What can you say about a game with no main character, no conflict and no controls? My first instinct was to crack jokes, of course. You can call this the ultimate pet rock simulator. A Tamagotchi in which you don’t have to feed, play with or nurture your pet. A dreary 0.99 Euro piece of software in which you do nothing but look at a mountain, from different angles and zoom distances. However, the more I “played” it, the more I realized that Mountain transcends its simplistic reality.
The “game” starts off with doodling. Giving you a few concepts (loss, joy, etc.), it tells you to visualize and record them as you did in Paint ever since you got you first Pentium. From what I can tell, the drawings influence your mountain generation, although the examples I’ve seen resemble mine a lot and there is no logical connection between the drawings and the generated terrain. For all I know, it’s just (mostly) randomly generated.
Now you’ve got your playground, your very own mountain, although “got” may be an incorrect way to describe your relationship to the mountain.
Yes, in a “Be the ball”-type turn of events, you ARE the mountain. Actually you’re Mountain. Not A mountain, but Mountain. As in “I am Mountain, hear me erode”. And apparently I am also God. So from this we can ascertain that the universe of this game consists of the Mountain, an Axis Mundi, or in this case Axis Coeli, the center of all creation, world pillar etc. which floats in a huge void where only distant stars are visible, giving it a place of high honor within the Universe. This single entity is also the God of the known Universe, ruling from its privileged spot the distant galaxies which shine and sparkle only because it tolerates it. Being the Pillar of the Universe, we can also assume that the Mountain is the place from which all life and matter sprung from. The fireflies which come out at night to dance and streak become stars when they die. The rocks which fall from its peaks eventually become asteroids and planets. Seeds from its trees are carried by the currents of the Universe to germinate and start new life on those planets. Avalanches become comets. The Mountain’s scorn turns its past fireflies into black holes to punish the systems close to them. The dead leaves become interstellar gas and dark matter. It’s a cycle that, presumably, has continued and will continue for eternity.
However, I may be over-analyzing its cosmic significance. It may just be a regular mountain. But even then, there are still some things to consider. For example, a mountain, solitary from other mountains and in possession of self-awareness, may consider himself to be unique, and thus refer to himself as simply Mountain. He would view himself as mighty, unique and in control of life and death of everything that resides upon it. He could wipe out large portions of fauna and flora with avalanches and mudslides. He could withhold minerals within its soil so as to weed out trees and plants. In a sense, he would be the God of everything that depends on him, as we all are gods of our own bodies and the bacteria that reside within them. However, in both cases, there exists a symbiosis between God and subjects. For if the Mountain eliminates too many trees, he would erode faster due to wind and rainfall (it is known that many mudslides happen due to deforestation). And if we humans eliminate all bacteria, even those that help us with certain functions (for example, gut flora), the consequences could be grave. For a God to survive, to be relevant, it needs subjects, it needs worshipers.
Now that we’ve pretty much gone through the symbolystics of this game, let’s focus on its main features. So you have a mountain. Cute. It floats, as I mentioned before, in the void, surrounded by its own atmosphere which make life possible. Trees, conifers, mushrooms, shrubs, grass, fireflies and a few other stuff make up its biosphere, not great diversity but sufficient to create atmosphere.
It features a night/day cycle, the dawn heralded by a majestic sound which may stir your very soul (don’t say I didn’t warn you) and also a season cycle. Although I haven’t been able to identify spring, the other 3 are clearly distinguishable. In summer, everything’s green and at night you hear crickets and marvel at fireflies, autumn comes with dying leaves and a lot of rain and in winter you have snowstorms, bare trees and snow covered ground and firs. Details like the sounds of a summer night or the winds as they push the nomadic clouds along their way give atmosphere to this lonely mountain (which lacks Smaug and dwarven treasure) and make the experience of just watching a mountain slowly rotate something which you can get lost in. It sucks you in, because with the passing of each year new vegetation appears, small changes become noticeable, human artifacts crash into it, making you question how it will evolve. Also, it’s worth mentioning that from time to time, the Mountain has a thought, which it promptly displays onscreen. The thoughts vary, from wishes and memories to insecurities and questioning its own existence.
Now, all that having been said, it is perfectly understandable why many gamers refer to Mountain as a screensaver for a buck, a worthless piece of software which takes up part of your drive, a wasted buck, etc. Normal gamers, who are into, you know, playing games may not have the patience and use for something like this, with its lack of controls, gameplay mechanics and gore. This is for the type of gamer who views games not only as entertainment and skill, but as experiences. A game like Syberia, even though it contains puzzles which may boil your mind, relies heavily on the story and artwork to tap into your psyche and provoke some sort of emotions. It tries to instill a certain mindset, to make you experience something which you may never get to if you just went about your business as usual. And Mountain does just that, on a more basic level, because there are no puzzles or story. There is only a mountain. Your mountain. You are it, it is you, and you get to go through its existence, absurd as it may be. The dawn will stir you, 2001 Space Odyssey-style, the winds and rain will tickle your eardrums, the vegetation will grow, wither and die and create new offspring, the cosmos will be winking down at you and the fireflies (have I mentioned the fireflies enough? Fireflies, fireflies, fireflies) will dance the cha-cha all through the night, to the rhythms of crickets.
Have I wasted your time? Hopefully not. This mountain simulator, bereft of the most basic game elements, has gotten me to question, to explore, to perform mental exercises in an attempt to give meaning to the apparently meaningless. Will it do the same for you? Or will it bore the pants off you making you return to your Cowadooty or whatever AAA mega-title you’re currently playing? You can find out, because