Video games are in an interesting place right now, on the cusp of becoming an interactive narrative art form that can accomplish virtually anything. Game are still just barely constricted by certain encumbrances such as points, leveling up, stages, bosses, and so on, but with every passing day each of those elements gets ever so slightly less necessary, and as processing power and screen quality steadily increase, the options for a distinctive story or emotional palette become correspondingly wider.
There have been elegaic, winsome, cryptic games for a while now, but a game like 9.03m packs an emotional wallop that no “improvements” on Candy Crush Saga or Fruit Ninja could ever achieve. The name 9.03m is a reference to the magnitude of the earthquake that occurred just off the Japanese coast on the 11th of March, 2011, triggering a horrendous tsunami that devastated an enormous swath of northeastern Japan. The Tōhoku tsunami took nearly 19,000 lives and caused an immeasurable degree of dislocation and property damage. It’s an unimaginably tragic event, and 9.03m attempts to grapple with its emotional toll.
Created by the Scottish gaming company Space Budgie, 9.03m is brief and (essentially) pitched as the easiest point-and-click game ever created—it’s somewhat reminiscent of the mid-1990s game Myst or 2012’s PS3 game Journey. it’s not intended to offer heart-palpitating gameplay in which anyone could ever lose him or herself in the heat of competition. It is purposefully game-as-remembrance; to concoct a truly challenging puzzle would be to miss the point utterly.
For 9.03m, Space Budgie ingeniously shifted the action to Baker Beach in San Francisco, where the moon has rendered the ethereal landscape a gorgeous blue hue as the iconic Golden Gate Bridge looms benignly in the distance. The task is to collect butterflies that are embedded in objects strewn on the beach, each bit of debris representing a single victim of the tsunami’s incomprehensible devastation. Each object is braced by a silhouette of a person, which dissipates into mist by the time you can interact with it. (The first item, a soccer ball, may be a reference to the soccer ball later found off of an Alaskan island that was traced back to a Japanese schoolboy.)
That last detail should provide a clue to the gut-wrenching emotional power that 9.03m can evoke. (The slowness of the game and the tinkly piano score may drive some users up the wall, but that’s okay.) The game costs $1.99 on Steam, and (once the company’s expenses are recouped) all of the proceeds go to Aid For Japan, a charity for children who lost their parents in the Tōhoku tsunami.