I started playing The Longing last month before all *waves hands dramatically* this, and more than Doom Eternal, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, or that iPhone word game I listlessly poke at during Tiger King binges, it feels like the game that best sums up life in the 2020 pandemic.
You play as a shriveled little shade, alone in a labyrinthine network of tunnels, with a single task: wait 400 days for 'The King' to wake from his slumber. That's it. You could spend the entire game waiting in your cave – furnished with an armchair, a bookcase, a fireplace and a table for drawing – and in 400 days of real-time, you'd still win.
At first, there was a novelty in just letting my little shade sit and read Moby Dick while I worked, a bit of company that never needed too much attention. Soon, I wanted him to be comfortable and realized there were small improvements I could make to his life. You can collect coal that falls from the ceiling to make a fire, or find the scattered parts of a musical instrument to give him something to play, or paper and colored minerals to draw with.
The search for more pushed me beyond the cave where I found wood and moss, and if I get enough of it I can make him a bed... even if he doesn't ever sleep. There are crystals you can collect to make the cave look nice, more books and paper to find, and he's even hinting, through occasional melancholy thoughts, that he'd like running water. The nicer his cave, the faster time seems to tick by – in increments of four seconds now, not just one – and on day 15 of self-isolation, and day 43 of the game, that feels like a huge win.
Slow and steady
If this all sounds exciting, just know that the mechanics make sure that none of the above is fast-paced. To get the mattock I needed for the crystals, I had to stand in a tunnel where I heard a creaking until the floor eventually gave way. To access another tunnel I had to wait days for a stalactite to fall and make a path. Doors take hours to slowly open, moss grows at a – well – mosslike pace, the shade trundles along like a creature that has never known a deadline. He thinks as he walks, little thoughts about being lonely, or wondering about a spider, and worries what the king will think when you direct him to do something "adventurous" like move a boulder. If he can't do something, climb to a certain place or open a door, he notes the "disappointment" and counts them like shiny collectibles.
I realize this all sounds depressing and about as much fun as sticking chewing gum in your own hair, but he's become like a gothic little goldfish that just sits on my desktop. When I can't direct him personally, the game has a "walk to a random place" option to keep him busy, and honestly, he's happy just to sit and read some poetry while I work from home, trying not to click on BBC News too often. In the night, I've got Animal Crossing: New Horizons where everything is sunny and amazing, but my days are full of The Longing, one little guy just trying to make it through lockdown with a good book and some moss.
Feeling a little lost? Well, there's never been a better time to seek solace in virtual worlds