Shortly after starting Selfie, you find yourself in a sun-drenched room full of flies, holding a milk carton plastered with graphics out of a ZX Spectrum game. Your only other company is a disturbingly realistic manniquin that’s missing her limbs. After using the flies to power a television, you then find yourself in a wire-frame space shooter hunting red dots and bottles containing the personal confessions of other players.
I think it’s safe to say at this point that I have a bit of an attraction to the esoteric, but to say that I’m drawn to Selfie simply because it’s a wacky art piece would be deflating to the experience that I had with it, even in a relatively short time.
While initially preparing to write something about the Lynchian approach to visuals or narrative, it didn’t take me long to stop pursuing a “win” condition once I found my first bottle. It was the most private thoughts of a stranger; a real person that I would never meet, confessing her fears to me. I was then given the choice to either “condemn” her or “free” her, leaving a message of encouragement.
A lot has been and will continue to be written about player agency in games, but nothing really compares to the burden of choice and responsibility that I felt typing a response to her, trying to find the right combination of words that would amount to more than an empty platitude, something that may even help this other person in their life outside of this video game.
At that point, my focus shifted entirely to finding more bottles, anxious that there were voices out there, just floating in space, being ignored, knowing that many of those people were afraid of that very thing. I spent an hour straight acting as some sort of space-faring advice column, all the while knowing that I’d made a confession of my own, wondering if someone else was finding my bottle, judging me for such a melodramatic outlook on life, or if they were feeling that exact same thing. After reading several dozen or so bottles, it started to resonate with me just how many had contained the same fears I had. It’s almost as if people aren’t that different from one another when seen independent of a job or a religion, or even a face.
Anonymity on the internet is a complicated topic, but in this context, it logically shouldn’t work. The idea of a deeply personal social network hidden within a game should be an open invitation to trolls and misguided hatred, much like I see spouted from people on other social forums, often accompanied by a photo of them next to their children or their dog, slinging mud at strangers. Yet here, for the most part, I’ve found nothing but an earnestness and kindness that can be difficult to find in the real world.
Maybe it’s the niche nature of the game that keeps that audience away, or maybe, most people are actually just plain good at their core. Not since my time with Journey have I been able to walk away from a game with that feeling. And before that? Never.
This one is going to stick with me for a long time.