Glitchhiker: The gaps are the weird, beautiful night ride my brain wants to take
Years ago, before I got into gaming media, I had a job that involved driving around Kansas a lot, sometimes at night. If you’ve ever driven through a Midwestern state at night, you know the surreal experience — the darkness, the lack of cars, the weird, peaceful late-night shows broadcast on public radio stations, the faint hum of a Convenience roadside shop with its eclectic selection of drinks. Also visible in the distance in the Midwest was the intense blinking sea of red lights. During the day, the truth would be obvious: turbines on one of Kansas’ many wind farms. But at night they looked like small alien ships landing in the distance.
I never thought I would replicate this experience in a video game, but here we are at Glitchhikers: The Spaces Between. Glitchhikers is reminiscent of the very type of road trip I took in my early 20s, while also reflecting what is proving to be the universal experience of nighttime travel. In it you sit behind the wheel of a car, ride public transport or walk alone at night and listen to the strange melodies that sound only at these odd hours. On your journey you meet other wanderers who join you for a while and engage you in discussions about life, love and everything else that comes up at 2am when neither of you can sleep, the stars are out and the mood is just right for the big questions.
Creative Director Claris Cyarron and Studio Director Lucas JW Johnson seemed pleased to hear that I recognized the mood she and the team at Silverstring Media were trying to capture with Glitchhikers. They told me that they wanted to capture every type of night ride, while still wanting to address specific sentiments that individual viewers might recognize. Unsurprisingly, the entire team has plenty of experience of late night driving.
“I used to drive around Texas late at night when I was a teenager,” Cyarron said. “I suffered from a lot of insomnia and in that window where I was deep in insomnia but wasn’t exhausted yet, just couldn’t sleep and had to spend the hours driving alone and listening to NPR and the first breakfast taquito of to get a fast place to eat when they open.”
Although The Spaces Between launched just over a week ago, Glitchhikers itself has been around for a while. Eight years ago, Silverstring released Glitchhikers (since subtitled “First Drive”) with the intention of recreating the weird, existential experience of driving a car late at night. First Drive was short and sweet: just driving, six different conversations with hitchhikers and a small pool of weird radio songs. Despite its size, First Drive performed well and, especially over time, received positive critical reception.
So, with a little money and support, Silverstring was able to return to Glitchhikers for The Spaces Between and expand the idea significantly. The Spaces Between includes new types of travel, like a walk in the park or an airport en route to a red eye, and a ride on a local train to ensure non-drivers can still have a surreal late-night transportation experience can experience night. It contains 71 different music tracks by music director Devin Vibert with sound support from A Shell in the Pit, with different styles for each trip, effectively capturing the different vibes of late night music over public radio or airport sound systems or even the kind of personal playlist someone might turn on during a midnight stroll.
They also expanded dialogues with passing travelers to include 50 different conversations on topics such as queerness, technology, friendship, relationships, war, hope and more. The dialogues are fairly short and decision-based, and while the choices affect the tone of the conversation and future conversations with the same hitchhiker, there’s little judgment as to how you react. They are discussions for their own sake rather than finding a right or wrong answer.
“Something that was really important to us … but also to me as a trans woman and as a queer woman, but we wanted to develop those intellectual concepts,” Cyarron said. “And we wanted to make some of these really thorny, complicated issues, the existential questions of our time, accessible. I think there’s a lot of intellectualism that’s a little bit mocking or a little bit dismissive of people trying to take care of complicated problems, but these problems belong to everyone on the planet and they affect everyone on the planet.
“Besides, philosophy and existentialism and those things so often… There’s a right way to approach that in a philosophy class. And there are great, important people you should know and know how to paraphrase their most learned works. Get over all of that and just say that these philosophical questions belong to everyone who has ever looked up at the night sky and said, ‘This is beautiful. What does it all mean?’”
If “driving at night and talking to strangers” sounds like an odd concept for a game, a better way to think about glitchhikers is a game about liminality that explores the concept of being in a transitional state or cusp – the ” Spaces Between” of the subtitle. That, say Johnson and Cyarron, was such a compelling concept for a game of driving at night. It’s a fairly mundane activity if you can just describe it in simple terms, but if you’ve ever ridden even once late at night, you’ll understand the weirdness they were trying to capture.
“When you’re tired, you’re almost halfway between waking and sleeping, especially when you’re driving, you switch off,” Johnson said. “You don’t really pay attention when there are no other cars on the road and you can just drive off. And I think all of that works really well together to create those spaces where the realities of the world kind of disappear into you. You don’t think about your specific goal and what you’re going to do when you get there. You don’t worry about the work you have to do or the deadline you have to meet or whatever. You just find yourself in that space that allows you to free your mind and more general issues to reflect on issues you may be facing in the world, or broader issues that have a very specific meaning to you and your life.
Glitchhiker: The spaces between screenshots
As Cyarron adds, this space allows for meditation — but not the kind we typically hear about in wellness talk. It’s not “mindfulness as we often know it,” she says, where you try to quiet your brain and keep it still. Glitchhikers instead conjures up a space to capture thoughts as they come and go, and view them from a distance that allows for new perspectives or new insights into old perspectives.
“There is a quality to the architecture of a car,” she said. “You’re locked in. It’s familiar. You watch the world roll past you. You’re in such an empowered state. You have this vehicle that is this companion, this promise to banish your obstacles and transport you, but you also have to wait. There’s a lot of architectural themes and phenomenology when it comes to being in these spaces. And one of the interesting things about separating travel from actual travel and instead you step into the travel mindset and you transport yourself mentally and conceptually and maybe take into account who you are, I think these are all really exciting things to do with games.
Rebekah Valentine is a news reporter for IGN. You can find her on Twitter @duckvalentine.
https://www.ign.com/articles/glitchhikers-the-spaces-between-weird-beautiful-night-drive Glitchhiker: The gaps are the weird, beautiful night ride my brain wants to take