What wakes you up at 3 in the morning? What do you notice first? The quiet dark, the warm covers, the moonbeam cast across the floor?
I’ve read there are plenty of reasons for waking up in the middle of the night; hypoglycemia, high stress, spiritual upset, and ghosts. Maybe all of the above. Type in “waking up at” into any predictive search bar and often it’ll try to finish the search with “… 3 a.m.” A quick scroll through the results will offer up any answer you are most comfortable with. Whatever the case may be for middle-of-the-night rises, maybe you have woken up with someone else at the witching hour?
“IMG_20180226_233555” by Crawlspace Studio is a tiny vignette of a game I stumbled across recently. Text from the game’s webpage only offered the words, “Late night, moonlight, photo bright, sleep tight.” Intrigued by the graphic style of the game, I downloaded it. The visuals are nearly too pixelated to fully recognize until you start moving around. The game is operated from the first-person perspective, and you can really only make out the details of the world when you have your face pressed as closely as possible to any given surface. The entirety of the game takes place in a small bedroom. There’s a bed, a table, a chair, and a window through which the moon and stars are brightly shining.
Curious by what the little world had to offer, I wandered around the room to get a feel for the boundaries and control limitations. I like to think of this process as “putting the costume on.” Most games will have a variety of designs and methods of getting the player comfortable with the character controls. Smaller, simpler games like this one have no such tutorials because there isn’t much to teach, save for what a few keys do. “IMG_20180226_233555” uses some sort of pixelating filter that renders the entire world in a fuzzy, dark, low resolution manner that forces you to move closer to things to see them, much like you would actually behave in a small room lit only by the moon at night, stumbling around half asleep, or moving through a waking dream.
Captions of dialogue appear in the air, pixelated and distorted like the rest of the world, another design choice that forces the player to read slowly and intently. Small visual cues guide the player to click through the dialogue, a back and forth between someone who is still lying in the dark bed, and you, the player. Eventually you are drawn to pick up your phone from the nightstand and snap a photo of the beautiful moon and stars. After a few tries without much success, it becomes a little more clear to take photos of other things in the room. It was here the game caught me by surprise when I took a photo of the dark bed in the corner; the game slowly faded and cut to an actual photo of someone lying in bed in the dark. Though there is a stark contrast in detail when compared to the game, you still can’t fully make out who they are, what gender they may be, or really any color, but you can see the curves of their face, softly lit in moonlight. It’s a real photo taken in a dark room, complete with the hot pixels and low-light noise that comes with trying to take a photo in such darkness. It’s intimate.
The game’s world fades back just to wrap up the little tale as the player is asked to come back to bed.
In a world full of vast lands, dense lore, and seemingly infinite spaces, “IMG_20180226_233555” is a poem. It is a superb little portrayal of a moment of intimacy. It’s sweet and sincere. I sat in my chair quietly for a few moments after, giving the game room to breathe like I would an uncorked bottle of wine. Even the title of the game is a sweet detail to the story; a naming format that puts a date on the picture taken, a time stamp that solidifies a moment in not just the designer’s history, but our own.
I wonder who the person is in the photo of the game? I wonder what woke them up so early in the morning on February 26th? I wonder what they noticed first, the quiet dark, the warm covers, or the moonbeam cast across the floor?
Brett Massé is currently playing “Petrichor” by Sundae Month.