Every so often a game comes along that is so audacious it reminds me how conventional and pedestrian many of the games that I've reviewed — and liked — are by comparison. This level of creativity reinvigorates my expectation of what games can be. They lift my standards. On a short list of games that meet this standard I would include titles such as "The Witness," "The Beginner's Guide," "Nier: Automata," "Disco Elysium" and now "The Longing."
"The Longing" is a point-and-click game about waiting based on an old German legend about a ruler who goes to sleep in an underground cave. It commences with a giant King addressing his trusted servant, the Shade — a yellow-eyed, beak-nosed, sooty-looking figure — whom he stands on the palm of his hand. Upon informing his servant that his power is waning, the King tells him that he will sleep for 400 days to regather his strength, after which time his servant is to wake him so that he may "end all fear and longing."
Once the king falls into his slumber, the Shade repairs to a smaller nook within the sprawling underground network of caverns where he contemplates the weight of his task. The 400 days of which the king spoke equate to 400 actual days; so, if you start "The Longing" and come back after 400 days you'll discover one of the game's different endings. (I read that there is a consequence if you try to cheat the game by changing the time on your computer.) Mercifully, the Shade strikes upon an idea in his journal as to how he can make time go faster by decorating his sparsely furnished abode to make it more habitable and/or by reading.
By exploring the neighboring areas, the Shade will come across items such as paper, books (real books courtesy of the Gutenberg Project), coal, tools and mushrooms that glow in the dark. The Shade can use paper to create drawings to decorate the wall of his home and coal to create a cozy fire in a small fireplace. The mushrooms can be used as makeshift flashlight or ingested to bring about a vision.
Soon after he sets about exploring, the Shade finds a door that takes a couple of minutes to open, so slowly does it move on its old hinges. Seeing the door open wide enough for him to pass, I naturally tried to send him over the threshold, but he didn't budge and instead observed "I could squeeze through already, but not to wait until the door is open in full glory would be blasphemy." Wait you must for two hours, a week or a month for some of the events in the game to occur. "The Longing" makes a mockery of the idea that games depend upon instant gratifications. It is a minimalist game that creates ample space for the mind to wander and philosophize along with the Shade as he considers his existential condition, his loneliness and his lack of control over his situation.
The part of me drawn to "The Longing" is close to the same part of me that appreciates some of the Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr 's work. In both there is the purposeful use of glacial pacing to stimulate thought. Wandering through caves so devoid of distraction, it's natural for the imagination to take flight, for the mind to look for meaning in the situation.
As I type this sentence, my computer is running "The Longing" in the background. Last night I had the Shade read through "Moby Dick" while I slept; he turns the pages at a faster clip than I do. A nifty feature of the game is that you can bookmark different locations to which the Shade will walk back, so you can send him hiking while you cook dinner. I'm only 387 days in (seven days of real time), so obviously I can't make a conclusive judgment, but I'm invested.