A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Witness is a downloadable first-person exploration game set on an island full of hundreds of maze puzzles. There's no violence, sexuality, language, or mature themes of any kind, though a few lines of text reference alcohol in terms of metaphor. Themes within the largely abstract narrative include perspective -- in both the physical and figurative senses -- and perception, challenging players to consider how they think, how they learn, and how they know what they know. These themes encourage players to be both analytical and critical of the world around them. Parents should also note that this is an extremely difficult game with no instructions, and it could prove frustrating to less patient temperaments. Players are intended to work out everything, from the first puzzle to the last, on their own without a single hint or even a word of explanation.
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What's it about?
THE WITNESS is a first-person puzzle game set on a small, colorful, abandoned island seemingly inhabited by only one person: an anonymous protagonist. Dropped at one end of the island, he quickly begins finding puzzles scattered amid ruined structures and statues. Virtually all of these puzzles take the form of mazes on computer panels. To solve a maze, players need simply draw the correct line from start to exit. It's simple at first, but the game quickly adds layers of complexity via myriad and eventually interrelated rules about how the line must be drawn, creating a sophisticated logic that can only be properly understood by finding and working through puzzles in a specific order. As players solve hundreds of mazes, finding hidden recordings and messages scattered around the environment along the way, they slowly reveal a meta mystery concerning the island itself. The abstract narrative encourages players to ask themselves questions about the nature of logic and understanding. It will make them wonder how and why it is they know what they think they know and learn to see familiar subjects in a fresh light via new perspectives.
Is it any good?
This inventive title is among the most subtle, sophisticated, and rewarding puzzle games yet made. It's also wildly challenging. Crafted by acclaimed indie game designer Jonathan Blow (the man behind Braid), the puzzles in The Witness are laid out in such a way that they teach players how to be both creative and analytical in their approach to problem-solving. Each new series of puzzles introduces new rules that would make little or no sense outside the context of the puzzles you've previously solved. It's a little like learning a new language, understanding the seemingly coded mysteries of grammar one rule at a time. Discovering these answers makes you feel smart, like you've accomplished something more than finding the answer to the puzzle in a video game.
As the game progresses, this feeling only grows. Solving puzzles, finding your way around the cleverly constructed island, and discovering recorded messages -- clips of films and recorded messages in which actors speak passages written by scholars and other famed thinkers -- combine to create a narrative that challenges players to examine and be critical of the way they learn and think, not only in the game but also the real world. Indeed, The Witness both celebrates and wants us to analyze human thought and rationality, our perspective and perception. There's no other game quite like it, and if you have the patience to work through all of its dozens of hours worth of conundrums, you'll likely experience a satisfaction unlike any you've ever felt playing a video game.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about puzzle-solving. Do you ever look up spoilers to puzzles you're having a tough time solving? Have you ever wanted to, decided not to, and arrived at the answer on your own? Compare how you felt in these two situations.
Talk about screen time. Time can slip by quickly when you're having fun playing a game, so how do you make sure that the games you enjoy don't begin consuming too much of your free time or end up keeping you from other activities and obligations?
- Platforms: PlayStation 4, Windows
- Skills: Thinking & Reasoning: applying information, deduction, defining problems, hypothesis-testing, logic, problem solving, solving puzzles
Creativity: combining knowledge
Emotional Development: persevering
- Price: $39.99
- Pricing structure: Paid
- Available online? Available online
- Developer: Thekla, Inc.
- Release date: January 26, 2016
- Genre: Puzzle
- ESRB rating: E for Alcohol Reference
- Last updated: November 11, 2020
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.