Silent Conversation Released

My July game, Silent Conversation, is released. It is a game about reading.

Read carefully. Run and jump through the text of stories and poems, from the horror of Lovecraft’s “The Nameless City” to the simple beauty of Bashou’s frog haiku. Go for completion or race through the pieces you’ve mastered!

Play Silent Conversation on Armor Games.

This game grew out of an idea that I had in childhood. I was a voracious reader, and occasionally, late at night, I would see the structure of the words on the page as something physical: the end of a paragraph was a fissure in a cliff edge, and each indentation was a handhold. I could visualize a little person running along the lines, exploring every crevice of the story. This is an attempt to realize that concept.

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40 thoughts on “Silent Conversation Released

  1. A new game interface to read a text (reminds me of a literature based Mario Teaches Typing).

    As of now, I have played the first three levels and found the shorter levels to be of more interest (I like to do a close reading) while “The Nameless City” to be too long of a level.

    I am not sure if there is an ideal “word length” for a level, but I often felt I had to pay much more attention to the “game play” and skip reading in order to dodge the powerful words on the longer levels.

    This also calls into question what does the “A, B, C” score system mean in terms of reading comprehension? Or is the game’s goal for us to actually read the words? etc., etc., etc.

    All these cool questions kept popping up in my head:
    What made you pick the platformer genre as opposed to something like a FPS or a more traditional puzzle based game?
    Does the reader not die? I found no “death condition”.
    Is the character’s avatar of the “I” represent a “me”, or is that a cursor?
    Do we really “run” through a text, “jumping” from stanza to stanza, from one level to the next?
    Why did you pick an ambient piano soundtrack for reading as opposed to keeping the game silent?

    A provocative piece, I hope it receives an audience with the right intentions on ArmorGames.

    1. The grade system is meant to be an encouragement to actually read the pieces without worrying too much about messing up the gameplay challenges. Generally, a thorough player can get a B, which is a good grade, even if she doesn’t avoid many powerful words. A player who enjoys the gameplay can replay repeatedly trying to get an A+, but it’s not required to enjoy the game.

      As to the choice of gameplay style, written text fits platforming nicely; it reads left to right and up to down, and patterns of text arranged on a screen make interesting formations that are good for jumping on.

      There is no death condition. The “I” avatar provides an identification with the speaker in “Nameless” and “Prufrock.” I considered changing the cursor between pieces — having, say, an “A” or even an “Alice” in “Wonderland” — but decided that parallelism and consistency were best.

      The soundtrack, I think, nicely establishes the game’s intended mood and provides some audio interest that encourages a player’s flow state. Without the music, the game was too silent, and it induced a dizzying sort-of-hypnosis when I played it for too long.

  2. I really liked it. I thought the nameless city worked really well, and I was drawn in. The big gaps that you could fall into broke the feel for me a little, especially after similar gaps you could cross in safety when you were “inside the temple”. I really love it, though, it hooked me there for an hour. I shall devote more time to it later, with pleasure.

  3. I was looking forward to this one, to see how you implemented it. Overall, it’s a great piece.

    Like Sebastian, I too preferred the smaller levels, but I attribute that to my reading style. Only recently did I start to realise how non-linear it is. Straight lines of text turn out to be hard to read for me, so I doubt I got quite as much out of the Lovecraft stories. Really, I’m embarrassed for my inability to keep more than 10 words in mind at a time more than the game mechanic. Ideally, more vertical blocks of text (with screen wrapping!) would have been easier. But that’s just a personal preference.

    But then, speed reading didn’t really seem to be the goal, but rather noticing every word (which I admittedly failed to do a few times). Fine choice in music, as well. The melody was neutral enough to fit just about anywhere, and wasn’t bothersome when it looped.

    A pleasant work overall!

  4. I think it is a very interesting idea and that the implementation and choice of works was very good. I enjoyed playing it. The only problem was that my eyes began to hurt after a few levels, probably due to a combination of motion blur and the low contrast between text and background. There were some slowdowns on parts with many powerful words.

  5. I was pretty surprised that “etherized” wasn’t a powerful word in Prufrock. It’s such a kick in the gut.

    I enjoyed the structure you gave to some of the longer poems, and how the structure that already existed for certain poems was heightened by the platforming (such as the William Carlos Williams poem).

    I only question the idea of race mode, if only because I see the enjoyment of stemming from the words and the gameplay, rather than the score.

    1. “Etherized” wasn’t highlighted for reasons of ludonarrative dissonance, I’m afraid. It would probably lead to the Dante quote being cleared right at the start of the level, and that would interfere with the establishment of mood for that piece. But yes, if the layout was different, it would totally be a powerful word.

  6. Amazing design and concept. I particularly liked the movement in “The Nameless City” and the structure of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” level, which emphasised the haunting mood of the poem.

    I actually preferred the longer pieces, as it gave me more time to become immersed in the level. The shorter levels felt too brief, and were over too quickly for me to appreciate them fully. I’m familiar with all of the pieces, so perhaps I was able to compensate for when I needed to concentrate more closely on the gameplay.

    As an avid reader, something like this is a gem: it allows me to revisit masterpieces I love in a new way. Is there any chance that you will return to “Silent Conversation” and create additional levels?

  7. I’ve only gone through two levels so far, but I’m in love with it. I agree with the comments already made about the superiority of the shorter levels, as well as the comment about eventual pain to the ol’ eyes. But I’ve got to say that I consider this your greatest contribution to the world of interactive art thus far.

    I found myself totally engrossed with the poems and blindly running into the powerful words. The sick thing is I loved it, because it forced me to reread some of the more powerful lines in a poem much like I normally would on paper.

    I’m already forwarding this to my friends in the world of poetry, as well as a few teachers. The only thing that could possibly make this better would be if there was a way for users to design their own levels. I can only imagine the possibilities if poets could share their work with this technology, or English teachers were able to trick students into learning Shakespearean sonnets for homework.

    Fantastic job, and I can’t wait to see what you create next.

    1. I’m definitely interested in working with teachers on something similar at some point. At the moment, the level creation is very basic and programmatic, but I may return to the game after the end of the year and make a sequel or extension that has a proper accessible level editor.

    2. Oh yes, I would also be very interested in an editor for that game to make custom levels out of one’s favorite stories and poems.
      I’m a huge Lovecraft fan (so big thanks for the “Nameless City”; I think it captures the atmosphere of that story quite well), and I would love to convert his “Fungi of Yuggoth” poem into a Silent Conversation level.

  8. Love it! I’m reading Alice in Wonderland right now and it reminds me of The Mouse’s Tale, since in the game the shapes that the words form enhance the meaning of the words themselves.

  9. I love the game, it’s excellent in concept and execution, but I do agree that some of the levels are too long. I think that using some poem of a medium length, for example E.A. Poe’s The Raven, would be ideal. Everything else is excellent though.

  10. After you’re done with this game-a-month thing, perhaps you could take suggestions for what to include in a sequel.

    1. We’ll see; I’ve had a lot of requests for sequels to my games, so I’ll have to juggle possible sequels and all the new ideas I come up with.

  11. I’ve nearly finished it. It’s creative. I like how you used words to form objects. especially in the Alice and Wonderland chapter. That said, the Lovecraft levels were the weakest set of writing, but that’s just a personal feeling.

    1. Lovecraft’s prose is really weak. The man had good ideas, but as a writer he was overly flowery and awkward in parts. He switches between occasional gorgeous prose (“When I drew nigh the nameless city I knew it was accursed”) and places where I had to actually edit the story for grammar. I like Lovecraft for his concepts, not his writing.

  12. As a highly distractable reader, this game actually gave me the small incentive I needed to keep ADHD in check and maintain focus on pieces I would normally find too tedious to successfully read. (I’m looking at YOU longform poetry) I don’t think I EVER made it through all of a T.S. Elliot poem in one go before, and certainly not without spacing out for entire sections at a time. The format of this game could make for a fine learning aid for those who have trouble working with such literature. It gave me a second thought line to indulge in while still inevitably forcing my brain back to the words in front of me. I usually limit myself to Lovecraft’s shorter works because his prose is so.. meh, but I found myself hurrying through the short poems so I could unlock chapters and finally finish the Nameless City. (having the short poems in there worked as a nice break from the “real” reading, and in the event of this becoming a teaching tool, such breaks should be included in some form)

  13. This is an awesome concept put together.

    I liked the Nameless City the most, because the power words and structure of the level/text is much more interesting to add “value” (ie. meaning) to what has been written.

    There’s plenty of game parameters that could be added to it, to fit the literature : speed of I/the cursor, scrolling speed, moving words (like the wind in Nameless City but you have to touch them), etc. I would hav eliked to play on a full-screen too :)

    A level editor would be extremely interesting, and I think would develop well not only in academics but also in reader’s groups. What would be crucial too is that you would have levels created in foreign languages, prose or rhymes, and creating a level is a creative literature process in itself.

  14. This game is immensely entertaining. Here’s hoping you release a sequel. I’ve found myself coming back to play through a second time for both the writings and the music.

  15. I haven’t had the time to finish it, but I quite like it so far. Very original concept, and good execution. It works best when the powerful words really are powerful in the context of the story – though obviously people have different opinions when it comes to writing. I mostly like reading Lovecraft (except for the utterly insane racism), for example, while others dislike his prose.

    Good work!

  16. “I understood that the work of the poet was not in the poetry; it was
    in the invention of reasons for the poetry to be admirable.” Jorge Luiz Borges, in “The Aleph.”

    Also, I agree with Jonas that you’re being a little hard on Lovecraft’s prose. The arcane and flowery language adds something to the atmosphere of a story that is, after all, about being humbled by the sight of an extremely ancient and alien civilisation.

    Again, congratulations on an excellent game.

  17. Hi. I wanted to thank you for creating this game. Trite as it sounds, I would not hesitate to call it one of the best things on the internet. I have spent hours with it, and there really isn’t anything about it that I would want to negatively critique. What I really want now is a level editor.

  18. Something that I never thought could come together has.
    Your level design makes the game, especially with the descriptions pulled out and used as backdrops.

    A question: what font did you use?

  19. Thanks for the tip.
    I hadn’t heard of the foundry, but they have a great collection there… downloaded a couple.

  20. Wow, you’re a genius. I fell in love with the majesty of the music and I could read Lovecraft in english. So marvellous.

  21. I loved this game! I love to read and play games, so this was an interesting way to do both at once. The choices of material were good too.

  22. A true immersion into the literature. I side myself with the people who felt that the shorter pieces were too short, and I’m going to chalk this up to personal preference. I’ve never felt so emotionally grabbed by any piece of writing. The way you blend platforming, writing, and synesthetic pictures made of words is just beautiful, and though I have not read Lovecraft before, I had no difficulty playing the level and reading the story simultaneously. I beg of you to make a sequel, I’m sure it would bring many great pleasure.

  23. Very interesting! It’s definitely the first of it’s kind. And the piano choices are beautiful. What are those songs called? Where can I find them?

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