Welcome to Play This, a regular series in which we recommend games that we think is worthy of your time and attention. Games are chosen for either their outstanding design, their narrative intrigue, their originality, their social importance or a combination of all of these and more.
Role play in video games is usually more focused on the actions that we carry out than the context in which we perform them. Choice and consequence, action and reaction; the worlds inhabited by our virtual ciphers often bend to our will, shaped by our chosen path through the narrative and the inevitable mastery of our chosen destiny.
Water Me is the inverse of these power trips. Ostensibly, the aim is to nurture a plant over a one week period against the backdrop of an encroaching storm. In doing so, there’s deft exploration of player agency through the handful of available interactions and gentle repetition, alongside ample opportunity to come to understand the circumstance in which we are being asked to perform this most ordinary of tasks.
Created as part of Indie Grit’s 2016 Waterlines project to highlight, document and express the ongoing effects of devastating flooding in Columbia, USA, in October 2015, Water Me is as much about listening, learning and contemplating its context as it is attempting to achieve its modest goal. As the days progress, and then virtual weeks roll by across multiple play-throughs, there’s a growing feeling of helplessness and impotence evoked by events that are both actively partaken and passively witnessed.
The pleasant drone of local radio reports soon switches from soothingly mundane stories about the night sky and curio collecting to the frank appraisal of barely comprehendible flood damage. All the while, we’re asked to do nothing more than look after a plant; we needn’t play hero, we’re unable to cross the flooded street to check on our neighbours and we’re not expected to save the day in any way, we must simply take care of a potted plant.
The cruel irony of contaminated tap water with which to nurture that plant as rainwater pours unbidden from the sky is a depiction factual happenstance; one that serves to highlight that we are sometimes powerless to act. Water Me shows that being able to explore that feeling of helplessness through a video game can be a liberating and insightful form of role play.