“Longing, we say, because desire is full of endless distances.” – Robert Hass
Genre: Adventure, Idle, Experimental
Developer: Studio Seufz
Publisher: Application Systems Heidelberg
Release date: 5 March, 2020
King Asleep in the Mountain
An experiment, a patience simulator, a face in the mirror, an insight into isolation and existential conditions in a world gripped in a pandemic or just an idle game you open once and come back in 400 days, if you remember it, The Longing defies easy classification. This fascinating experiment based on a student project that has its roots way back in 2014 uses the King asleep in the mountain folklore motif to tell the story of a lonely Shade that is tasked with waking the King in 400 days. 400 days in real time.
If you decide to play it, The Longing wants you to learn to wait. Yes, you really can start the game once, close it and come back in 400 days to see the ending. But, in a world rushing on steroids inexorably onward to faster and faster gratification, in a “culture entirely hypnotized by the illusion of time, in which the so-called present moment is felt as nothing but an infinitesimal hairline between an all-powerfully causative past and an absorbingly important future”, The Longing wants you to stop. To slow down. To hear the Shade’s footsteps echoing across the vast caves and to feel the moss clinging to his feet.
It’s easy to relate to and sympathize with Shade. Releasing into a pandemic, lockdowns and prolonged isolation issues, he was, and probably still is, a catalyst for a bit of self reflection for many. As you roam the abandoned kingdom, in a plodding, but still determined manner, looking for ways to pass the time, you’ll have ample chance to resonate with him. I know I have. Since the beginning of 2020, I’ve had an odd, outlandish feel for the passage of time. I’m certainly not alone with that feeling and Shade’s escapades are somehow a perfect metaphor.
Your exploration is slow by design. Shade is in no hurry and you will find some parts of the caves blocked off or inaccessible until a hole fills with water or a stalactite falls to bridge a gap. And those events can take days, weeks or even a month to happen. A door opening can take a few hours. There are ways to speed up the passage of time. Just like in real life, finding and creating things to decorate your cave, spending time in a familiar place and doing comforting things can make time flow faster.
If you find a pick, Shade can mine glowing crystals that will light up his abode. If you find different colored stones and some paper, he can draw increasingly complex, colorful and evocative drawings that you can place around his room. Finding scattered and discarded books, all real life ones, courtesy of Project Gutenberg, will fill up his bookshelf and bring out a toothy grin whenever you sit in his favorite armchair and read. But, if you wait anywhere else and close the game, Shade will fall asleep on the floor and time will flow just like yours. There’s not much gameplay in the normal sense of the word. You’re just keeping company with Shade, making his days go faster and more enjoyable.
Shade’s quips and comments have made me consider some things and his grin brings a smile to my face. We hang out a few times a week, him reading The Count of Monte Cristo, Metamorphosis or something we found recently amid the rocks of another discovered cave in, and me doing some work or just relaxing to the game’s thoughtful, slow, atmospheric dungeon synth soundtrack.
400 days haven’t passed for me yet, but I’m already slightly dreading the end of it. And the end of my friendship with Shade. The Longing is made to be played once, as an experience. It does have multiple endings available, depending on your actions and exploration. I’m not sure if I’ve done enough to uncover and put together clues for different endings, I’ve managed to refrain from any spoilers, but Shade and I will do our best. The only guaranteed ending is the passage of 400 days as time waits for no one.
The Longing will certainly not be everyone’s candle in the dark. It’s slow pace and lack of “real” gameplay will be off-putting to many. But if you wish to slow down, reflect and listen to yourself better, its experimental, unconventional gameplay, unintentional metaphor for today’s world that it brings and the firm hope that games could be art it delivers are more than worthy of you sharing your time with a lonely Shade in the dark.