Playing ‘Her’ animator David OReilly’s hypnotic video game ‘Mountain’

There is no shooting in “Mountain,” the first video game from artist and filmmaker David OReilly, the guy behind the video game animations in Spike Jonze’s “Her.”

As I reported when OReilly announced that he was working on a post-"Her” game in real life, his intention was to create a bit of an anti-game. And “Mountain,” which is now available for download, fits the bill beautifully.

In its simplicity, “Mountain” reminds me of games like Jason Rohrer’s “Passage” (in which a player races to his or her death) and Ian Bogost’s “Autumn” (wait for a single leaf to fall from a tree, then catch it).

Not only is there no shooting in these games, there also is no jumping or flipping or changing of weaponry. Often, there is just a single action.

In the case of “Mountain,” that action is nonexistent. Which leaves the player with plenty of space to think. Perhaps the most interesting game there is.


The play experience, as I discovered after spending this weekend with “Mountain,” goes something like this: In response to a series of three questions that OReilly himself described at last month’s Horizon conference as “more psychologically invasive than anything Facebook wants to know about you,” the player makes a series of drawings expressing ideas like “happiness” and “your purpose.” Once this exercise is completed, the game engine generates a unique mountain.

What the player does next: not much. Simply watch the mountain as it cycles in and out of day and night, winter and summer, snow, sunshine and rain. If you feel like you need to stir things up, you can change your view of the mountain, so you can see it from above or below.

This probably sounds really boring. It actually isn’t. OReilly has crafted a game that is small in scale (in both bandwidth and screen size), so that it can run while you operate other programs. But if you think “Mountain” is just a nice visualization of seasonal cycles that you can keep open while you work in Excel, think again.

A couple of hours into observing my spinning mountain, a pick comes flying out of the sky and lands on it. There are occasional cathedral-like chords and the sounds of the howling wind. A traffic cone materializes on the peak, as well as a piece of airplane fuselage.

The sudden appearance of these objects makes me pay more attention. I observe the snow collecting on its summit and the stars coming out at night. I think about real mountains I’ve seen, peaks in the Rockies and the Andes that seem to have a supernatural quality. I think about the weird human detritus that is accumulating on my digital mountain, as well as the junk we humans dump on the real ones.

Then, suddenly, “Mountain” starts talking: “I am reflecting on this velvet night,” says a text at the top of the screen. Later, it reports, “I feel happy about being alive in this night full of stars.”

These messages remain on the screen for only a few seconds, which almost means that if you blink, you will miss them.

Over the course of two days I watch my mountain through sunlight and fog as it continues to dispense its odd little insights:

“Being a thing is not so bad.”
“I’m super into this wondrous night.”
“The starlight is almost too beautiful to look at.”
“I’m neither awake nor asleep on this autumn afternoon.”

Rather than having a sage on a mountain, I have a mountain that is a bit of a sage. (Albeit, a sage that sounds like a stoner.)

Just as I have settled into a routine with my mountain, things go totally bananas and the game comes to an end. I don’t want to give the conclusion away. (Though, if you’re really dying to know what happens — SPOILER ALERT — click on this link.)

At the beginning of the game, I find the idea cute. By the end, I am hypnotized, bummed out when it is all done.

“Mountain” is available for download for PC and Mac for a buck. (!!!) More than worth it.