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The modern world is a demanding and uncertain place, both on the personal and the global level. Any news site (or a quick scroll through social media) will tell you as much. At a time when people worldwide are experiencing record levels of stress and anxiety, meditation might not seem like much help; it certainly won’t fix any of the underlying problems.
On the other hand, meditation has been shown to reduce stress, help combat depression and anxiety, improve length and quality of sleep, and even relieve physical pain. Unfortunately, many people feel that they don’t have the time for meditation, the interest to try it out, or both. That’s where Playne comes in.
Your Playne starts out barren, but that can change.
*Disclaimer: I am not a mental healthcare professional. Meditation should not be used as a substitute for professional counseling or treatment.*
Meditation With A Plot
Playne encourages you to meditate by involving you in a story. You wake up in a different dimension called a Playne (go figure) where time has completely stopped. The sun hasn’t moved, plants haven’t grown, nothing at all has changed in as long as anyone can remember. Your objective is to fix that, and in the process learn about the world and about yourself.
The world is connected to your mind, and vice-versa. Change in one of them will cause change in the other. Therefore, you are able to change the world by focusing inward and concentrating on your own mental growth - in other words, by meditating. The changes start out small; after your first meditation, you’ll just notice that the sun is setting. However, if you keep coming back and meditating consistently, your Playne will keep growing to mirror the personal growth you’re experiencing.
On that note, Playne is a very pretty game. I normally don’t think that graphics should make or break a game, but the actual gameplay here - if you could even call it that - is pretty bare-bones. It’s quite satisfying to watch your Playne grow and develop; it’s almost like cultivating a garden, and I don’t think it would have worked without the graphical and artistic quality that’s on display here.
Ah yes, the first question you ask when woken up in a strange new world with a talking fox: "Do I have to?"
How To Get Started
Playne is intended for people who have little to no experience with meditation. Immediately upon waking up you’ll meet Fox, who is your guide and storyteller. After the typical, “Who are you, where am I?” conversation, he will guide you through your first meditation. This is where the gameplay, such as it is, begins.
Playne is designed to teach what’s called Mindfulness Meditation, a technique where you clear your mind of all thoughts and try to just exist in the moment. It does this with two simple tools: A breathing guide and your mouse. When you are in a meditation in Playne there will be a circle on your screen that expands and contracts. All you have to do is match your breathing to that circle, and click your mouse whenever a stray thought crosses your mind. That’s it; that’s how you play. Don’t get discouraged if it seems like you’re clicking your mouse nearly constantly at first - not thinking about anything isn’t something we do very often, and it’s harder than it sounds. Over time you should see those stray thoughts becoming less and less.
The game keeps track of how often and how long you meditate, as well as how many “thoughts” you have during your sessions. If you meditate regularly your Playne will continue to grow, and you’ll also unlock new pieces of the story. Eventually you will learn how the world got to be the way that it is, who you are, how you got there, and your connection to the world. Once you complete the story you’ll unlock Evolve Mode, which is very similar to the story mode except that you are able to walk around and explore an open world while trying to collect seeds and grow a new forest.
Wandering the wilderness is its own form of meditation.
Game Or Gamification?
I am usually the first to call BS when someone tries to haul out that old, “It’s not a real game!” argument. However, I had to take a step back and think about whether Playne really could be considered a game. It certainly uses elements of games: It has a story, it requires some interaction from the player, and it regularly gives you shiny rewards to keep your monkey-brain happy.
However, you don’t really “play” Playne in any traditional sense, and the goal is not to have fun, exactly. The core gameplay loop is going into those meditations, then returning to your Playne to see what’s changed and to get the next part of the story, if it’s available. Even the meditations don’t actually require any player interaction - the game itself advises you to close your eyes once you get a comfortable breathing rhythm going, and clicking when you have a thought is only a suggestion, not a requirement. While going through the story I sometimes caught myself wondering whether I could really call this a game, or whether it was more of a glorified meditation app.
In the end, I realized that it really doesn’t matter. Playne is a way to help people learn how to meditate and get in the habit of doing it regularly. It’s actually proving pretty difficult to do a traditional review here; as with your stray thoughts in mindfulness meditation, the best way to approach Playne is to take it for what it is without worrying or analyzing. This is exactly what it sets out to be, no more and no less.
A Different Approach To Meditation
There are any number of meditation aids out there: Books, free and paid apps, YouTube videos, etc. What makes Playne interesting is that it uses gaming conventions and reward systems to encourage you to keep coming back. Instead of just giving you a notification that says, “Hey, it’s time to meditate now!” it lets you watch your world grow and evolve as long as you use the program regularly.
At only $9.99, Playne may be worth your attention if you’re interested in meditation but haven’t been able to stick with a program in the past. Between the story and the growing world Playne offers incentives, not just reminders, which can be effective for people who might lose interest otherwise. As I try to come to a conclusion, I can only reiterate that Playne is exactly what it is supposed to be, nothing more and nothing less. It's refreshing in a way - there are no massive promises here, just a tool and an interesting take on a personal practice. For some, that might be exactly what they need.