Kind Words is challenging anonymous people online to be helpful and nice with surprising results
Genre: Visual, Writing
Release Date: 13 Sep, 2019
When it comes to anything I take in, be it food or video games, I would always rather be surprised than satisfied: a tepary bean donuts topped with miso? Surprisingly delicious and a current favorite. Steamed silkworm pupae? Not so much. This natural curiosity has led me to review a game that seeks to replicate the chatroom of a certain popular Youtube station. Luckily, Kind Words (lo-fi chill beats to write to) happens to be just as surprising as it is enjoyable. You will hear some chill beats, and you will possibly do some writing, but you might also share something personal with a stranger.
Time to dip your quill
The closest relative Kind Words has is probably one of Popcannibal’s previous releases, Elegy for a Dead World. Behind its side scrolling and sci-fi aesthetics, Elegy had series of writing prompts that ranged from putting your own spin on the works of the English Romantics like Shelley, to fixing grammar, or just being silly. It encouraged prose and poetry, and then players were free to upload it where they could receive some accolades from other players. Kind Words leaps away from fiction, and shifts to a more personal level of writing: now your prompts are real strangers somewhere in the world asking for your help.
Deer Miss Lonelyhearts
When you first open up Kind Words you are greeted by Ella the Mail Deer, in a fashion that is not unlike Animal Crossing (though there is no garbled noise as the text scrolls, she is floating in a vacuum of space). Ella informs you that it is her job to deliver your words to help lift others up. Your first assignment? Helping out this skittish animal who is feeling nervous and insecure about the new job. After this first assignment, the game gives you the low-down: this game is meant to be all about sincere kindness, there is a lot of anonymity in place, and you are encouraged to report any kind of bullying or negativity. And after that you are transported to your bright crimson-hued room, floating and isometric in dreamy void, with a chibi fellow writing at his desk.
Where to begin?
There are a few options here to get started, but arguably the meat of the game is responding to requests. This is where you will read requests for help from other players, but they are only identified by an initial they have chosen. I saw a whole gamut of confessions and problems during my playtime. Some sounded like a teenager with some heartbreak (although I thankfully can only guess that since the game discourages divulging personal information), while others were a bit more serious: How can I let my best friend know that I want to help him while he battles a serious illness, which he’s keeping a secret, without getting his wife in trouble for telling me? There were other stories of loss, of feeling alone, or being stressed from work. Sometimes people just asked for suggestions for new movies or music, how to help their partner like spicy food, or how to lose weight. Some requests are definitely outside of my area of expertise, and you are only given a limit of 14 lines to respond. Luckily there is a whole section of mental health resources in many of the game’s menus to help out with links to suicide prevention and the like. If someone likes your response, they can send a sticker as thanks, but otherwise there is no correspondence. This is probably a smart move in order to keep all the privacy in place, but I did come across quite a few responses that wanted to thank a certain special initial for helping them with their problem.
Everybody hopes and waits
When you are not necessarily in the mood to take on the problems of others, you can make your own request. Being the advice-giver that I am, I was actually pretty engaged with helping out others when I could: letting them know I went through something similar, offering up a good resource, or just letting them know that they are being heard. But then, I did the unthinkable: I decided to post a genuine problem I had in hopes of getting real advice from the gaping maw that is strangers on the internet. After a brief wait, my little Mail Deer poked her head in through the window and handed me my letters. In the same way that some requests were a bit melodramatic or muddled, some advice was a bit off: I had a few people talk to me like a child while others seemed to misread my request, but overall I had some strangers sincerely sympathize with me. I put something secret out into the world and was met with a nice response.
As you make and respond to requests there are a few side distractions in place. There are little paper airplanes that fly around the room that you can click on that have general messages: sometimes it’s some uplifting words, music suggestions, a good quote, a thank you etc. You can make your own paper airplane as well and these planes seemed to emulate the feeling of the Youtube chatroom the best. The stickers you collect can be turned into little decorations for your room, such as a cat sticker that can appear as a plushie in your room (though depending on how active you are, this collection can be completed rather quickly).
As you play each day your Mail Deer will also bolster up your music library with a new lo-fi chill track, and herein lies my one tiny complaint: I love the music, but I wish there more tracks especially given how endless the source material is. Outside of this, you can also easily export all of your correspondence to a webpage in case you want a quick pick me up or a different way to see your words.
Kind Words is an anomaly: most games ask us to defeat something or someone, but all Kind Words is asking us to do is to sit down, listen to strangers and enjoy some music. It’s a unique experience and it’s made as pleasant as possible. It’s strange to think of the sea of multiplayer games that can’t keep toxicity low, but this game is ripe for it and yet seems to offer nothing but a private, thoughtful experience. The art is cute, the music is nice, and the message is clear from title to practice. It is unlike any other game out there: with just a few lines, Kind Words brings out the vulnerabilities we share and lifts us up.