Moving Sitting Still
This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #161. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.
What does digital grass feel like?
Octopath Traveller 2’s 2.5D world is undeniably gorgeous. I chose the beastling hunter Ochette as my starting character and spent the first chapter luxuriating in the forests of her island home. Every new screen gave a chance to dawdle and take in the way the sunlight filtered through the leaves or glittered off the water.
And then my own world started to shrink. Because I was playing the game for review, I was pouring most of my time into it. But due to a long and boring set of circumstances, my Switch is basically neither portable nor dockable. The only real way to tackle a long play session is to leave it plugged in. In short, for almost all of Octopath 2’s 70-something hour runtime, I sat, round-backed, knees to chest, on the floor near the socket.
Dawdling no longer crossed my mind, and not just because of the circumstances. Reviewing any game that lasts more than a few hours is a marathon – sure, you don’t want to sprint, but you don’t want to make it any longer than it needs to be, either.
But while this is always a weird artifact of the review process, Octopath 2 pushes against that fact more than most games. It’s playable on both console and PC, but it feels designed for Switch – for chipping away at on the go. A couple of battles on a delayed bus, maybe a whole chapter on a plane.
Maybe it’s because it’s a game about movement. Skipping between the individual characters’ stories requires continent-hopping, back and forth over and over across the map. It’s not especially cohesive, but the constant shifting between locations lends the game an ongoing momentum.
Whatever the reason, it seems to want to be on the move. But what I could give it was a haze of consecutive hours, glued in place by a lack of time and equipment issues.
Almost as soon as the review was over and I found myself in the whiplash aftermath, apparent acres of free time stretching out in front of me, I fell into a rabbit hole of watching train-hopping videos on YouTube. In the comments section of every video, people would thank the creators for giving them a sense of travel, adventure and freedom from the stillness of their own homes.
That’s certainly part of the appeal for me, too. But I know it isn’t the only thing, because the one that keeps circling my mind is one where the hoppers are stranded. With no suitable trains leaving the city, the YouTubers wait for what must have been several intensely boring days. They sit on the floor, round-backed, knees to chest.
But, god, the trees are green and the sky is blue, and maybe it’s just the end of a long winter, but I could stare at them all day.
Maybe what made me keep thinking about this video was the direct reversal of the experience of binging Octopath 2. In both cases, I was actually just sitting, either watching or playing. But in Octopath, I was moving, digitally speaking, as fast as possible. There was no time to pause, to test out different team combinations, run small errands for NPCs, take in the tiny pixel clutter of their homes. Watching through the YouTubers’ eyes, on the other hand, I was stuck still, but getting to soak in the space.
They could have cut all of the waiting out of the video; could have edited out all but the most exciting parts. But like Octopath, lingering in the dawdling adds a necessary depth. The journey can be the destination, and the journey can be watching a YouTube video or sitting unmoving over a handheld console for six straight hours. But it still needs space.
Jay Castello is a freelance writer covering games and internet culture. If they’re not down a research rabbit hole you’ll probably find them taking bad photographs in the woods.