Shortly into STVR’s Don’t Move, I asked myself, “What in the world am I playing?”
Ten minutes later, I was like, “This is incredibly annoying… the point of this is what again?”
Half an hour of staring at my tablet, and I said out loud (quietly, since my wife was sleeping), “I’m going nuts, but I can’t quit now!”
Two hours and two playthroughs later, I concluded, “The message here is a good one.”
Don’t Move is a cautionary tale. I doubt most players will see its ending, and those players are probably the types who aren’t completionists, don’t like grinding, or scoff at the thought of getting all of a game’s Trophies or Achievements.
I consider myself to be somewhere in the middle. I don’t have to get everything in all of the games I play, but there are certain ones that will totally hook me and not let go until I’ve seen all it has to offer.
Dragon Quest IX on the Nintendo DS is one such game. I put over 250 hours into it, farming Metal King Slimes and Gem Slimes for hours upon hours, maxxing out my job classes and working towards the game’s best and rarest gear.
I used online tools to get rare drops in dungeons and like the monster farming, spent weeks going through certain dungeons again and again to meet my goals.
I eventually got to the point in the game where I was happy with what I had, and so I stopped. I wasn’t even close to 100%, but the damage was certainly done! I stuck with it for that long because I was having fun. I mean, if it’s not fun, why keep playing?
Don’t Move asks similar questions and more in a deceptively simple way, and somehow, even with only the ability to move left and right, and requiring almost zero skill, kept me going all the way through. Twice.
The graphics are very basic and uncharmingly 8-bit, the music is repetitive, and the sound effects of you dying every second will absolutely drive you bananas. I can only remember a couple instances that required any sort of finesse or timing. Otherwise, you’re either moving left or right in a single room. You can practically play it in your sleep. It’s just not fun. Or is it?
That hint of doubt that Don’t Move raises is why this game is important. If all you did was walk a few steps and die, you’d probably turn it off after a minute or so. There’s no payoff or bridge to the next thing. However, the game presents goals. It has specific Achievements that can be earned. There are endurance-based ones that reward you based on distance, time, deaths, and medals. You can also level your character up just by moving, get new outfits, and if you’re persistent, see the game’s ending (and it does end).
But to what end? Or does that matter? Why do we do things in games we know are menial, but we do them anyway?
I’m reminded of the game I’m currently playing: Lego City Undercover. Just in this screenshot, you see that I’m going out of my way to collect a big piece of Lego to go build something later. In the background is a platform where I can use those Legos, earn a Gold Brick, collect money, and maybe unlock a character costume. On the right is a statue that I can blow up for similar rewards.
Don’t Move is interesting in that unlike Lego City‘s various tasks, distractions, and sidequests, everything you do in it is a requirement. If you don’t do them, you can’t progress. And so, against your better judgment, you go ahead and do them to see what happens next, no matter how arbitrary, boring, or absolutely pointless.
Without a glossy exterior, fancy production, or even good controls and gameplay to mask this “carrot on a stick” approach, you realize that what is happening here is borderline-illogical busywork designed to make the game longer. Sound familiar? You can probably think of a few games you’ve played in recent memory that felt the exact same way.
Do you need a game to be fun to feel satisfied when you reach the end? Does a game need to be challenging in order for you to enjoy it? Is variation in gameplay and locations key to keeping you interested in a title?
Don’t Move will make you ponder these questions and more, long after you reach its Game Over screen. For something to make me think about games like this is a sign of something worth looking at, no matter how painful the experience was to get there.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a dozen more pigs to go find in Lego City.