There’s really no trick: Endless Ocean is a game about swimming forever. It’s not a game for our people, and it need not be plugged into the apparatus. You swim and swim and swim. Sometimes you pet penguins on the deck, or talk to a hydrophobe that you know. You can even dive cooperatively online, which is, like, Finally.
If you come in as a traditional gamer, with the traditional gamer mindset, the game will most likely be incoherent. We have expectations about "games" when we play them, mostly that they will be "games": a machine of interlocking systems and objectives. If you want to get much enjoyment out of Endless Ocean, you’ll want to bring objectives with you as there aren’t many down there. You won’t find the convenient handholds that we use to orient ourselves in simulation. If you need a chilling context in which to swim, though, that is something we can provide.
While it comes up lacking in the classical assessment, it does embody other peculiar virtues: namely, the ability to put you into a Goddamned trance. Held upright only by the chair, I felt strangely warm as some force operated on my body, transforming the living parts into gel. I looked over to Gabriel, largely to determine if I still had neck bones. Draped over the chair like a coat, his leaden jowls hung open as his wrist offered up the bare minimum of game interaction. The rhythm of the scuba gear itself is sufficiently hypnotic, but they offer up musical selections in parallel: there is a warbling sea witch in this game whose voice can drown men. When we dive, I believe we dive in search of her.
I don’t actually relax when I’m playing videogames. I don’t find it relaxing. There’s typically a lot riding on my unfocused attention: as many as thirty-two other people are relying on me to perform my duties in an utterly heroic fashion. Even in a Match-3 casual title I’m trying to see into the future, generating the preconditions of future success. The idea of a genuinely soothing game gestures at a wider medium than the one I typically focus on.