It can be difficult to find time to finish a video game, especially if you only have a few hours a week to play. In our biweekly column Short Play we suggest video games that can be started and finished in a weekend.
There are a number of apps that are supposed to help with meditation and relaxation. The idea is usually to get you to step away from whatever you are doing to take a few moments, clear your head, and not think about all of the potentially stressful things in your life. But what if instead of that you walked around an apartment taking pictures of birds?
Toripon is a game where you do just that. It looks incredibly aliased, as if it was a 3D game running on an SNES, but plays like an FPS game using the mouse to look around and the WASD keys to move. Pressing Q brings up the camera interface, which crops your view to a square image, and then photos are taken by pressing the space bar. You can also access an in-game pseudo Twitter / Instagram-type app called Branch at any time by pressing E.
But what you actually do in the game is wander around a small, six-room apartment. Each room is populated by various types of birds (mostly budgies and parakeets) engaged in different activities. Sometimes they are standing around on a bookshelf or playing with a toy on the ground, but they also might be hiding in a drawer or riding on a Roomba.
And then you take pictures of them. That’s kind of it.
There are a few other things to do, like reading the comments on your photos on Branch, which are automatically posted whenever you take a shot. They tend to be generic positive comments like “wow wow wow love it!” in a combination of Japanese and English. And as you take more pictures, more birds will start to show up in the apartment. But mainly you’re going to be looking at very pixelated birds enjoying themselves. There’s something pretty great about that.
While you could probably speed run the whole thing in a few minutes, it seems designed more for you to take your time and enjoy it at a slower pace. That way you can line up the perfect shot, like waiting for just the right timing as the bird with a knife in its mouth crosses paths with the one on a Roomba. It doesn’t get you anything in the game; it just feels good to do. It’s like the endorphin rush you can get from taking a good photo and posting it to Instagram or Twitter, but without having to worry about someone trying to dox you, or harass you, or possibly supporting an amoral company bent on controlling all the world’s personal data.
Instead, you can just look at the birds being cute. It becomes almost meditative. This is certainly helped by the birds chirping, which adds a nice calming ambiance to the game, like listening to a rain machine to fall asleep. So while it’s possible to easily finish Toripon in a sitting, let alone in a weekend, it seems like you would be better served to play it like you would use a meditative app: using it as an escape for a few minutes at a time to relax, and not really worrying about progress.
Whenever you need a break from work, or a moment to clear your head, just take some pictures of virtual birds.
Toripon was created by Victoria Smith. You can get it on Itch.io for pay what you want (Windows). It takes about thirty minutes or more to finish.