Many modern games let you take on the role of something incredible. You can be the hero destined to save the world, and sometimes you can be the very evil that threatens the good guys. Today, I am a mountain.
No seriously. I am a mountain. Floating in space. As a mountain I slowly revolve, watching the clouds forming and dissolving around me. Occasionally white text will appear on the screen, articulating a seemingly spontaneous thought. The controls the game, aptly titled Mountain, are simple: there are none. You simply sit back and watch your mountain exist, floating in its own little universe. According to Steam, I have done this for at least 100 hours.
You’re probably wondering who in their right minds could possibly do such a thing and not simply leave the game alone while doing something more productive with their time. In truth, that’s exactly what I did. I would open Mountain on my computer and then leave it running while I did a number of other online activities such as browsing the internet or watching shows on Netflix. Oddly enough, this seems to be the goal of Mountain’s developer, David O’Reilly, who wrote:
“Leave it open – it’s designed to run in the periphery of your life. Only interact with it when you feel like it. You can play Mountain while playing other games. If you are not playing it, it will play itself.”
So that’s exactly what I did. I would leave Mountain open even when I was away from my computer. When I felt like it, I would look at my mountain as it floated there on my screen. One time while doing this, I noticed something different: there was something on my mountain. Not an object such as a rock or a tree one might find on a normal mountain, but a large tennis ball. It had appeared at some point in my absence.
I later noticed a number of other odd, low-poly objects on my mountain: a clock, a barrel, and even a skull. But how did they get there? As I soon found out, they crashed into my mountain. I had the pleasure of being able to see in in action when I noticed an arrow flying in from the void and landing in the side of my mountain rather unceremoniously. This was the one and only time I have ever actually witnessed an object arrive on my mountain, despite all the clutter it has now collected.
So what’s the point? Why do I care? Why should you care? Reading Galloway, I came upon an interesting concept Galloway described as the “ambience act,” which seemed to describe what a game does when the player is absent. Mountain focuses completely on this idea, going so far as to encourage the player to let the game run “in the periphery” as O’Reilly writes. I’ve never known a game, if you can consider Mountain to be a “game,” to try something like this. A game generally embraces player involvement, but Mountain goes down its own road. It’s a fascinating thing to watch, despite its total lack of gameplay.
The best part? I’ve been “playing” Mountain the entire time it took me to write this post.