If You Need a Holiday Distraction

… I would like to recommend the computer game The Witness.

Yes, this is off topic in a narrow sense. But I know many readers of this blog love the process of scientific discovery, and that’s what The Witness is about.

You arrive in a beautiful garden that presents you with puzzles.  You figure them out. Soon you are allowed out of the garden into a large island full of more puzzles, which gradually open up richer mysteries.  You learn more and more about the world.  Just like science, see?

As I faced these puzzles of increasing difficulty, I found myself having the full range of sensations that accompany the scientific process:

  • The thrill of recognizing a pattern, solving something, and thus being free to move forward.
  • The need to document what you’ve learned. (Take lots of screenshots.)
  • The uncertainty about what might turn out to be important later.  This gradually recedes  a bit as you grow to learn the world’s “rules” but never quite goes away.
  • The frustration of being stuck.
  • The moment when the beautiful solution that you’ve found turns out to be wrong, but it’s so beautiful that you’re angry it isn’t right.
  • The way this anger can guide you to come up with mathematical proofs that there is no solution to the puzzle.
  • That feeling when this ironclad argument for despair is ruined by a sudden insight or successful guess.
  • The resulting realization that while the pattern isn’t always the beautiful thing you imagined, there is a different beautiful pattern.
  • The way that, late in the game as the problems get very hard, the notion that every pattern must be discoverable becomes stretched, and you start trying to theorize unknowability in ways reminiscent of chaos theory or the Heisenberg principle.
  • The way the sheer beauty of the world keeps you coming back to it, even when you feel mad at its designers.

I write this at a moment of being very stuck, but I’m still eager to recommend it, if only for the delight I’ve had getting to this point.

But this is important: If you decide to trust me, do not read anything else about the game!  Don’t read other reviews, because it’s hard to say more than I’ve said without giving spoilers.

Well, I will give one clue.  It’s a comment to a review (yet another review you really shouldn’t read):

Was walking my dog. Saw something on sidewalk that looked like part of a circle. Wondered how I can get on neighbors roof for better perspective.

It’s best on a tablet.

Commenters:  No spoilers.  Please don’t give away anything more than what I’ve described.  Because the pleasure of this game starts with knowing nothing at all.

2 Responses to If You Need a Holiday Distraction

  1. Arthur December 26, 2017 at 1:01 pm #

    best played with an interested onlooker – husband or wife

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