Thoughts on Proteus

I don’t often write about other games, but maybe I should. If you follow me on twitter, or talk to me about video games, chances are you’ve heard me talk a lot about Proteus over the last year or so. Proteus is a game about exploring an island. Proteus doesn’t have most of the goals or objectives many players expect from games, but I find it to be a wonderful game to play. It’s a game I come back to over and over, because it reminds me of exploring the country as a child. I talked about this in more detail in the Ignite Guelph talk I gave on art and games.

A few months ago I sat down to write down some thoughts on Proteus. What came out was not what I expected. It was much more personal that I thought it would be, even though there’s really nothing expressly personal in the piece. But I felt strange about sharing it publicly for some reason. I guess the experiences we have as children feel special and private sometimes. But, in the end, I still feel like this piece best describes why I love Proteus so much. I decided to publish it on the blog because I feel like other players might have had similar experiences.

And so, without further ado, here are my thoughts on Proteus:

I am 12 years old. I’m at the family cottage; a formerly abandoned place on Georgian Bay that my parents have been fixing up. I spend my summers here.

It’s hot today. The grass seems to be giving off heat in the mid-day sun. The air feels thick and heavy in the humidity. Even the wind feels hot. I stand at the edge of the road looking into the field across from the cottage, wondering if the bull is in there with the cows today. I can’t see the cows from here, but they’re in there, I know it. I cross the road, climb over the old wooden fence, and drop down into the tall grass.

I look ahead to the line of trees in the distance. The buzz of cicadas rings in my ears, over and over. As one winds down, another starts up, filling the air with their perpetual song. I start pushing my way through the grass, on the look out for the cows. I walk to the creek, but it’s dry. We haven’t had rain for a while. I turn and head toward the trees at the back of the field.

A flying grasshopper bursts out of the grass in front of me and its loud buzz startles me. I stop to watch where it lands and I creep towards it. As I approach it launches again and buzzes. I chase the grasshopper through the field until it lands in a pile of rocks and disappears.

I clamber up the pile of rocks – a pile left over from when this land was first cleared – to take stock of where I am. I’ve come about half way across the field. The trees are still a ways off. I start climbing down from the rocks and, as my foot moves one, a garter snake slides out and moves through the grass. I follow it.

The snake weaves its way through the tall grass and I have a hard time keeping up. Every time I get close, it seems to get away. Finally it burrows itself in a bush. I sit down next to the bush and wait to see if it reemerges. After a few minutes I move on.

I’m nearly at the tree line now. I can see the hill the trees growing on in the shadows of the forest. I pass into the shade and immediately feel cooler out of the intense sunshine. The air smells different in here, damp, and alive. I climb up the hill, following an old cow path up the slope. I still haven’t seen the cows. Maybe they’re in the back field near the pond trying to stay cool.

I come out of the trees at the top of the hill into another field and follow the path to the pond, but the cows aren’t here either. I stop next to the pond and stand motionless, listening. The air up here is still, the wind blocked by the trees. The buzz of the cicadas continues. As I crouch very still by the pond the frogs begin to croak. I listen carefully. I can hear one nearby. I look through the cat tails in front of me and see a big green leopard frog. I reach out my hand and, just as I’m about to touch it, it dives into the water.

I stand and look around to get my bearings. The cow path weaves off up the hill. I follow along the path for a while. I reach the big pile of rocks in the back field I’ve been looking for. I clamber up the rocks to look around. I still haven’t seen the cows. Maybe they’re in the back forest, but I can’t see them from here. I turn left, climb down the rocks, and hop the fence into the neighbouring field. In the distance a group if poplars grows on a small hill, rising above everything else. I make my way towards it.

As I start up the hill, I turn around. From up here I can see back down across the fields, all the way to the water. The lake is a deep blue in the sun. White caps from the wind dot the blue expanse. Water extends to the horizon. Islands in the distance hint at new things to see and places to explore.

I circle around the hill until I find the stone foundation from a house that is long gone. I drop down into grass at the bottom. I lie down in the grass and close my eyes and listen. Here there is no wind and the cicadas’ buzz fills my ears. The sun is warm on my face. This is Proteus.