Space Budgie’s 9.03m will be the biggest Game of the Year snub in 2013. The term “Game of the Year” suggests historical and cultural importance in gaming, but cow patties like Telltale’s The Walking Dead often get the spotlight from game journalism. Although 9.03m represents an opportunity for understanding and edification, the game lacks nostalgia, gimmicks, juvenile violence, zombies, criminals, whores, gutless sci-fi, hip smugness, cynicism, hours of content, and big sales — the things that make Game of the Year awards special.
9.03m refers to the magnitude of the earthquake that caused the 2011 Japan tsunami, which killed more than 15,000 people. When I heard about the tsunami in 2011, I was thankful that such a disaster didn’t happen near me and my loved ones. 9.03m encouraged me to go beyond my distanced reaction to consider the lives that were lost.
Video games rarely show this much attention to the simplicity of human life. 9.03m simulates a walk on a Japan beach that you assume was struck in 2011 by monstrous rising water. In fact, I anticipated the waves to consume my character and the beach as I played the game. The game’s stroll on the beach was calming but also reeked of mortality. (Note: I later learned the game’s setting is actually a San Francisco beach where debris from the 2011 tsunami has washed up.)
The object of 9.03m would be called brainless if it didn’t serve an emotional purpose. You essentially chase butterflies that lead to hazy human figures. The figures transform into objects like a soccer ball or piece of jewelry. You must find where a butterfly imprinted itself on an object before you can find the next figure and object. The sentimentality behind these objects is genuine — people are often reminded (sometimes unexpectedly) of their loved ones by lifeless things. 9.03m’s quiet approach exposes the limitations of “character development” and reflects adult experience. But the most powerful part of 9.03m is its ending. How many times can we say that about a video game?
A Game of Cat and Mouse is the only other game this year that inspires as much reflection about the preciousness of physical life. Many might argue that neither 9.03m nor A Game of Cat and Mouse deserve to be called games, but another perspective could ask how Bioshock or Grand Theft Auto is more of a game than head-to-head Pong — a comparison that will be lost on those who refuse history and learning.
9.03m is an ironic title when you get down to it, as the game isn’t interested in mere science. We can measure and fully comprehend the magnitude of many natural disasters, yet we’re still trying to learn how to appreciate our own species. In the wake of the disrespectful The Slaying of Sandy Hook Elementary, 9.03m reminds us that game developers are capable of amazing and dignified work.