ChatChat and the infinite promise of playing together

ChatChat is a Moderately Multiplayer Online game by Terry Cavanagh, with graphics by Hayden Scott-Baron, where you’re a cat and you do cat things. That often involves meowing, napping, playing with keyboards, and fetching mice. And as of January 31st, he’s added a mysterious tree — ooh, it even has DLC!

While there’s a chat window at the bottom, players rarely use human words — it seems like everyone “gets it” and does their best to communicate with cat words and actions. It’s remarkable how expressive the simple interactions are; there’s more emotion and player-to-player interaction here than most commercial MMORPGs, and best of all, this game isn’t trying to exploit you for microtransaction revenue. (Terry’s actually paying out of his own pocket for the server costs / this game’s ballooning popularity. What a guy.)

As research, it’s especially fascinating in the way that academia was so obsessed with the relative non-event that was Second Life; so many universities with emerging digital humanities initiatives immediately went all-in with Second Life. Politicians were going to do meet and greets; Levis was going to sell digital jeans! It was supposed to be the future, and yet here we are, with our mere first lives. (Insert some pun involving nine lives / Second Life.)

In summary, Second Life is bloated, complicated, and obscure — while ChatChat is resonant, elegant, immediately accessible, and entirely comprehensible. There are no rules or goals, just semi-structured play and a landscape full of toys and secrets. Is this the kind of game design we should explore more often? It’s kind of like what thatgamecompany is trying to do with Journey, in a way.

But riddle me this — I doubt Journey will let you transform into a dog.

Trivia: Terry started working on this game at a game jam, I believe. The gameplay was originally going to be a bit more structured, I think, with puzzles and stuff. Then he got frustrated with it and considered trashing it entirely. The world is glad he didn’t.

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