I’ve heard the warnings, and I, like many of you, ignore them: Stay off screens an hour before bedtime.
I like the idea of completely unplugging from the world before sleep, but there’s an emotional conflict that appears to be an affliction of life in 2019: The joy of freedom clashing with the anxiety of missing ... something. And when virtually all of our entertainment is tied to screens, especially if the bulk of one’s pop culture consumption is gaming, it’s easy to see why so many of us fail at a seemingly simple self-care technique.
Even so, “Manifold Garden” before bedtime may have been an especially bad idea. No, the game isn’t scary, but it is an enrapturing, psychedelic headtrip that distorts all sense of time, place and being. A weird dream may disorient me, but “Manifold Garden” can leave me completely off balance. And yet while playing it, I want nothing more than to restore order to its world, to crack the code of a universe that has my mind feeling caught in the center of a Rubik’s Cube.
Here, the rules of gravity exist, but they are twisted, with perception changing at every press of a button or tap of your iPhone screen. It’s a puzzle game that will make you wish you paid closer attention in physics class. But even if you had, you likely won’t be any closer to understanding its geometry; hallways, windows and stairways appear seemingly out of thin air, and whether we’re right side up or up side down is a matter of perspective.
Still, the game’s overriding atmosphere is calm and gentle, taking some inspiration from Christopher Nolan’s 2010 film “Inception” but leaving out the panic. Mostly, the game is a nod to the perfectly structured yet byzantine works of artist M.C. Escher, with some light atmospheric sounds present to calm us as we try to figure it out. “Manifold Garden” wants us to think that we’re molding the world, but the world turns with us as we attempt to move through it by unlocking color-coded pathways.
We want to open doors via blocks, and sometimes those blocks are in front of us, to the right of us, above us or nowhere in sight. We need to be aligned with the center of gravity of the block if we wish to move it, which is indicated by a muted color. Sometimes we’ll simply need to fall. Don’t worry, the world sort of turns upside down on itself, so we’ll never die in the traditional video game sense, but we’ll often have no idea where we are. We’re just constantly looking for a way in and through its mazes.
I stopped and started “Manifold Garden” a few times, thinking I had made a mistake but ultimately realizing I just needed to fall better, to find another center of gravity — or simply get a different view of where I was previously standing. A few times I even went looking for help, but Twitter and YouTube are meaningless when it comes “Manifold Garden,” as I’m not so sure anyone will see the game the same way.
I desperately want to get in sync with “Manifold Garden,” which stands in direct contrast to our location-based, everything-is-connected informational world. But that’s also why playing it before turning in for the day was the wrong choice. I can’t remember the last time I felt this lost in my own home.
Developer & Publisher: William Chyr Studio
Platforms: Apple Arcade, PC, coming soon to PlayStation 4
Price: $19.99 (PC), Apple Arcade is a $4.99 monthly subscription