, but never said a word about it to anyone. That’s… a bad PR strategy.
It’s also just not fair. To the game, to myself, to what I was trying to do. And yet, this was a game I made for myself. As much I would love to share things and get them out there, I also recognized that this game was not something I could just share. Or, maybe I could, but I was afraid of sharing it on its own merits. Which is my own shortcoming, really, yet, that’s where we are. I wanted to share this game, and I didn’t.
Sometimes I admit defeat. Sometimes I take smaller victories. Like the one I take today, in announcing that I failed, and declaring the game real. That is a step forward.

...here’s a little trick for you: The game has actually been up on my website ever since I finished it.

And hell, it’s all one big ruse, because here’s a little trick for you: The game has actually been up on my website ever since I finished it.
Because it’s actually not the act of putting it up there that’s scary, it’s the act of saying “hey you! See here! I made this! Want to have a look?” That part terrifies me to no end.

But there it is. Hidden away in my Games page, near the bottom.
It’s called “Sit Down” and it’s a “Personal Vignette Game”.

Or click here: Unfortunately, it’s in the old Unity Web player so it pretty much only works in Firefox, as far as I know. Don’t worry, you don’t actually have to play it to understand this article. I don’t really mind if you play it. I’ll explain what it’s about instead.

So, it's About Sitting Down?

So let’s talk about the game:

It’s about sitting down in a high school classroom.

Remember that? Those who still remember high school should do. (I bloody hope I’m not the only one with this kind of experience otherwise this won’t mean much (another fear!), but experience tells me I can’t be. We’re never the only one.) Remember that moment when you step into the classroom, first class in the morning, you’re tired and still stumbling to class. Half the class has shown up, the other hasn’t, and you have to make a split-second life-or-death decision about where to sit. Should you go sit next to those people you admire and want to hang out with more but don’t, or go sit with the usual bunch that rarely get much done? Should you sit with the person you like doing math with or the one who’s your best friend?
That’s what the game is about. That single feeling. That feeling of being unsure and outside, wanting to get in, yet always staying at the edge.
You’re making the same decision anyone else is, but it always feels like they made the better choice. Always feels like you’re missing out.

I hope you didn't expect it looked good. And that's it! That is the extent of it. Also, I bet anyone who went to a Danish school at the same time as me has seen this exact ordering of tables. And to anyone else, it looks insane.

The game is super simple. Even deceptively so, perhaps, because I give you no tutorial, no guidance as to whom your friends are (spoiler: Go sit near the yellow ones). It wasn’t really meant to be played by others. If it was, I would’ve perhaps done so, but I like this purity, and I frankly don’t give a damn if it’s difficult. That’s kinda the point.
The game has you riding to school on a bike (you don’t do this, you just hear the bike rolling), for a variable amount of time, and then you arrive in class.

You can’t be seen standing in the corner of the classroom too long, can you? That’d be even more awkward. No. You need to sit down. Fast.

Who is there is random. How many are there is random. Where they are sitting is not. That’s decided by a very simple algorithm that wonderfully simplifies real life: Each person wants to sit close to someone they like. Likeness is based on a single numeric value. They consider each seat, and the one where they’ll sit next to most people they like, they choose.
Is this how real life works? Nah. But it works remarkably well as a simple model of it. I get nice little pseudo-random clusters of people in certain groups, with always-slightly-different constellations. That’s pretty accurate.

Then you come in as the player, and you have to pick a spot. Here, the game doesn’t pick for you. You have to click on an empty seat. But. You have a time limit. You can’t be seen standing in the corner of the classroom too long, can you? That’d be even more awkward. No. You need to sit down. Fast.

After you sit, you see quick stream of the other students tickle in, as you grieve over the mistakes you made.

The ultimate conclusion. Your grand judgement, the total consequence of all your decision making, boiled into one sentence.

Here, I made the game kind enough that there are actually people who might want to sit next to you. But only if they arrive after you, and there is not a better option.
And then, when everyone has sat down, it tells you how many conversations you could have had that day. (which is definitely a nod to Nina Freeman.)
Could have! Doesn’t even tell you if you had them or not! The fact that you’re sitting next to people you like merely increases the chance that you have a conversation with anyone!
It doesn’t tell you anything about whether it was a good conversation.

Then, you get the choice between going home and doing nothing else. Other options are there, but greyed out, unclickable, known but impossible to actuate. This is a nod to Depression Quest. [Man, those two references also date this piece a bit!] This is about all those experiences I know I could have had, but didn’t. Because I didn’t know how to make those choices. I made a different choice. I went home.

And here comes the best part of the whole game.
You come home, and what do you have to do?

Sit down.

There is only one chair. It’s right in the middle of the (much smaller) room, and on the table in front is a computer. You literally have no other choice than to sit there. The game will not proceed until you do.
I really love this moment. It’s the most elegant description I’ve been able to come up with of the contrast it was to go to school and come back home.
At school you’re hit with a thousand impulses, a hundred tough but immediate choices, conversation after conversation you have to consider. There’s the chance that you have a great day, but just the same, you might have a terrible one.
At home, it’s easy. There’s no room for failure. But… you’re alone. There’s no possibility of sitting next to your friends. No chance you’ll end up in a room you don’t like. And no chance for the wondrous to occur, because it is always the safer option.

It is so succinct. It is all one click. I don’t know if anyone else gets it, but I really love that moment.

And then it fades to black, and you can go to school again, as the next day approaches. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

The only alteration is the number in the bottom left corner that always goes up, every day. I don’t fully know why I made that. Maybe it’s there to show a false progression. As if you’re working towards something, but it’s all meaningless. Or it feels meaningless.
…That’s a very cynical read at least.

It’s the most elegant description I’ve been able to come up with of the contrast it was to go to school and come back home.

It’s a bloody personal game about a very personal experience. It’s the closest I’ve been to describing my high school time (except for this but that was so cryptic I hid the actual information). It’s maybe the closest I will be for some time. And I think, actually, that it does it really well.

I’m really happy with it. It’s bad, and you probably won’t find interesting. It definitely isn’t fun. It probably isn’t a good game. But it’s important to me. I made it to get something out of me and into the world. And I feel like I succeeded. And now, I might succeed with the "getting it out so people can actually see it"-part.

Even the music I made myself. First time (and maybe last) I made music for something I put out publicly. It’s not very good. It stumbles and I hit a wrong key from time to time (that I intentionally didn’t edit). But I had to. It was the only way to make music for it. It couldn’t be done by anyone else.

When I started making it, I had grand plans about all these other features, a much more complicated algorithm that took into account different classes and classrooms; different classes would have different mixes of students, some easier and some harder, what subject it was would matter, PE would be its own locker room nightmare, and so on.
But no. I realized, that I was never going to finish it if it was that complex. And this, ultimately, is better.
It’s a full thing. It is done. It is out there. And now it is public. Talked about. Acknowledged. By me, and potentially by others.
Potentially, by you.
And that, dear reader, scares me. I hope you’ll give it a play. I hope you never, ever, ever will. But really, I shouldn’t mind either way. I made this game for myself. If you take anything from it, I will be thrilled.

It’s playable right here.

You don’t have to. It’s cool. I’ve basically spoiled the whole thing already. But now I've told you about it as well, and I can finally let it rest as something I have done.

AND OH BY THE WAY. Before you all feel sorry for me or something:

Was my high school experience this terrible?
No. This is an expression of an extreme, an attempt to convey the worst and the facts at the same time, an attempt at expressing something I don’t know how else to say than to say it loudly (through an invisible game I’m too scared to show. Loudly, indeed). It is an attempt to get a point a across by overexpressing it, not a diary of actual events.

I’m not saying that this didn’t happen. I’m not saying it did only either. I am saying this comes from personal experience. I had a lot more experiences in high school. Take that as you will.