If you have you ever driven down an empty highway in the middle of the night you’ll have no doubt noticed a few things that you didn’t during the day. Maybe the way the forest takes the shape of a pointed fence keeping us in, or the sky out. Low visibility and a lack of lighting forces the road to appear to end, only for the turn to come into view at the last second. Conversations seem to take on a higher meaning as your eyelids become more difficult to keep open. The radio DJ says things that feel like they must be directed at you. Your mind plots with the darkness and shadows as you see movement without a source. Gaps fill your memory as you slowly nod off before jolting awake, sometimes due to the rumble strips. This is Glitchhikers.
First of all, I highly suggest playing Glitchhikers before reading this. The game is PWYW — and can be had for free, up to you — and only takes 20 minutes or so to play through.
To be put simply, Glitchhikers is about a late night drive. There isn’t any context given around the driver or why she is driving, just simply that she is. And on the surface this game could be viewed as strange, just an odd game thrown together. But I believe that would undersell what has been accomplished here. Everything has been done with a very concise reason behind it. To start, the game name drops David Lynch. That should be enough of a hint that this trip will be unusual but thought provoking. The next thing the player notices is that there isn’t much control to what is happening. You can switch lanes and drive a little faster or slower but the game doesn’t change at all to the player choices. Much like a late night drive, the body simply takes over especially if the route is familiar. Then again, being on a highway doesn’t present many options anyways as there is only ever one way to go. Seeing another car ahead of me became an interesting event. In fact, every little detail becomes interesting due to the monotony of a late night drive. You can never catch up though and no cars ever come up behind you.
The first hitchhiker should be an indicator that things aren’t what they seem. Despite speeding past her she will appear in your passenger seat. The unsettling part is that no matter how long you stare at the passenger seat you’ll never see her materialize. Much like the rest of the conversations, questions are posed that seem to have weight to them with possible answers that are either too transparent or too philosophical. Between hitchhikers the radio DJ will speak cryptic messages about loneliness and observation with more than enough topics eluding to the sky and the stars seemingly in an attempt to make the player very uneasy. One time even saying, “And to you driver, keep on driving,” as if addressing the driver specifically. The hitchhikers continue to become more bizarre culminating with a person whose face has a crescent moon attached to it. Conversations from these hitchhikers include the purpose of life, thoughts on suicide, the intent of this drive, and what do whales know that we don’t. Interestingly, every hitchhiker presents a very dark aspect of their past to the driver. The best part of game comes about at the end when the player is finally given a choice in their objective: continue driving or take the exit to the city, as if to ask the player what the purpose of the game was. To get to a destination or to find something.
And because of the simplicity of the game and the lack of player agency the game can express what it is really about: recreating the absurdness of a late night highway drive. Maybe it’s because I used to takes these once a week, but this game captures the experience perfectly. From the heavy eyelids to the possibly profound thoughts and conversations that weary minds enable. Was anything that was said actually deep or did they only seem thought provoking? Was the radio DJ actually talking to you or simply addressing what he perceived as a typical late night driver? You don’t know and you don’t really care. Especially since, when you finally find rest, you won’t remember the majority of the drive when you wake up anyways.