The witness is a gorgeous, stylised puzzle-based video game developed and published by Thekla Inc with the help of two architecture studios in LA. With 10/10 reviews and constant praise online it comes as no surprise that it is many peoples favourite game. Despite this great acclaim, however, the witness is not a game you are meant to enjoy, at least in a superficial sense. Being a puzzle game there is, of course, many a frustrating moment at an impossible puzzle or an infuriating level. However, the game focuses its attention on the idea of puzzles itself; on problem-solving; on the struggle of finding answers and, more importantly, the philosophy of “seeking truth”. The game, in essence, is a dialogue on the nature of epiphanies. This is a feeling known well to players: coming back to a puzzle you couldn't finish and finding the answer instantly, or finding a pattern in a sequence of panels and so on. The best example of this, however, is laced into the environment. While the puzzles initially seem to be encased in a neat row of repeating panels on a serene island, the player quickly realises that relationship of the puzzles to the island: reflections in the water denoting the answer to a puzzle, for example, or the pitch and volume of bird calls in the jungle. It breaks the stereotype of conventional puzzle games and expands the player’s view of the world.
The witness seems to encourage the player to seek some inherent truth or pattern in the universe throughout its course via philosophical audio notes debating on topics such as religion, science and ethics. This pattern-seeking eventually absorbs the player in their sudden mistrust of what they see; trying to find meaning where there is none. This is visualised via the “ending” of the game (spoilers ahead) in which the island is reset and the player sent back to the starting area. Their hard work has ultimately been for nothing. Critical evaluation of this lacklustre ending from the player ultimately leads to the realisation there is no value in seeking a perfect ultimate answer to everything. The school of thought of Zen is mentioned in an audio log: It encourages its followers to pursue almost meaningless paradoxical questions, not to find any questions or answers in the universe but rather to detach oneself. The Witness detaches the player from their reality encouraging then to “see” as opposed to looking. It is through this realisation that the player can then view the starting area of the game with a new perspective and make connections to patterns seen elsewhere on the island in a eureka moment which perfectly encapsulates the goal of this fantastic game. This is the key to unlocking the true ending to the game, which you will simply have to play in order to find out and understand.