Recently, entirely by accident, I came across a tiny production from the equally small Popcannibal studio, Kind Words (lo fi chill beats to write to). The experimental game (available on Steam since August this year) is based on just as simple as revolutionary assumption of writing nice words to other players and responding to their requests for advice, help, etc. There is actually only one rule: you can’t use hate .
What is surprising from the very beginning in a game which does not have a super-efficient weed uprooting system is that the eponymous kind words actually absolutely dominate communication between players. Perhaps it is a matter of anonymity in which players were forced to move. You can only reply to a request once or wait for a message to thank for it with a colored sticker. There are no player names, only the first letter of the name or nickname. There is no way to talk to the person who, for example, sent an extremely nice message – only one letter.
It’s like creating a brand new Internet. After all, we are used to something completely opposite – to the fact that anonymity provokes offensive, vulgar comments, threats or displays of ignorance deeper than the Marian Trench.
Kind Words gives an impression of intimacy. Of course, in the game of simple communication, there are no great effects and extensive graphics. There is, however, a small, cozy room and calming, original music. The letters are delivered by a shy deer, and from time to time a paper plane flies through the screen with a short, random, positive message sent to the world by some player.
At first you get the impression that the messages are shallow. Quotes from Bob Ross, coaching-like tips on how to live, short positive messages, wishes, etc. But when we begin to respond to requests, it gets really interesting and sometimes even scary. It turns out that it doesn’t take much for anonymous people, somewhere on the other side of the network, to become sincerely painful. Some people are looking for a simple consolation: someone is stressed before the upcoming date, someone is waiting for an important conversation, and someone is looking for new musical inspirations. There are also more serious problems: once I came across a married bisexual woman, who, despite her love for her partner, did not feel sexually attracted to him anymore and had a sense of their relationship breaking up. It was probably only a matter of time before I came across someone who was planning to commit suicide.
We are now reaching the darker side of Kind Words. Anonymity is on the one hand positive. It’s easier to venture and open up, sharing one’s burdens. I have to admit that the answers can be really constructive and extremely nice. But on the other hand, in a situation where someone writes about suicide, there is little that we can do. We can try to fit our answer in 14 lines of text (the maximum allowed for the answer to a request) and expect thanks in the form of a sticker. But we still don’t know what could have happened to this person. Did we help her? Did she gave up? Although mental health materials and contact to help institutions are at hand, each player is only a click away from it, how can we be sure that someone has read them? At best, we can count on the fact that developers will somehow catch the key word and try to contact that person, although, of course, it’s all unknown.
It is also worth considering another matter for a moment, i.e. simple pastimes that players create in moments of boredom. It is a bit like at the beginning of the Internet or on web forums, players send chains of numbers, figures composed of symbols and letters or paper planes filled with word games and jokes. However, it is not so easy to overcome the need for stimuli of modern man, accustomed to a million ads and links attacking from all sides.
I think Kind Words can easily be considered a successful experiment. The only question is whether this positive culture will continue within the game. Simple control tools implemented by the developers can, after all, break under the pressure of negative users. This would not be a good testimony to the human condition, capable of contaminating even virgin-clean space devoid of the internet dirt.