For the last two months, I’ve been living in the centre of Budapest, the capital city of a landlocked European country. Although there are beautiful parks and the Danube is only 5 minutes on the tram from our flat, I’ve not been properly immersed in ‘countryside’ since we arrived, and it’s been even longer since I last saw the sea – really saw it, I mean. We had lunch in a fish restaurant a few weeks ago and I found myself casting longing gazes at the TV screen in the corner which was showing some kind of ocean fishing documentary. I don’t like fishing, but just seeing the ocean sparkling in the sunlight made me feel soul-thirsty for sea.
Yesterday I fired up Proteus on Steam. I’ve played it twice before – once to see ‘what it was’ and once to show a friend I knew would like it. This time, I played it to get out.
My virtual eyes opened slowly onto a dazzling expanse of water and slowly made out the shape of a tree ahead through the haze, marking the shoreline of the island ahead. As I made landfall and wandered through the glades, the world responded to my presence with twinklings and burbles and plinks and throms. Standing stones led through meadows of singing flowers and timid hopping creatures to hilltops rimmed with weird statues. Hiking up a snow-covered peak brought me suddenly into a place above the clouds, beyond the friendly and weird noises of below, and immersed me instead in the ethereal keen of cold air flowing through empty space. I watched clouds skid by below, then ran down the mountain to throw myself into a rainstorm. As it passed I watched the sun set behind the hills, then stood in silence as the moon rose and stars appeared. I walked again through the trees and flowers, now in the dark, hearing owl-like birds hooting softly overhead and noticing them watching me from the tops of nearby trees, until suddenly a streak of light in the sky above me made me exclaim ‘wow!’ out loud. I stopped and watched the meteor shower for a few minutes before the clouds rolled in again, and my attention was caught once more by the little flickers of light that would occasionally appear off to the side. Following them whenever the appeared, the world started to shiver with anticipation – trees rustled in sudden gusts of wind and the stone throbbed like the string of a double bass.
Then I found myself standing on the outskirts of a circle of rushing lights. The wind picked up and day suddenly dawned, then night, then day again. I stood and watched the world wheel around me, day and night, trees swaying and leaves rustling, ground singing, air twinkling. And then I stepped into the circle.
I left Proteus after about 20 minutes, feeling very refreshed and strangely moved. There had been several moments during my journey when I felt like tears weren’t far off as the sense of connection to the world I was in, the beauty and strangeness of it, and my genuine homesickness for nature intermingled in the game.
In conclusion, Proteus is worth some purple prose.