So I’m not a gamer, let’s start there. I don’t own a video game console or frequent online RPGs or anything more than the occasional online platformer or room escape game. However, I was intrigued by a suggestion someone made on a tumblr I follow to play the short indie game, ‘We Become What We Behold’ developed by Nicky Case. I don’t know what I expected from this game beyond the comment which interested me, which is “this was so silly until it wasn’t”.
Before going any further, I would highly recommend playing the game here. It only takes about 5 minutes and the experience is worth it. I would even suggest watching all the credits just for the little scene at the end, and especially to play with the sound on.
The game starts off with a quote often attributed to Marshall McLuhan, but doesn’t actually appear anywhere in his book, Understanding Media. Nevertheless, it is a fitting summary of the game. The goal of the game is to take pictures that will appear on the screen for everyone to see. Every picture comes with a hashtag that is either a dud or goes viral. If it is red and goes viral, it has an effect on some or all of the people. A simple analogy that is easy to relate to reality.
[Spoilers ahead:] It starts off small, that hats are cool because you took a picture of someone in a hat. Then it’s not because you took a picture of someone without. However, as it progresses, the little cirle and square people become more and more differentiated, then agitated, then angry, then violent. Even if you try to calm the growing tension, pictures of peace and love stop being able to go viral. People don’t want to see that anymore. Finally, the game ends with circles and squares killing each other, the only hashtag being ‘#BE SCARED. BE ANGRY’. As the violence unfolds, the game very slowly pans out to show it all happening on a more realistic-looking laptop screen. This is where the message of the game really hit home for me. This isn’t just some silly little game. This is what really happens. We shape our tools (like hashtags) and our tools shape us (‘violence goes viral’).
If all people see on social media is hate and anger, they will spread hate and anger. We will become what we behold in a vicious cycle that shuts out all else. Love won’t go viral. And you feel a responsibility for it because you were the one taking pictures. You helped spread it. I felt disproportionately sad at that. After all, it’s just a game. Until it isn’t.
I felt like it gave me a glimmer of hope, though. After the credits, it is quiet and dim, and despite being a candle-lit vigil for the fictional deaths of these little circles and squares, two little people remain, sad but in peace.