In these trying times, I think we’re all dealing with a certain degree of anxiety and loneliness. For some of us, feeling worried and alone was part of normal life even before we found ourselves living under the pall of a pandemic.
Whatever the cause, now is a time we could all use a little more warmth and comfort in our lives. And it was in that spirit I downloaded the unique “game” Kind Words, where people send anonymous letters to seek and offer reassurance.
Going in, I was not prepared for what an intense experience this game can be.
Kind Words is a very simple platform. You see a figure in a small room, writing at a desk. Soothing music plays in the background. There are only three things you can do here. You can write a “request,” a short message asking for a response. You can respond to one of those requests. Or you can send a “paper airplane,” a message that will float across the screen of everyone(?) currently online. If they click the plane before it leaves the screen, they can read the message, but there’s no way to respond.
Interestingly, the developers have gone to great lengths to prevent any kind of contiguous dialogue or lasting relationships from forming in this game. All messages are completely anonymous, and at the outset the game warns you sternly not to include any personally identifiable information.
Once you respond to other players’ request, there’s no way for them to continue the conversation. The only thing they can do is send you a collectible “sticker” as a thanks, which can then be used to decorate your little room. But even then there’s no way of knowing who sent you the sticker or which message you’re being thanked for. You know only that someone, somewhere said thanks.
This does obviously limit the potential of the platform a lot, and at times it can be frustrating to be so limited in how you can interact, but I do see the logic behind it. For one thing, it massively limits the potential for abuse.
I suppose also there is a certain poetry to flinging these letters into the void, knowing that nothing lasting will come of them save perhaps the feelings they engender. Good way to practice letting go, I guess.
There’s a lot of variety in the kinds of messages you’ll see in this game. Lest you think this game is all fluff and hugs, I can assure you it’s pretty common for message requests to go to some dark places. With total freedom and anonymity, people pour out their feelings without reservation.
The very first request I saw was from a distraught minor with a drinking problem whose life was falling apart at the seams. I did my best to offer some words of comfort and moved on as the game insists I must, but they’ve lingered in my thoughts for many days since.
Not all are like that. Some people just want recommendations for new songs to listen to. But genuine cries for help are never far away.
I do not feel this venue is appropriate for a deep dive into my own personal demons, but suffice it to say I am not a well man, emotionally speaking. Sometimes the voice crying into the digital abyss is mine.
In my experience, you don’t have to wait long for responses, but to be honest I found much more comfort in responding to other people’s messages than in reading the responses to my own. Maybe that’s just a quirk of my own neurosis — I don’t know.
When I went into Kind Words, I really was not prepared for the emotional rollercoaster reading people’s requests could be, and I’m still not sure how I feel about it. You’re thrown into the deep end of online strangers baring their souls to you. It can be emotionally exhausting, yet I can’t say there isn’t a certain satisfaction to it.
The paper airplanes, meanwhile, tend to be lighter. Most often they seem to be inspirational quotes or general expressions of positivity — “You are loved” type stuff — but sometimes they’re just goofy memes. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t contributed to that a bit myself. Really, though, why not Zoidberg?
I’m not going to feel any better about myself because some random paper airplane told me to love myself, but there is something reassuring about such a large community of people all trying so hard to lessen the darkness of their peers. Survival through a thousand bandages.
There is one thing I’ve not seen in any messages in Kind Words so far, though: toxicity or negativity of any kind. I’ve seen no abuse, no arguing, no bullying, no bigotry. Maybe that shouldn’t be surprising, but in the world of online gaming, it’s absolutely unique. Surely there most occasionally be bad apples abusing the system (and there’s a report feature if you do run into one), but they seem to be shockingly rare.
And that, perhaps, is the most special thing about Kind Words. It’s not any single message that leaves an impact. It’s the sheer weight of love and positivity being thrown at you. I’m not going to feel any better about myself because some random paper airplane told me to love myself, but there is something reassuring about such a large community of people all trying so hard to lessen the darkness of their peers. Survival through a thousand bandages.
If I’m to put my game reviewer cap on, I can think of a few things that would improve the experience of Kind Words. It would be nice to see more stickers and more ways to customize your writing space. The options for that are extremely limited. It would also be nice to have more variety of music, or maybe ways to upload your own tracks.
But clearly this is a very low budget title, so those things may not be feasible. And at the end of the day it’s the human connections that matter in this most unique game, not the superficial trappings.
For myself I’m honestly not sure if I’ll continue on this emotional rollercoaster or step off. But I can say that it has been one of the most unique, intense, and powerful experiences of my gaming career, and I won’t forget it any time soon.