We’ve all heard “Well, that’s the internet for you” or “What’d you expect? It’s the internet” in one form or another. “The internet” has often been referred to as a monolith of hate, the den of anonymous trolls, and generally a thing you should only engage with at arm’s length.
Kind Words quietly disrupts that narrative.
It’s easy to quibble about what is and isn’t a game. What constitutes “gameplay?” How much input does a player need to have? What about projects like A Normal Lost Phone and Emily is Away? Can anything with an interactive interface theoretically be considered a game?
Regardless of how one thinks Kind Words should be classified, it’s undoubtedly one of the more unique experiences out there. The entirety of it consists in a single room where players take on the role of a little anthropomorphic deer child. Upon startup, I was greeted by a messenger deer who’s been feeling a bit discouraged about his work lately. He asked me to write him a letter to cheer him up.
And just like that, the core purpose of Kind Words was revealed.
After providing the deer with a bit of encouragement, he proceeded to explain how things work in the microcosm of my square little room. People around the world (real people) write letters detailing their issues, struggles, worries, and fears. Those short letters are then delivered–via the postdeer–to other children in rooms just like mine. My task? To write letters back full of advice and words of encouragement.
Better Off Together
Kind Words is based on the belief that we’re more alike than we are different. It can only work if players move past the faceless entity that is the internet and attempt to connect with each other on a human level. Of course, people already struggle to share personal dilemmas with their friends and family, let alone strangers online. Popcannibal has carefully managed to use the anonymity of the web in its favor, however; writers are only identified by the first letter of their name. There’s also an easily accessible report button for letters both seen in the queue and personally received.
All of this comes together to create a remarkable online space where everyone feels comfortable sharing their troubles. The range of letters is staggering; every problem you can imagine is represented by those seeking, appropriately enough, kind words. It’s a simple yet incredibly cathartic experience.
Not only did I feel that I was making a difference when offering advice and assurance where I could, but I also felt genuinely cared for after immediately receiving responses to the letters I wrote myself. The quality of responses isn’t something Popcannibal can control, but the premise of the game and cozy, positive vibe ensured that every response I received was an uplifting one.
We’re often taught that we shouldn’t help others for personal gain, but out of the goodness of our hearts. Kind Words adheres to this same philosophy; there’s no leveling up, no upgrades to be unlocked, and no skin to be sought after.
However, since the goal of Kind Words is to create a thriving online community of supportive folks, offering some kind of reason to check back in every day and engage often is essential. To that end, Popcannibal provides two hooks:
- After replying to the first letter of the day, the messenger deer will add a new lo-fi tune to your room’s stereo.
- Stickers! Every time you respond to a letter you can attach a sticker from your collection. Your stash steadily grows the more letters you write and get responses to. Stickers can also be sent as a “thank you” for responses, encouraging players to engage at both ends of the cycle.
These are simple incentives, but they serve their purpose. The starting soundtrack is sparse, so checking in daily to get more songs feels worthwhile. Likewise, gaining a sticker as thanks for giving advice or consolation is a nice little bit of joy. Plus, stickers can be transformed into physical decorations and placed around the room as pseudo-participation awards. There aren’t too many, but they still add a welcome touch of personality to the space.
For as vile as “the internet” can be at times, Kind Words serves as a gentle reminder that things don’t have to be that way. If worn in the right environment, the cloak of invisibility that so often encourages hate can be repurposed to facilitate compassion. Be it by directly relating to others via letters or simply sending words of encouragement via paper planes, Popcannibal’s latest venture manages to achieve something that few online spaces can.