Candied, crushed sago't gulaman
There is a winning formula to inducing empathy. Listen to Scott McCloud prattle on about the universality of cartoon imagery. According to him, the more universal or nondescript a character is, the closer you project to that character. For example, a hyperdetailed craggy Willem Defoe CGI render can only say, “MMYAAAAHHH FEED ME YOUR WEAK AND INFIRM,” while a staid smiley face can be a vessel for your own thoughts.
[Every Tuesday, we… tues a free browser game that you can play in five minutes.]
That is the main draw of Probe Team. You command a team of disposable probes with a mission to explore some kind of space ruin in search of some kind of precious thing.
The catch is that each probe only contains 10 units of fuel, allowing it only 10 seconds of sustained flight. Deplete your fuel and your probe deactivates. A fresh one deploys, continuing the first’s mission until its tanks runs dry. Another probe gets primed for operation and the cycle of death and rebirth begins anew.
In a game where death is commonplace and necessary, each deactivated probe still manages a sharp tug at your heartstrings. They’re simple little things–a cog with a blinky eye in the middle, chirping and whirring through the darkness. Like robot Patapon. Imagine the happiest, roly-polyest puppy, smiling at you, tongue slopping out to lick its own snout. Give it the ability to express joy through optimistic text messages. Now shorten its life to 10 seconds.
So have fun. Honestly! The game has an ending and it is something to see.
1. Deactivated probes are tragic roadblocks but they can be useful. Treat them as billiard balls and ricochet them towards switches just shy from their reach.
2. 10 seconds of fuel don’t mean you need to use it all in one go. Later areas are awfully tricky to navigate so conserve your gas by propelling your probe in short bursts. Let inertia do its job, the freeloader.