This pages offers an extended “walk through” of the game to give a taste of the month long experience in more concrete detail. Obviously, each journey through the game is unique to the player and this description gives only a taste of the interactive conversations that emerge between players and The End. It’s also worth noting that many of the game’s “surprises” are described below, so if you want to play in the future, read on at your own risk.
The 10 Step Journey of Playing The End:
- One day an email from a friend arrives in your inbox. It describes a “month-long free-to play contemplative game about mortality” being offered by a company named Swim Pony. “I know this sounds crazy,” your friend writes, “but trust me. I really think you will love this game. I was given one chance to share it with a friend, and YOU are the person I chose.”
- As you delve further into the email you learn that The End is played every day via text message and will require roughly 20 minutes devoted to exploring your feelings about your own eventual demise. You read this quote from the game’s creators: “The End is an opportunity to engage in small daily examinations of our fears about mortality, to become brave in the face of them, and by thinking about what is wanted out of life, to fully make the most of the time we have left.” After grappling a little with the initial anxiety that bubbles up thinking about what this experience might be, your curiosity wins out and you click the link to the survey at the bottom of the email.
You confirm that you’re available during the month of gameplay, wondering what kind of tasks you’d be asked to participate in. Almost as if hearing your thoughts, the next question in the survey asks, “Want to know what you’d be getting yourself into?”
You click the YES button and read through a list of tasks – walking through a cemetery, writing a list of loved ones who’ve passed, talking to a friend about how you’d like to be remembered. They provoke a mixture of excitement and nervousness and as you answer a few more questions about your background, you begin to wonder what it was that made your friend SO effusive in offering you a chance to play.
The survey ends with a single question: “So tell us, why do you want to play?” You stop for a moment and notice the first the first thought that comes to your mind. You do your best to capture the feeling in a few sentences, take a deep breath and hit submit.
- You receive an email that you’ve nabbed one of the few remaining spots in the game. You quickly confirm that you’ll take it and receive a link to schedule time slots for two mysterious “appointments” that the anonymous writer says will be necessary for the game. You’re also told to wait for a mysterious package that will soon arrive in the mail.A few days before the game begins, the parcel arrives and inside you find a notebook, deck of cards, and a bright red envelope containing a cryptic invitation. Inside you note a date and time, but no location, for a “party” a month away along with the cryptic sentence “What happens between then and now is up to you…” You spot a handwritten note at the bottom that reads “Check your phone on the morning of May 1st. For now, I’ll leave you here. – The End”
- The journey begins:
You text each day with The End, who you come to know as a mysterious but engaging conversant. Each day, The End helps you draw a card. During the first week, your selection is limited to one of a few options, as you get to know the game and grow comfortable with these daily contemplations of mortality. Card drawn, you head to a web portal and unlock the corresponding quest: a short walk, a written contemplation, a guided meditation… After you’ve undertaken the daily challenge, you text back a word that says something about your experience. The End responds to what you offer, asking questions about why and how you came to your conclusions. Sometimes, the conversation spurs you to realizations as you try to put your thoughts and emotions into words; other days, you feel complete with your personal experience and sign off with just a few quick texts.
- At the end of the first week, you’re reminded the the “appointment” you’ve signed up for has arrived. You’re told to head to a skyscraper near City Hall and upon arriving, nervously tell the security guard in the lobby that you’re there to see The End. Without batting an eye she sends you up to the 12th floor, where a sign outside the elevator has a directory of all the office suites – but only a blank space and an arrow pointing to the one where you’re headed. You pass through a set of glass double doors, where a receptionist welcomes you by name and leads you down the hall to a small office. As you sit down, you look around the room, perfectly arranged, almost like a movie set. The woman in front of you breathes deeply and something about her seems almost like a character from a video game.
Before you realize what’s happening, you’re being barraged with a monologue of something that sounds vaguely medical. As she continues talking to you, reading from a foreboding medical folder, sound fills the room, creating a distraction that makes it almost impossible to focus on what the woman is telling you. Your pulse races in agitation, and then almost as soon as it started, she’s leaving. You have a vague awareness that she delivered a diagnosis, but you haven’t processed any details beyond that. As your breathing returns to normal, you wonder if this is what it would be like to experience this in “real life.”You text The End, explaining that the harrowing simulation is over. The End congratulates you for making it to the next step and then, you’re treated to a gift:
- Deck II launches a new phase of the game. Now, it’s up to you to decide what cards to play. One day you have a wide-open schedule and feel up for anything, so you draw at random from the deck and end up writing your own obituary. Another you’re overworked, overtired, and strapped for time, so you ask The End for a suggestion. The two options it offers are “a card that catalogues the senses” or “a rumination on an ideal day.”The End is adept at helping you make choices that tailor your journey to your wishes. In addition, when you don’t have a specific need in mind, it proposes paths that relate back to the mission you articulated at the start – reminding you why you want to play – and noting other themes you’ve expressed interest in along the way.
- Play continues over the following two weeks. You noticing yourself looking forward to your daily chat with The End, an unexpectedly intimate companion who seems open to any fear or thought you express. There’s something rare and comforting in being able to unpack or develop your beliefs or opinions without judgment, such as in one quest in which you consider the losses you might face as you’re dying:
- At the end of the third week, it’s time for your second appointment. You’re wary of having to go back to the office, but The End has assured you that this day’s quest will be a very different experience from the last. Again the receptionist leads you down the hall – but this time the office is transformed into something entirely new. This time the room is candlelit and cozy and spread throughout are stories others have left behind.Looking around at the remnants of other journeyers’ experiences spread throughout the room, you find comfort in seeing the universality of loss. When asked to describe it later, you say this quest is a secret you want to keep between you and The End.
- The final week of play shifts once again. While previous cards focused on bringing you to terms with your own thoughts, feelings, and desires about death, many of the quests in this last week challenge you to build on your internal explorations. You notice yourself taking the game more in the “real” world – making plans to write a will or planning a dinner date expressly to talk about death. While that little bit of anxiety still bubbles up occasionally when sharing this subject with parents and partners and friends, you find the explorations you’ve already conquered have prepared you well to share what you’ve learned with those you love.
- Finally, the last day arrives. It’s the end of The End. You draw your last card and say good-bye to The End, a little sad to be parting ways from your companion, but also grateful for experiences you’ve been able to undertake. The End reminds you of that invitation, received long ago in your opening package, and finally gives you an address where the party will take place.That evening, you meet the other journeyers and witness the community of people you’ve been a part of all this time. You exchange stories with those who’ve had experiences so similar and yet so different from your own. Before you part ways for good, you raise a glass to The End and prepare to carry the experience forward with you for a long time to come.