November 24, 2015 6:00 AM | Joel Couture
Julian Glander lets us take a virtual walk through a vibrant cartoon world in Lovely Weather We're Having (LWWH). With no set goals or instructions, it asks nothing of the player save that they take the time to find something worthwhile for themselves as they play. It's a digital playground - a place Glander has furnished for us so that we can draw as much or as little meaning from it as we like. Like the world outside our homes, it is a blank canvas that we bring our own purpose to.
What were the things Glander was hoping to capture with his game? "All of the real feelings that we chase when we go into nature - or, more realistically, when we think about going into nature. Tranquility, calm, enjoyment, I guess." says Glander. He created a place to open the mind up to calmness and to allow players to free their imaginations, letting aimless desire carry their feet wherever they wanted to go.
A walk through nature, or even through your own neighborhood, is an opportunity for you to mull things over that you might not be able to otherwise. It's time taken for yourself to think, and not just on what must be done or answered in the course of your day. It's time without a set purpose, and as adults, few of us dedicate much of our day to that. When you have car payments, rent, work, and chores filling your head, there's little room to just let the mind drift. LWWH is an encouragement to take that time for ourselves, providing a safe space for a peaceful walk no matter what time of day it is or where we live in the world.
Why bother creating another outdoors when there's one already waiting outside for us? For Glander, it provides some comfort that the real world can't offer. "It's weird, but I feel more comfortable and safer online than I do in nature. I think this extends to a lot of people who suffer from agoraphobia, or social anxiety. Maybe it's because the real world, for all its splendor, is stocked with bugs, dirt, germs, dangerous interpersonal conflicts, and a serious lack of climate control." says Glander.
For many, the real world outside is an uncontrollable mass of potential problems and things to be afraid of. It's a place that is outside the safe space you've cultivated for yourself in wherever you choose to rest your head. Cruel people, bad weather, and genuine danger can discourage them from going outside and experiencing the outside world. There are many reasons why some would be hesitant to go out and just explore the world beyond their door, and part of Glander's work involves letting people do that.
Even for those of us who have no problem going outside, LWWH has something to offer in that it is a whole new imagined universe for us to explore. Glander did not create a digital place that resembled the real world, instead choosing to create something entirely from his imagination, letting his feelings guide him. "I just made things that I liked. Not a whole lot of strategic thinking went into it - just me following that elusive and powerful 'Oh, this is nice' feeling." says Glander.
This is important to the work, as the creation itself involved the same meandering, unfettered thinking that guides us on an aimless walk in the world. For Glander to create a place players could wander through with no set guidelines, he too had to let his mind take him wherever it would. He did not restrain himself to any particular choice of style or idea, but simply allowed his imagination free to create whatever it wanted to. The world of LWWH was born of the same creativity that it hopes to inspire in the player, bringing developer and player together in a soothing harmony.
An attempt at realism would have stymied some of Glander's interest in creating this place as well. "I have always been attracted to miniature worlds and wanted to live in them." says Glander. "Thinking of the towns in Grandma Moses paintings, miniature train sets, LEGO houses, that kinda thing. The idea of realism has no appeal to me; I have enough realism in my real life, thank you very much!"
Again, the real world has its share of problems that many people want to get away from. The game was partially birthed from providing an outlet for people to escape those pressures and fears that bog them down outdoors, letting them recapture the tranquility of a calm walk. Realism, even implied, can carry the player back to a place of problems. A simulated version of reality can bring the player's baggage along with it. In making a world that's pure fantasy, though, it encourages the mind to leave those things behind. There's no sense that you're immersing yourself in a different version of the real world, but a complete casting-off of your living space in favor of the one Glander has built for you.
It's not a complete disconnect, though. Glander designed a system where the game reads your local weather and changes the game world accordingly. It seemed like an odd decision given the purposeful disconnect the game creates with its fantasy world, but Glander wanted the player to feel a bit of a connection with the real world.
"Localizing the weather changes your relationship with the game as a player - it's more directly connected, and hopefully causes you to reflect on your real life." says Glander. "It's sort of a bizzaro-universe feeling, like this is what things could be like if your real local environment was calmer and your neighbors were a bit friendlier."
What Glander sought to do was disconnect you with the more negative aspects of the real world. In LWWH, everything is bright, cheery, and friendly. If your dog gets lost, he'll find his way home. Your neighbor will have something nice and interesting to say to you should you take the time to talk. It paints over the unpleasant parts of the world with kindness, giving the player a strange version of their world where the fears and cruelties are gone. There is nothing to be afraid of here, and so you can be free to savor the peace of an aimless walk. It takes steps to bring you and your world into this one, but also takes steps to ensure you feel safe and protected here.
"I think LWWH is a challenging game - not because it's difficult, obviously, but because it requires you to bring yourself into it and let yourself be absorbed, and it doesn't give you a whole lot to work with." says Glander. He's taken steps to make that easier with the weather connection, but it is still up to the player to decide how comfortable they feel here. It's up to the player to decide to lose themselves in the world he's built for them.
That's not always easy, given gaming's focus on goals and achievements. Many players are used to giving themselves over to a game world, but only with set directives in mind. It's the same kind of thinking that makes it very difficult to take a relaxing walk at night when the dishes need to get done. As adults, it's hard to just take time to do something with no set outcome in mind. Our actions feel like they need to have purpose, otherwise we're wasting time. LWWH asks us to deliberately waste time, and players can be resistant to that.
"I think this gets to the big philosophical question in games right now: is something without goals or rules even a 'game'?" says Glander. "And I guess it's possible that LWWH is actually more like a digital toy, an interactive art piece, or a stress ball for Mac and PC. We're in a really exciting time when the world of Games is expanding to including a lot of other digital products that don't look or feel like traditional Video Games."
But we've already seen that LWWH has a goal, albeit a non-traditional one. The goal is for the player to explore as they see fit. The goal is to give the player a space to unwind and let their mind wander, walking through the safe, yet familiar lands that Glander has made for them. The goal is an emotional one rather than one games typically strive for. You're not fighting goons to save the president or building towers to keep soldiers out, but rather unpacking your own life and letting yourself take a few moments to think on something that's important to you. LWWH's single goal is to come to this place and free your mind, if only for a few minutes.
Few people take time to be alone with their thoughts, but Lovely Weather We're Having hopes to provide a framework to help allow people to do so. It casts off the problems of the world with its surreal visuals, yet brings the player back to reality with its weather simulation. It's a place where we can bring just enough of ourselves in that we can think about something that on our minds, yet still push aside our fears and anxieties if we want to. It's peace, carefully built for minds made chaotic by the demands of the everyday.