I’m striding along a beach at night capturing butterflies. The waves crash along the shore and in the distance I see the shape of a person. As I approach, this shadowy figure dissipates into a cloud of sand, leaving behind only a soccer ball. It’s a stunning image that resonates in my mind and as I search the ball for clues, I discover one of my butterflies. She floats away, creating a trail of light in the darkness, leading me further down the lonely dunes.
Like a great haiku, 9.03m does an awful lot with very little. It’s hard to describe this experience as a game because there’s no element of competition or conflict. It’s more comparable to an interactive tone poem that soaks you with feelings of somberness and awe. Entertainment takes a back seat to genuine emotion and 9.03m does a phenomenal job of evoking a whimsical eulogy
The game is a tribute to all of those who lost their lives or went missing during the horrible tsunami in Japan during 2011. Experimental by nature, this concept really pushes games to become a medium that can provide suitable tribute to such a tragic event. Not everyone is going to enjoy 9.03m because it is purposefully different than any game you’ve ever played. There’s a reverence that makes it feel tremendously personal, which may be uncomfortable for players more used to traditional fare. But I, for one, am always excited when gaming spreads its wings into new territory.
I’m especially excited when an experiment is successful and although 9.03m is a brief experience, it is incredibly effective. I wasn’t expecting to be taken so easily by the subtle magic that drives you through the game. But watching the bright butterflies flit across the screen as you follow them to another solemn statue of sand is both beautiful and engaging. There is nothing overtly complicated about 9.03m; but with an art style straight out of Picasso’s blue period and an achingly poignant piano score, I couldn’t help but be swept away by the powerful mood and symbology.
And it’s by spending the time to interpret those symbols that the game’s meaning comes to forefront. With each subsequent butterfly brought into your possession, the water recedes, along with the horror of the tsunami. Each item you find on the beach transforms before your eyes, giving clues to the personality and life of its original owner. The puzzles are not overt in 9.03m. You get out of the game what you put into it. But you really have to keep your mind open to feel the weight of this experiment. The quiet, subtle themes unfold as much in your thoughts as they do on the screen.
If nothing else, stick around for the games’ final image. It’s moving, it’s gorgeous, and if you don’t have the feels yet, you’ll get them. I won’t say any more, but 9.03m‘s ending will stick with you for a long time.
9.03m is not your average game. There are moments of relaxation, of spiritual revelation, and of profound sadness. You won’t leave feeling satiated by an entertaining experience. But the game will ask potent questions and help to expand gaming’s role as an art form. It’s short, it’s cheap, and it’s absolutely worth your time.
Take a walk on the beach and see what you find.