‘CONTINUE?9876543210’ a beautiful contemplation, use of medium

By Colin McInerney

“CONTINUE?9876543210” is not in any way a fun game. That is not a criticism, because the idea that all video games have to be fun is a false one. While it is possible to argue that chess can be fun, and people certainly do have fun playing chess, it is a game largely about using superior strategy to defeat an opponent. Similarly, you may have fun playing, but that is not the point of the game.

“CONTINUE?9876543210” is a game about finding peace in the face of death. What it lacks in gameplay it makes up in substance.

The protagonist is a video game character who has just died. It plays on a basic understanding of software knowledge and explores what happens to this character now that the game is over. Essentially, a computer runs a “trash collection” cycle that deletes data that is no longer in use. The premise of the game is to avoid this trash collection cycle for as long as possible while exploring the worlds awaiting deletion, running from but never escaping inevitable destruction at the hands of the machine.

It is a grim prospect for a medium frequently touted as a toy or a form of entertainment. While many developers try to make survival and horror games, this is a game that really feels like both without ever really trying to be either. The perspective is a side-looking view in which you would be able to see the horizon, if there were one. The game uses a voxel art style, where every physical object is built out of small blocks—think Minecraft, but smaller. The player can attack in any of the moveable directions, and each stage is divided into a small number of rounds. During these rounds, you can do a certain number of actions, consisting of talking to NPCs— non-player characters—or fighting trash-collector monsters that try to attack. When all rounds end, the player must escape, but escape is not always possible.

In each level, there is a different way to open the numerous scattered doors. Inside most of these doors are NPCs that ask questions to which you can respond “My Lightning” or “My Prayer.” If the player answers “My Lightning,” some of the debris blocking the level exits will be destroyed. If the player answers “My Prayer,” more shelters are added to the special stage. The special stage occurs every two levels in which the trash collector tries to delete the player. If the player has not prayed enough, they will be destroyed and the game will end. This is a common theme throughout the game: Lightning represents the destructive power of the trash collector and prayer represents salvation. The denizens of this doomed world see the trash collector as a god and these words have a special meaning to them.

It may crush your soul if you get invested in the game. You will grow to love your character and fight for your existence. Regardless, you will be mercilessly obliterated. However, your character will reflect on his additional time and explain how he feels going into the infinite void. It is a sad ending but a beautiful one. If you are tired of the same old games being hashed out and want something that will really make you feel, “CONTINUE?9876543210” is the game to go for. It does not aim for cheap emotional thrills nor does it build up side characters and kill them off and tell you to continue. It spends its time telling your character he will die and that it is hopeless, and yet he still runs away. The average gamer, as many online ratings point out, will not enjoy it because it differs so drastically from the typical gaming experience and offers a predictable, dismal outcome. A gamer interested in exploring a new visual and interactive medium, however, just might appreciate it.