Mosaic / Reviews / April 17, 2014

Procrastination station: Mobile gaming for hipsters

Amongst games such as Flappy Bird, Angry Birds or Tiny Wings that are meant to be played repeatedly five minutes at a time (and for some reason always seem to feature birds), A Dark Room begs to be the center of your attention for hours on end.

Available for free online and $0.99 for iOS, A Dark Room is a simple text based adventure game developed solely by Amir Rajan, and later on in partnership with Michael Townsend to create the mobile version.

At first, Rajan considered the development of the game as a way of “Rebooting Life,” according to his blog. After quitting his job and selling off non-essential belongings, Rajan nurtured his passion of game development.

Despite such a small team with meager beginnings, A Dark Room has garnered a cult following on sites such as Reddit, critical acclaim from Giant Bomb, Paste Magazine and Forbes, and top ranks in the iOS app store since its release.

Players go in blind, as the background to A Dark Room is stated with only three short phrases, “Awake. Head throbbing. Vision blurry”. Your first action is to light the fire, and from there on, you just clumsily figure out mechanics of the game. No tutorial, but many surprises.

At this point in the review, I would go over the specifics of the interface and describe the mechanics in detail, but any detailed or specific description of the game would rob you from A Dark Room’s sheer simplicity and playability. I can only go over the game by what it doesn’t have.

Being completely text based, A Dark Room lacks a visual aesthetic. There is no sound, and very little dialogue.

Artist and fan Elizabeth Simins describes A Dark Room as being “so quiet I almost missed it”.

For the same reason, I won’t go over the world of the game or the characters in it. In all honesty, even after playing the game for a second time, I’m still trying to make sense of it myself.

I can only urge you to keep playing, even if you’re turned off at first by the initial “plainness” of the interface or the lack of action in mechanics.

Much of the success of A Dark Room comes from its slow, gradual nature. While most games these days (especially mobile or browser based games) are expected to satisfy the average user’s need for instant gratification, A Dark Room instead forces players to wait for action.

It builds a sense of tension and steals your time without you noticing it.

A Dark Room is the profound novel you recommend to complete strangers. It’s a work of art that somehow takes indie gaming to the next level of minimalism without skimping on plot.

Play it online for free, but don’t shy away from the extra $0.99 for the iOS version, and support the developers with a small donation if you can. Think of it as a “Thank You” for the experience, as it’s one you won’t likely regret.

Casey Mendoza
Casey Mendoza is a senior majoring in political science and double minoring in philosophy and Chinese. This is her fourth year working at The Knox Student, previously as a photographer and photo editor. Casey is the recipient of two awards from the Illinois College Press Association for photo essays. During the summer of 2014, Casey also worked as a photography intern for the Galesburg Register-Mail, covering local community events and working alongside award-winning reporters and photojournalists. During the winter and spring of 2015, Casey studied journalism and new media in Washington DC, learning more about the world's political arena, networking and gaining a greater understanding of the field. There, she worked as a Production Assistant at a documentary film company, The Biscuit Factory. During the summer of 2015, Casey will help produce a documentary on airline reservation technology for the Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC).

Tags:  a dark room gaming minimalistic mobile procrastination

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1 Comment

Apr 17, 2014

the fire is roaring. the room is hot.

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