Not So Massively: Kind Words is one of the most intense games I’ve ever played

Survival through a thousand bandages.

    
3

In these trying times, I think we’re all dealing with a certain degree of anxiety and loneliness. For some of us, feeling worried and alone was part of normal life even before we found ourselves living under the pall of a pandemic.

Whatever the cause, now is a time we could all use a little more warmth and comfort in our lives. And it was in that spirit I downloaded the unique “game” Kind Words, where people send anonymous letters to seek and offer reassurance.

Going in, I was not prepared for what an intense experience this game can be.

Kind Words is a very simple platform. You see a figure in a small room, writing at a desk. Soothing music plays in the background. There are only three things you can do here. You can write a “request,” a short message asking for a response. You can respond to one of those requests. Or you can send a “paper airplane,” a message that will float across the screen of everyone(?) currently online. If they click the plane before it leaves the screen, they can read the message, but there’s no way to respond.

Interestingly, the developers have gone to great lengths to prevent any kind of contiguous dialogue or lasting relationships from forming in this game. All messages are completely anonymous, and at the outset the game warns you sternly not to include any personally identifiable information.

Once you respond to other players’ request, there’s no way for them to continue the conversation. The only thing they can do is send you a collectible “sticker” as a thanks, which can then be used to decorate your little room. But even then there’s no way of knowing who sent you the sticker or which message you’re being thanked for. You know only that someone, somewhere said thanks.

This does obviously limit the potential of the platform a lot, and at times it can be frustrating to be so limited in how you can interact, but I do see the logic behind it. For one thing, it massively limits the potential for abuse.

I suppose also there is a certain poetry to flinging these letters into the void, knowing that nothing lasting will come of them save perhaps the feelings they engender. Good way to practice letting go, I guess.

There’s a lot of variety in the kinds of messages you’ll see in this game. Lest you think this game is all fluff and hugs, I can assure you it’s pretty common for message requests to go to some dark places. With total freedom and anonymity, people pour out their feelings without reservation.

The very first request I saw was from a distraught minor with a drinking problem whose life was falling apart at the seams. I did my best to offer some words of comfort and moved on as the game insists I must, but they’ve lingered in my thoughts for many days since.

Not all are like that. Some people just want recommendations for new songs to listen to. But genuine cries for help are never far away.

I do not feel this venue is appropriate for a deep dive into my own personal demons, but suffice it to say I am not a well man, emotionally speaking. Sometimes the voice crying into the digital abyss is mine.

In my experience, you don’t have to wait long for responses, but to be honest I found much more comfort in responding to other people’s messages than in reading the responses to my own. Maybe that’s just a quirk of my own neurosis — I don’t know.

When I went into Kind Words, I really was not prepared for the emotional rollercoaster reading people’s requests could be, and I’m still not sure how I feel about it. You’re thrown into the deep end of online strangers baring their souls to you. It can be emotionally exhausting, yet I can’t say there isn’t a certain satisfaction to it.

The paper airplanes, meanwhile, tend to be lighter. Most often they seem to be inspirational quotes or general expressions of positivity — “You are loved” type stuff — but sometimes they’re just goofy memes. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t contributed to that a bit myself. Really, though, why not Zoidberg?

I’m not going to feel any better about myself because some random paper airplane told me to love myself, but there is something reassuring about such a large community of people all trying so hard to lessen the darkness of their peers. Survival through a thousand bandages.
There is one thing I’ve not seen in any messages in Kind Words so far, though: toxicity or negativity of any kind. I’ve seen no abuse, no arguing, no bullying, no bigotry. Maybe that shouldn’t be surprising, but in the world of online gaming, it’s absolutely unique. Surely there most occasionally be bad apples abusing the system (and there’s a report feature if you do run into one), but they seem to be shockingly rare.

And that, perhaps, is the most special thing about Kind Words. It’s not any single message that leaves an impact. It’s the sheer weight of love and positivity being thrown at you. I’m not going to feel any better about myself because some random paper airplane told me to love myself, but there is something reassuring about such a large community of people all trying so hard to lessen the darkness of their peers. Survival through a thousand bandages.

If I’m to put my game reviewer cap on, I can think of a few things that would improve the experience of Kind Words. It would be nice to see more stickers and more ways to customize your writing space. The options for that are extremely limited. It would also be nice to have more variety of music, or maybe ways to upload your own tracks.

But clearly this is a very low budget title, so those things may not be feasible. And at the end of the day it’s the human connections that matter in this most unique game, not the superficial trappings.

For myself I’m honestly not sure if I’ll continue on this emotional rollercoaster or step off. But I can say that it has been one of the most unique, intense, and powerful experiences of my gaming career, and I won’t forget it any time soon.

The world of online gaming is changing. As the gray area between single-player and MMO becomes ever wider, Massively OP’s Tyler Edwards delves into this new and expanding frontier biweekly in Not So Massively, our column on battle royales, OARPGs, looter-shooters, and other multiplayer online titles that aren’t quite MMORPGs.

3
LEAVE A COMMENT

Please Login to comment
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most liked
Subscribe to:
Reader
Fenrir Wolf

I’m sorry, but… I really don’t like it. I think it’s incredibly toxic. Can I have the chance to explain why?

I tried it when it initially launched and a few times after and it never really fixed the underlying harmfulness of what it ultimately is. So I’m not just making assumptions, here.

I’ve had a lot of experience with therapy, I’ve gotten pretty good at it myself as well over the years. See, therapy is a two-way street. It’s a conversation because it has to be, it’s an open-minded, empathetic, understanding conversation where topics one is afraid to talk about because of pathological normalcy can be aired safely.

What Kind Words does is begin to offer that, then tear it away. That’s not healthy.

There are a lot of people trying to use that application that legitimately need help. I don’t mean “help,” either. I don’t mean drugs and/or being institutionalised. I mean therapy by someone who’s experienced in the field, who can help them work through whatever they’re suffering with.

Nothing is worse than to suffer in silence and Kind Words seems like a reprieve. It offers anonymity and a promise of kindness, but it isn’t. It’s shallow, it’s hollow, it’s ultimately pointless.

These are just platitudes, word memes, it’s like Twitter but it’s worse because no one can have a conversation with you to offer you real support. It purports itself as a source of kindness whilst really being a source of suffering. It’s some next level twistedness, frankly. I don’t think that’s intentional, mind you. I just think that the creator is shallow.

They had good intentions but they have no idea how to be kind or how to help people.

Of course, if the twisted thing Kind Words turned out to be is actually intentional then I want to know when I woke up in the White Wolf Universe and who exactly at Pentex is responsible for it.

Kind Words isn’t going to help these people, it’s going to screw them up more. The problems with it don’t exactly end there, either, and this is where I can know for sure that the creator is an incredibly shallow person because only a shallow person would enforce pathological normalcy when people need help.

See, there’s a report function, but unofficially—and this has been confirmed by the developer—it’s a means for reporting things that aren’t “normal” enough, that make the shallow people using Kind Words uncomfortable. That way messages can be quietly dismissed, that or turned into paper aeroplanes which is almost the same as being dismissed. For someone who’s actually hurting and needs a connection, that shit’s going to fuck them up even more.

This is why twee little apps like Kind Words are actually problematic, verging on dangerous. They promise a safe haven to anyone who’s suffering but then they don’t provide that. Instead they only provide a place for shallow people who want to share smalltalk, platitudes, and overly simplistic first world problems.

The end result feels like a support network for narcissists and sociopaths more than anything else.

I mean, yeah, you can see why this isn’t great, surely? A person with a deep emotional need buys it and gets one awkward response, they can’t forge a connection from there because it only goes back and forth once… instead they have to try again. Sadly, the very “normal” people who hang out at Kind Words begin to get uncomfortable with the presence of a person who’s begging for emotional help, so they start dismissing them.

This isn’t healthy, this isn’t therapy, and this isn’t good for anyone other than the most shallow of people.

I’m sure that it’s nice for them, but this gentrified thing that promises something and doesn’t deliver on it is going to hurt a lot of people. I already know from looking around that it’s hurt a good number because I could tell that it would from its inception.

It’s not a good thing, it shouldn’t be supported. No one there is truly offering Kind Words.

Staff
Mia DeSanzo

I think Kind Words would be better if it billed itself as an anonymous chat or pen pal game. People do bring heavy stuff there, but the anonymity and separation prevent any real connections from happening. A real connection isn’t a one time message from out of the blue, it happens over time. You can’t check back with people to see if they decided to find a therapist or dump the garbage bf/gf. You can’t become friends. It’s just a nebulous mass of warm, fuzzy nothingness.

Random MMO fan
Reader
Random MMO fan

I wish same minigame would be added to other MMORPG games. Just with strict moderation where anyone can report messages and where rude troll messages would lead to a ban. This might help to make all MMORPG communities less toxic.