As the UK enters another COVID-induced lockdown, and as millions of people around the globe face a winter of loneliness and isolation, I found a glimmer of hope this week in discovering a very unique, very inspiring game called Kind Words.
Much like how the March release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons arrived at the precise moment we needed community and camaraderie – but also to stay indoors – American developer Popcannibal’s 2019 release may well be the defining game of this current stage of the COVID crisis. It might also be a lifeline to people.
- READ MORE: New Nintendo Switch game ‘Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ is a perfect way to weather self-isolation
Kind Words (lo fi chill beats to write to), which is the game’s full title, is built around one simple precious premise: empathy. It’s an extremely simple idea, but then the best normally are. You sit in your bedroom. You write an anonymous letter about something you’re sad or worried about. You wait for a reply.
Then you get a letter from someone you’ll never meet and can’t contact directly, which tells you about something they’re sad or worried about. You reply. If the recipient finds what you wrote helpful, moving or supportive, they reward you with a ‘sticker’ you can use to decorate your room. Oh, and you can listen to a playlist of tranquil, meditative instrumentals while you do this.
I’ve spent hours on Kind Words. I’m not especially isolated, neither am I especially low, at least not day to day. But I do have chronic Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and there are moments where the misery of dealing with such a cruel illness often swells inside me until it all feels too much.
In these moments, I boot up Kind Words, write a letter expressing the sadness I feel and fire it into the ether. Sometimes, I’ll get a reply with some words of encouragement and for a moment I’ll feel heard and understood. Then I’ll go through the letters other users have sent and say something kind in return. Maybe I’ll recommend a song I like or a film I found inspiring. I’ll normally get a sticker back, but the true reward is knowing I’ve put something good into the world.
You might think this all sounds extremely naïve. When has any social platform on the internet not been taken over by trolls and bullies? Well, in hours and hours of play, not only have I never received anything even remotely threatening or negative, but what’s happened in this last year is that Kind Words has built a community that prides itself on policing itself.
The users know they’ve got something special here, how important it is to them and they don’t want to lose it. They protect it proudly. On top of a genuinely supportive community, the game also provides users with numerous mental health resources to people who might have a problem that needs more than kindness. Kind Words is a rare corner of the internet that shows the human race at the very best that it can be.
Perhaps, there’s a bigger argument here about whether Kind Words is actually a game or something else entirely. But in my mind, if a digital title entertains and engages you, it’s a game, and right now, Kind Words’ message of tolerance and understanding is not only entertaining and engaging me, but – after a brutal year – restoring my faith in the greatness people are capable of. I hope it helps many people through the difficult months ahead.