We Become What We Behold

We Become What We Behold

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.






4 thoughts on “We Become What We Behold

  1. Interesting game and concept. While playing the game, I came across the realization that everyone in society is often described using a title or status. The hashtags in the game are kind of like titles for the little peeps. They try to define who they are, when in reality they might not even be true.


    1. That’s totally true! The game shows how in the media people are often labeled and categorized, which can be very divisive (from the Circles and Squares to the little people who wore hats and then were shamed for it when it became “not cool anymore”). On the note of ‘status’, too, we saw “crazed square”, and the person in the hat and monocle who was obviously supposed to be ‘upper class’, and thus influential.


      1. Very true. While playing the game, I didn’t realize why everyone was following the peeps with the hats, and when they stopped wearing it everyone else did too. It makes more sense now that they would be considered the “upper class” because unfortunately the society we live today has become immune to looking up to those particular individuals.


  2. Jaclyn, what an amazing game! Thank you for sharing it! There’s a lot of fascinating discussion taking place in games scholarship over what constitutes a game (and also who qualifies for the label “gamer”, which in its most problematic form is deployed by a certain group of players to exclude others from participating in discussions about games and game culture). If you’re interested in learning more about alternative games and game experiences, places I would suggest starting your search are on the FPS website run through the uWaterloo Games Institute (http://www.firstpersonscholar.com/), as well as the recent anthology from Minnesota Press: Queer Game Studies (ed. Bonnie Ruberg and Adrienne Shaw).


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