Features, PCRom

Games As Art: At A Distance

Features, PCRom
Games As Art: At A Distance

At A Distance isn't really a game you play for fun; hence, I'm not going to do a review of it. It's also not really a game you play for fun- while I definitely enjoyed my experience as I worked my way through the game, it's a game that heavily uses the gameplay to advance its themes and the tone it's going for. It's also not really a game you run through multiple times, since it's so short that once you figure it out and beat it, you can go back through in maybe 20 minutes. Rather, this is a game to be experience together with someone who has never played it before. The set-up might make it a little difficult, though- the only instructions the game came with deal in how to set it up. You can't just plop someone down in front of your computer, since you need two computers, both with the game installed (luckily, it's free), ideally in the same room so you can see each other's screens, and connected over a network. It can be a little fussy, but when you get it to work, it's time to settle down and figure out what you're supposed to be doing.

Set Up
Set Up

It's not incredibly difficult to figure out, though, but the mystery of it isn't really the point (however, I'm not going to tell you what you need to do, you still have to figure it out yourself). Once you've figured out and understand the mechanics, At A Distance is more of a game to be experienced, and it executes its purpose pretty handily.

Creator Terry Cavanagh has stated in interviews and at trade show appearances (Including places like IndieCade and EuroGamer Expo, where At A Distance received Game of the Show nominations) that he wanted to create a feeling of isolation- being alone, even though you're working together with someone who's even in the same room with you, right next to you.

It's almost shocking how well he was able to pull this off- there's an incredibly unnerving feel to many parts of the game, and some areas just completely scared me and made me feel not just isolated, but without any sense of hope at all. It's all part of the art style going into the game. The engine draws things in in a strange way, sort of fading out of thin air a few feet ahead of you, and if you stand around, the room seems to breath, with the colors shifting and a rustling sound coming out of the speakers. The areas are designed to be overly spacious, for the most part, and as more and more of it comes out of the shadows, the sense of isolation is pretty intense. There's even an area that's never ending, and no matter where you go, you'll always be in there. When you stop moving, though, the room closes in around you, and the sound gets louder and louder. I dreaded finding myself in there, and even writing this now sends a chill down my spine.

At A Distance is a wonderful example of games as art. While the experience of figuring out how the game works is something you'll only have the first time through, the game is up there with other mediums by being able to make you have the intended feelings each time you come back to it. The sense of loneliness it provides can be almost shocking at times, and it was surprising at how effecting it was, even at the end. I can't really recommend this game to everyone, but you should try it if what I've said sounds interesting. It really goes to show how games can provide artistic experiences in ways that no other medium really can.